Salvaging Humanity Through Storytelling: Jesmyn Ward at ALOUD

The immensely talented writer Jesmyn Ward can elevate the most dire circumstances into beautiful elegies. She won a National Book Award in 2011 for her second novel, Salvage the Bones, which follows a pregnant teenager’s courage to survive in a post-Katrina Mississippi. Last September, Ward published her first nonfiction book—Men We Reaped, (a finalist for the Indies Choice Book of the Year Award and for the National Book Critics Circle Award)—a memoir about the despair and racism surrounding growing up in rural poverty in Mississippi. Her work casts a penetrating look at race in contemporary America, and on Thursday, September 25, Ward visits ALOUD for a conversation with New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow, who will share from his recent memoir, a recollection of a painful childhood in an out-of-time African-American Louisiana town. We caught up with Ward about the state of Southern American literature, and how although her own writing is deeply rooted in a region, it transcends boundaries.

Maya Angelou, who recently passed away, gave voice to the often-overlooked characters of our times—African Americans, women, Southerners. How do you think the boundaries she pushed in writing about such subjects altered the course of American letters?

Ward:
One of the most striking aspects of Ms. Angelou’s work is her demand that the reader acknowledges her characters as human beings, that her readers acknowledge her characters’ humanity and dignity. It is remarkable that African Americans, women, Southerners, populate her work, but it’s even more remarkable that members of even more underrepresented groups in literature teem in her pages: sex workers, the poor, survivors of sexual and physical abuse, etc. The forthright honesty and the meticulous attention to detail that Ms. Angelou infuses her writing with makes the reader see these disparate people as real, as common and human as the reader. She showed readers and writers alike that it could be done.

Although your writing is deeply rooted in the themes and landscapes of a region, it speaks to many universal hardships of poverty, racism, and crime. How do you balance writing from such a specific place and breaking out of that constraint to represent a broader humanity?

Ward: One of the most common misconceptions I encounter about the South is that the problems one encounters here are endemic to this region only, and are worse here. That somehow, these problems are different, alien to the rest of the country and the nation. I hoped that writing about my people, imbuing people that are very particular to this place and these circumstances, with careful attention to their humanity would make their problems familiar to the reader, would lessen that propensity to make aliens out of us Southerners.

After writing two deeply personal novels based on real events like surviving Hurricane Katrina, you decided to write a memoir. What was this transition like? 

Ward: It was a scary transition for me. I’d never written creative nonfiction longer than a twenty-page essay before, so the prospect of writing a book was daunting. But I believed in the story I was writing—I believed that it was important and that it needed to be told. So I was foolhardy and brave all at once, and that helped me to stumble my way through the first draft of the memoir.

In both your fiction and nonfiction, you take on social and political issues. What were the different challenges in each of these genres in grappling with these issues?

Ward: It’s easier to take on social and political issues in fiction. There’s a distance there because the characters come alive and act organically, and the commentary about the issues comes through the characters as they live their lives. But in nonfiction, the narrator speaks. There is no distance. The narrator has to own his or her opinions on social and political issues. The narrator has to be self-aware and offer commentary. That’s hard.

Men We Reaped follows tragedies surrounding the young men in your community who represent a “lost” faction of our society. Do you see any solutions for saving others from similar fates?

Ward: Others have asked me this question, and I don’t have a good answer for it. I think that talking about these tragedies, acknowledging them, recognizing the breadth and the horror of children, of young Black adults, dying because their lives are worth less is important. That sharing our stories that allow Black people to transcend statistics is important. I hope we can have a conversation that leads to solutions.

What role might places like the public library play to offer support to our youth in need of safe havens?

Ward: Reading saved my life. It saved me when I was a child, it saved me in my teen years, and it continually saves me as an adult. The library has always been a place of refuge for me because it is my gateway to different people and places and realities. I found my humanity, my dignity, in books. I imagine books can help other young people do the same. I know that most public libraries allow young people access to computers and the Internet as well, and I’ve seen that the Internet can foster new communities and knowledge. I also think public libraries are important places for reading groups to form and meet, reading groups where conversations about race and poverty and what it means to be young in America can definitely take place.

