Pondering how to be a good creature with Sy Montgomery

“Knowing someone who belongs to another species can enlarge your soul in surprising ways.”

One of my favourite books of 2018 was a very late contender. In fact, it was the last book I read of the year: How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals by Sy Montgomery. I adored it.

Sy Montgomery is an incredible woman. She has explored some of the world’s most remote corners and met beautiful, charismatic and memorable creatures along the way – octopuses, spiders, pigs, emus and, of course, dogs, to name but a few.

How to be a Good Creature reminded me of everything I love so much about animals. It also made me think back to my favourite dogs, rabbits, and other wild friends I’ve met so far. For a lot of my life, I’ve found animals considerably easier to get along with than people, that’s for sure.

But the point of the book is so much more than that; it gets you thinking of your place in the world and the lives you touch every day.

Sy with Christopher Hogwood, one of the good creatures she shared a portion of her life with.

Without ever telling you how you should be, the book shares heartwarming stories of Sy’s life with animals that make you ponder:

Am I kind?

Do I bring joy to the world?

Do I share my warmth, intelligence, and wisdom with others?

Do I show people the real me?

I talked to my boyfriend a lot about this book during and after reading it. Be a good creature became a frequent comment to one another, especially if one of us was acting out of sorts.

One of the many beautiful illustrations in the book by Rebecca Green

When we’d say it, the underlying message would be: chill out, enjoy life, and be nice. Stop taking yourself so seriously. Be kind. Slow down and just live the life you want to live.

It’s rare that a memoir comes along and teaches you powerful life lessons without seeming preachy, woo-woo, or self-centred.

It also makes for the perfect gift: I read the book before giving it to a friend who’d had a tough year with losing pets, and she loved it too.

“I often wish I could go back in time and tell my young, anxious self that my dreams weren’t in vain and my sorrows weren’t permanent. I can’t do that, but I can do something better. I can tell you that teachers are all around to help you; with four legs or two or eight or even none; some with internal skeletons, some without. All you have to do is recognize them as teachers and be ready to hear their truths.”

How to Be a Good Creature is humble, graceful, and a wonderfully heartwarming celebration of the innate goodness in the world. A life shared with animals is a special kind of existence.

You can get your copy of How to Be a Good Creature here.

Lucy
It's good to meet you! I started Tolstoy Therapy back in 2012 to share my healing journey through anxiety and PTSD with books. I also climb mountains, go on solo adventures, and write over at livewildly.co.