Visit lfla.org/aloud for more information about this event.
Through Trying Times: Stories of Loss and Redemption in the American South
Thursday, September 25, 7:15 PM
Charles M. Blow and Jesmyn Ward

In conversation with Robin Coste Lewis

–Posted by Bridgette Bates
–Photos: Jesmyn Ward (credit: Tony Cook) and Charles M. Blow (credit: Beowulf Sheehan)

 


The Library Foundation Celebrates 22 Years

“This is a great Library and it has a wonderful history because it is a Phoenix of a Library. It was reborn from ashes,” said Susan Sontag of the Los Angeles Public Library. On September 20, the Library Foundation of Los Angeles will celebrate its 22nd anniversary with a gala to benefit the great Los Angeles Public Library. Held biannually, the anniversary festivities raise funds for three major program areas supported by the Foundation: Investing in New Readers, Helping Students Succeed, and Creating the Innovative Library of the Future. Over the last two decades, the Foundation has brought together a community of supporters to celebrate the legacy of the Los Angeles Public Library by honoring authors including Susan Sontag, philanthropists, individuals, foundations, and corporations who all share a commitment to the mission of the Los Angeles Public Library and a passion for great literature.


Larry McMurty and Diane Keaton, 2008.

This year, the Library Foundation pays tribute to Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Junot Díaz with the Los Angeles Public Library Literary Award. Presented to an author for his or her outstanding contribution to literature, the Literary Award has also been given to Salman Rushdie, Walter Mosley, Tom Brokaw, August Wilson, Carlos Fuentes, John Updike, and E.L.Doctorow, among some of the other notable writers below.

Louise Erdrich in 1997.


Tony Kushner (far left) pictured with ALOUD’s Louise Steinman in 2007.
Stephen King (right) in 2010.


Norman Mailer, 2006.


David McCollough (left) in 2002.

During this year’s celebration, bestselling author Judith Krantz will also receive the Foundation’s Light of Learning Award for her devoted advocacy for the Los Angeles Public Library. Former Light of Learning recipients include Sharon and Nelson Rising, The Ahmanson Foundation, the Mark Taper Foundation, Wallis Annenberg, Gary Ross, and other longtime supporters.


Doris Kearns Goodwin (Literary Award Winner in 2000) with Gregory Peck (Light of Learning Recipient in 1996).



Seamus Heaney (on the left, Literary Award Winner in 1998) with Flora Thornton (Light of Learning Recipient in 1998).


Harper Lee (on the right, Literary Award Winner in 2005) with Veronique Peck (Light of Learning Recipient in 2009).

Thanks to all the supporters of the Library Foundation over the years who have contributed to providing free access to ideas and information and the civic, cultural, and educational core of our community.

Junot Díaz on the Blessings and Curses of Language

“As an articulate champion of the immigrant experience, unparalleled in sheer originality of language, with a keen sense of history, culture, and the way forward, Junot Díaz is a writer relevant to the people of Los Angeles at this very moment,” says City Librarian John F. Szabo. The author of the critically acclaimed Drown; The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award; and This Is How You Lose Her, a New York Times bestseller and National Book Award finalist, Díaz will receive the Los Angeles Public Library’s Literary Award this fall. Born in the Dominican Republic and raised in New Jersey, Díaz’s work has been hailed for its colloquial spin on a modern American voice—a blend of English and Spanish, slang, hip-hop, and poetry to create fiercely exquisite human portraits. The recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, PEN/Malamud Award, Dayton Literary Peace Prize, Guggenheim Fellowship, and PEN/O. Henry Award, we asked Díaz what fuels his electrifying writing before he arrives in L.A. to receive his newest honor.

You immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic as a child—what was the role of literature in your life during that transformative time?

Díaz:I doubt I could have survived that process, that madness, without books, without reading. My public library saved my life. My letter to Hogwarts was my first library card.

You can’t imagine the confusion of immigration. We all deal with it differently. I coped by trying to understand where I was and how I got there and in order to understand I read—everything.

Very few people are actually writing today in multiple languages, yet this is how a majority of the world communicates. When do you think publishing will catch up to this reality?

Díaz:Soon, I hope. But literature like film seems especially addicted to whiteness. The day that the faces on screens and on pages correspond to the diversity of our actual lives will be a great day indeed.

Your writing has been celebrated for its beautiful elasticity—the expansive nature of multi-lingual characters, the interplay of the vernacular, song, and cross-cultural experiences. When did you first fall in love with language and think maybe you would become a writer?

Díaz: Love? I don’t think my initial relationship with language was love as much as it was survival. After all the first challenge of immigration is to master the new tongue. It turned out to be quite a challenge indeed. I learned English because I had to and I guess writing was more or less (to quote Caliban) “my profit on’t.” Said another way, even after I learned English I never stopped obsessing on language. On whether I had learned English well enough and on the fact that my Spanish was fading. Writing was a way of working through my complicated thorny relationship with something I never had an easy relationship to. Some people love writing, throw themselves into it with eagerness.  But I’ve always approached my art reluctantly. It took me a long time before I finally realized that this was something I would not be able to avoid—that this was that most dreaded of covenants—a calling.

Can you talk about your connection to public libraries?

Díaz: I used to walk to my public library, which is exactly four miles from where I lived. I would walk there, read, get books and walk back. From London Terrace to Old Bridge Public Library. On the way there I would dream about the books I was reading. And on the way back I would dream about the books I was going to read. I would do this at least once a week. And when I think about what made me a reader (which always comes before writer, at least for me) I think about those long hikes through neighborhoods and farms, down long township roads. I think about my solitude and about how even now I can remember the weight of those books.

The Los Angeles Public Library strives to foster a love for books and lifelong learning in kids.  How do you think reading enhances our society?

Díaz: The free public library—both the institution itself and the ideals, which made it possible—is the granite plinth upon which our democratic society rests.  As libraries go so goes our democracy.

–Posted by Bridgette Bates

Fall Stops for The Library Store On Wheels!

The Library Store On Wheels is headed your way this fall!

Saturday 9/20 @ Artists & Fleas in Downtown LA 11am – 6pm

Sunday 9/21 @ Artists & Fleas in Downtown LA 11am – 6pm

Saturday 9/27 @ Fall Into Literacy Book Festival in the City of Wilmington 10am – 3pm

Sunday 10/5 @ CicLAvia at the Broadway Theatre District Hub 9am – 4pm

Wednesday 10/22 @ Lit Crawl LA: NoHo Round 1 and 3 (Stay tuned for details!)

For more updates, please follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram!

An Epic Quest Coming Soon: The L.A. Odyssey Project

Since the 8th century BCE, Homer’s haunting epic poem, The Odyssey, has spoken to audiences about what it means to struggle and endure as human beings. The Greek poem follows the hero Odysseus on his action-packed journey home after fighting in the ten-year Trojan War. As he encounters numerous obstacles along the way—from one-eyed giants to fantastical enchantresses—Odysseus’ wife Penelope assumes the leadership of his kingdom in his absence, warding off pressure from suitors eager to assume his wealth and power. Meanwhile, her son Telemachus sets off on his own voyage of (self) discovery to determine the fate of his father.

Almost every reader has some kinship with the archetypal characters and situations that The Odyssey represents, and this October, the Library Foundation of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Public Library invite readers across the city to rethink one of literature’s classic and heroic stories: The Odyssey. Throughout the month, the Foundation and Library will present The L.A. Odyssey Project, a month-long city-wide quest to consider what Homer’s epic tale of adventure and endurance means to Los Angeles readers today.

The L.A. Odyssey Project will journey into each of the neighborhoods of Los Angeles to explore the intimate connections between literature, history, science and the humanities to understand The Odyssey in the light of living in Southern California today. “The grand themes of The Odyssey can be retold for every generation because they provide cautionary tales and inspiration in the face of extreme adversity,” explains Rebecca Rickman, the Executive Producer of the project. “The difficulties—both physical and metaphysical—of reintegration which Odysseus encounters on the journey and with his family and his community upon his return to Ithaca—bear an uncanny resemblance to the problems facing our own troops coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. We saw this parallel as a golden opportunity to demonstrate how narrow the gap is between the ancient past and the present.”

The multi-faceted and multi-disciplinary project will feature a range of ways for audiences to experience the ancient text. From epic bicycle rides, to the re-imagining of a classical Greek vase by artist Peter Shire (pictured above and below) depicting the tale of Odysseus in L.A., to a special look at Homer-inspired films, The L.A. Odyssey Project will offer contemporary audiences the chance to draw their own conclusions about the relevance of Homer in their lives.

Librarians across 15 branches of the Los Angeles Public Library system will envision over 70 events for patrons of all ages. From building Greek vases (pictured throughout this post) with 3D printers to an odyssey through space with Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientists, from reading clubs for all ages to Cyclops puppet shows, library patrons across the Southland will have the opportunity to engage with the story like never before.

“From Venice to Eagle Rock, San Pedro to Sylmar, our patrons and library staff had such a great time exploring Moby Dick together as a community last year, that we are thrilled to do the same with The Odyssey,” said City Librarian John F. Szabo. “As the cultural hub of our city, the Los Angeles Public Library is the ideal place to rediscover and rethink classic and influential pieces of literature.”

In honor of the oral tradition that allowed Homer to capture the story in writing, the project will culminate on Saturday, October 25 with a seven-hour marathon recitation of the poem by the public at the Central Library. Learn more about this reading, and all the other events upon which you can embark during October at lfla.org/odyssey and stay tuned on this blog for more details.

Looking Forward to Fall at ALOUD

September is right around the corner, and ALOUD will be back for its fall season to offer Angelenos the chance to engage with Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, MacArthur geniuses, international peace activists, groundbreaking filmmakers, and more. Here’s what you can look forward to this fall at the downtown historic Central Library with these 17 free public programs.

ALOUD kicks off with a bang on Tuesday, Sept. 9, as James Ellroy, one of America’s greatest living crime writers, sits down to discuss his newest novel, Perfidia. In conversation with Walter Kirn – author of his own recent riveting take on a Los Angeles cold case – Ellroy uncovers a corrupt Los Angeles of the 1940s.

On Monday, Sept. 15, naturalist Diane Ackerman discusses her optimistic new manifesto on the earth-shaking changes now affecting every part of our lives, and those of our fellow creatures, The Human Age: The World Shaped By Us. On Wednesday, Sept. 17, Kim Bancroft recounts the story of Heyday Books, a plucky small press with bid ideas, with founder Malcolm Margolin.

Pictured above, New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow and award-winning author Jesmyn Ward take the stage to discuss their memoirs of a South still clouded by a troubled past on Thursday, Sept. 25.

On Tuesday, Sept. 30, in partnership with Ambulante California, ALOUD welcomes filmmakers Lourdes Grobet and Julianna Brannum with excerpts of their new documentaries illuminating indigenous stories on film.  And on Tuesday, Oct. 21, in collaboration with the Consulate General of Poland, ALOUD presents Polish Solidarity activist Adam Michnik and Cairo-based journalist Yasmine El Rashidi for a conversation about revolutions both velvet and violent.

On Thursday, Oct. 16, Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times journalist Héctor Tobar provides an astounding account of the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped beneath thousands of feet of rock for a second-breaking 69 days.

In October, as part of The L.A. Odyssey Project, the Library Foundation’s month-long exploration of Homer’s epic poem, ALOUD presents: writers Zachary Mason (The Lost Books of the Odyssey) and Madeline Miller (The Song of Achilles) on Thursday, Oct. 2; and MacArthur Award-winning author David Finkel (Thank You for Your Service) and Professor Albert “Skip” Rizzo, Director for Medical Virtual Reality at USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies – who has pioneered the use of virtual reality-based exposure therapy to treat veterans suffering from PTSD – on Tuesday, Oct. 28.

On Thursday, Oct. 23, poets Robin Coste Lewis and Claudia Rankine read from their work and discuss how poetry can become an active tool for rethinking race in America. And on Thursday, Oct. 30, bestselling author Azar Nafisi (Reading Lolita in Tehran) ponders the role of fiction in 21st century America with her new book, The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books.

KCRW Bookworm Michael Silverblatt interviews the great Marilynne Robinson about Lila: A Novel on Wednesday, Nov. 5. And the next night, ALOUD heads west to the Writers Guild Theater for “An Evening with Colm Toibin and Rachel Kushner.” During the special offsite program, Toibin (Nora Webster) and Kushner (The Flamethrowers) will read and discuss how they create characters that erupt off the page in novels where the political and the personal are locked in a deep and fascinating embrace.  This event is ticketed.

On Wednesday, Nov. 12, Harvard historian and New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore reveals “The Secret History of Wonder Woman,” with the riveting true story about the making of the most popular female superhero of all time, illustrating a crucial history of twentieth century feminism.

On Thursday, Nov. 13, bestselling author Sarah Thornton (Seven Days in the Art World) discusses her research – how she rummaged through artists’ bank accounts, bedrooms, and studios and witnessed their crises and triumphs – for her new book, 33 Artists in 3 Acts.

And closing out the season on Thursday, Nov. 20, Pulitzer Prize winner Jack Miles, writer Reza Aslan (Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth), and Rabbi Sharon Brous consider the comprehensive new Norton Anthology of World Religions and whether or not religion can really be defined.

The entire ALOUD Fall 2014 calendar is now available at www.lfla.org/aloud where you can make free reservations to attend September events. All October programs will open for public reservations on Friday, September 5th and November programs will open for public reservations on Friday, October 3rd. Members may reserve now for all fall season programs by using their Member-only link.

Top image: Jesmyn Ward (credit: Tony Cook) and Charles M. Blow (credit: Beowulf Sheehan)

 

Lost & Found at the Movies: The Ever-Adaptable Buck Henry

Befitting our library setting, legendary writer, actor, and director Buck Henry will explore writing and the art of adaptation at the next installment of Lost & Found at the Movies, the Library Foundation’s new series on film culture with series curator John Nein. On Monday, August 25, the special program will take a look at rare renditions of Shakespeare and a handful of lesser-known, wildly imaginative adaptations and Henry’s own literary adaptions, including Catch-22, The Graduate (for which he was nominated for an Academy Award in 1968 for Best Adapted Screenplay), and To Die For.

The program will also explore Henry’s rich work as an actor that spans theater, film and television and includes The Steve Allen Show, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Eating Raoul, Grumpy Old Men, The Secret War of Henry Friggs, The Real Blonde, Short Cuts, Gloria and Milos Forman’s often overlooked masterpiece Taking Off. He even hosted NBC’s Saturday Night Live ten times, appearing first in 1976, and for the last time in 1980. Before we hear from Henry on the art of adaptation, here’s a few clips from some of his many roles–including part of the Library Foundation’s own 2013 project, What Every Happened to Moby Dick?.

Screenwriter, Catch 22

Screenwriter, What’s Up Doc?

Screenwriter, To Die For

Nominated for an Academy Award in 1979 for Best Director for Heaven Can Wait

One of his numerous turns on Saturday Night Live

Henry was he the co-creator (with Mel Brooks) of Get Smart, he recently played Tina Fey’s father on 30 Rock, and you can even check out an early role from his college days: a Dartmouth 1950 orientation video, My First Week at Dartmouth.

And of course, musical contributor to last year’s Moby Dick Project

 

For more information about attending this free event, visit our website.

Machinations at the Library

Everyone loves the Los Angeles Public Library because it’s “free and open” to all, but what happens when artists are invited to creatively respond to the Library’s space and collection? Last Saturday night, ALOUD invited the Machine Project, one of L.A.’s most experimental and dynamic programming teams, to reimagine the Central Library. Doors opened at 8 PM after Library hours, and art enthusiasts spanned the block as if the historical library was holding its own downtown art walk. Crowds poured in to a bustling second floor—with music, dancing, drinks, and art installations flashing from every arm of the rotunda.

“Machine has presented public art at beaches, parking lots, museums, and sidewalks, but the architecture of the Library afforded us a whole new opportunity,” explains Mark Allen, the executive director of Machine Project. “I was greatly influenced by the crazy intersection of style forming and surrounding the rotunda space. From colonialist murals, 1990s meets Disneyworld, to abundant model train sets, the diversity of styles inspired a medley of performances working with the Library’s varying aesthetics. Everyone got to experience a night of wandering around the assorted architecture wondering what was going on, creating a sense of intrigue embodying the diverse aesthetic of the library itself.”

Here’s a look at some of the revampings that “freed” up our typical associations with card catalogs, stacks of books, and the hushed beauty of the marbled rotunda.

“Hallelujah Already”

Dancer Jmy James Kidd (pictured above) along with multi-instrumentalist and composer Tara Jane ONeil took center stage in the rotunda with a sound and dance improvisation inspired by a photograph of legendary choreographer Bella Lewitzky in the LAPL’s photo collection.

“Capsule Seance Projection”

Inspired by used books unearthed in a library book sale and featuring an omniscient head atop a stack of books, director Joel Fox created a site-specific video installation called “Capsule Seance Projection” in Children’s Literature.

“Shades of the Jeepneys Planet: Exploring the Known Unknown”

Jeepneys, named after colorful, iconic public transportation vehicles populating the Philippine islands, originating from discarded U.S. WWII army jeeps, capture the spirit of reinvention in their work to create other-worldly sounds, movements, and visuals, manifesting “electro Pinayism waves” that travel through space and time to heal and inspire love–here they landed in Teen ‘Scape where they pulsed over tables, bean bags, and computer stations.

“Untitled”

Artist and writer Jibade-Khalil Huffman crossed the concept of a card catalog with social media to make an interactive installation that invited guests to tweet questions throughout the night.

“No Further West: The Story of Los Angeles Union Station”

Last but not least, as part of this summer’s special exhibit “No Further West: The Story of Los Angeles Union Station,” train clubs set up spectacular model trains throughout the Getty Gallery that took audiences beyond your average train depot and into elaborate worlds of haunted houses and crop circles, weddings and funerals, and even a secret nightclub for the wild-at-heart. Learn more about upcoming model trains on display at Central Library.

All photos by Javier Guillen.

Lost & Found at the Movies Explores L.A.’s Greatest Roles

Los Angeles has been a “character” in countless films. On Thursday, July 24, the latest edition of Lost & Found at the Movies, the Library Foundation’s new series celebrating the art of cinema and the vitality of film culture, will explore the myriad ways L.A. has appeared in cinema —from the earliest images of the silent era, through the landscape of noir to visions of the future (with our rendition of a fireworks finale).

Series curator John Nein, along with special guests, film critic Kenneth Turan, and historian Marc Wanamaker, will tour iconic landmarks, long gone places, film classics and archival treasures that shine a light on the great diversity of L.A. As a background prop for the early silent films to the defining setting of “noir” classics, this program will explore what cinema reveals about this city and its communities. The program will also look at Los Angeles as it was documented in early non-fiction reels: rare films from UCLA Film & Television Archive and the Academy Film Archive.

A film historian, archivist and a native of Los Angeles, Marc Wanamaker will bring his expertise on the history of Los Angeles and the motion picture and television industries. Few people know the city as a location as well, which has served many of film seeking to recreate the locations of old. And Los Angeles Times’ and NPR’s Kenneth Turan will discuss some of his favorite L.A. films, including Bombshell (1933), Chinatown (1974), The Exiles (1961) and others – some of which appear in his new book Not to be Missed: Fifty-Four Favorites From a Lifetime of Film. Take a sneak peek below from these movies to help set the stage for this upcoming retrospect on some of L.A.’s greatest roles.

Learn more about Lost & Found at the Movies: LA on Film.

Illuminating the Parallels Between Us and Animals

We love animals—they can be furry, fun, expressive…and moody, just like us!

If you’ve ever wondered what your pet was thinking, you’ve probably compared your pet’s feelings to human emotions. The authors of the upcoming ALOUD program “Not Uniquely Human: The Astonishing Connection Between Human and Animal Health” show us just how  much we can in fact learn from such comparisons.


On July 10th, ALOUD convenes author Laurel Braitman (Animal Madness), Dr. Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and Kathryn Bowers (Zoobiquity) for a conversation on the vast commonalities between human and animal mental and physical health. From an anxiety ridden dog who jumped out of a window to performance anxiety among thoroughbred horses, the authors will share poignant and entertaining examples from their personal experiences and outside research that illuminates the parallels between us and the animal world.

Laurel Braitman, author and science historian, delves into the uncanny similarities between the species in her new book Animal Madness: How Anxious Dogs, Compulsive Parrots and Elephants in Recovery Help Us Understand Ourselves. Braitman’s anthropological background prompted her to closely observe the compulsive behavior of her new Bernese Mountain Dog, and to then realize that something was indeed very wrong. This discovery took Braitman down a path of realization that nonhuman animals can suffer from the same mental illnesses that humans do:

“Every animal with a mind has the capacity to lose hold of it from time to time. Sometimes the trigger is abuse or mistreatment, but not always. I’ve come across depressed and anxious gorillas, compulsive horses, rats, donkeys, and seals, obsessive parrots, self-harming dolphins, and dogs with dementia, many of whom share their exhibits, homes, or habitats with other creatures who don’t suffer from the same problems. …There is plenty of abnormal behavior in the animal world, captive, domestic, and wild, and plenty of evidence of recovery; you simply need to know where and how to find it.”

Using evidence from veterinary sciences, medical and mental health professionals, Darwin’s historical accounts, zoo keepers, animal handlers, pet owners and more, Animal Madness proves that animals of all species may suffer from similar mental disorders, and that if we use our understanding of mental and emotional issues in humans, we might be able to better help animals suffering from similar conditions.

Dr. Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and Kathryn Bowers, authors of Zoobiquity, also champion the similarities between humans and animals by focusing on some surprising physical health problems that can arise across species. Cardiologist Dr. Barbara Natterson-Horowitz began looking within the animal kingdom for examples of health issues she saw in her human patients, and was shocked to find many parallels that could be used as beneficial comparisons in diagnosing humans: bears struggling with obesity, monkeys developing heart failure, and chimpanzees fainting when stressed or dehydrated. Each case the authors encountered reinforced their belief that human and animal doctors should be working together in order to find, share and improve upon solutions to pan-species health problems.

These books argue that instead of treating humans and animals separately, we can better help ourselves and our animal friends by fostering a greater understanding of the animal kingdom and incorporating this knowledge into our daily lives and health care system.

Join in the discussion on July 10th to hear the unique and quirky stories of the characters that make up these two fascinating reads.

“Every creature in the world is like a book and a picture, to us, and a mirror.” –Alain de Lille, c. 1200 (from Animal Madness)

All photos above from the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.