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Animals Strike Curious Poses

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  505 ratings  ·  105 reviews
Beginning with Yuka, a 39,000 year old mummified woolly mammoth recently found in the Siberian permafrost, each of the 16 essays in Animals Strike Curious Poses investigates a different famous animal named and immortalized by humans. Modeled loosely after a medieval bestiary, these witty, playful, whipsmart essays traverse history, myth, science, and more, bringing each ...more
Hardcover, 200 pages
Published February 28th 2017 by Sarabande Books
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fulfilling book riot's 2018 read harder challenge task #22: an essay anthology AND #6: A book about nature

half-extry points given to me, by me, for choosing a book that i have owned for nearly a year.

review to come! full review to come - for now i am just dropping some pictures and the basic outline to prep.

Yuka (Mammuthus primigenius)
39,000 BP

The Wolf of Gubbio (Canis lupus)

Ganda (Rhinoceros unicornis)


Sackerson (Ursus arctos)

Jeoffry (Felis catus)

Mar 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
The essay on Mozart and the starling is worth the price of admission alone.
Book Riot Community
I will admit I immediately wanted to read this because of the Prince lyric title. (And I am also a fan of her last book of essays.) This is a collection of sixteen essays, each pertaining to a famous member of the animal kingdom, and examined with Passarello’s brilliant and fun insight. As a writer, she is an unusual treasure, and this book is a lot of fun.

Backlist bump: Let Me Clear My Throat: Essays by Elena Passarello

Tune in to our weekly podcast dedicated to all things new books, All The
Apr 07, 2018 rated it did not like it
Here is a partial list of things that would be more worth your time to read than this overwritten compilation of self-regarding nonsense:

1. The toxic shock information included in every box of tampons. Sure, it'll get repetitive after a while, but at least you'll know something new at the end of it.

2. The lyrics of that Insane Clown Posse song where they talk about how a long-necked giraffe is a fucking miracle. They're problematic in a lot of ways as a group, but they're not wrong about
Nov 25, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: did-not-finish
I'm giving up on this. I thought it would be a light, fun, end-of-the-year holidays read but it's too dense (which seems weird to say about short stories about animals). The stories all start off with no context whatsoever and they're all so esoteric and artfully written that you never actually LEARN about the animal. I don't really care enough to consult Google to find out what the author is trying to tell me. I'm disappointed because I like the idea of this book but it's just too inaccessible.
Joshua Buhs
Jan 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Dig, if you will, this picture . . .

It's a thousand words, right? And every essay by Passarello is a couple thousand--but feel like so much more. They are dense without feeling dense, and their gravity is increased by being in what is a relatively slim volume, themes echoing and building, her thesis not fully revealing itself until the end.

What she's after, it seems to me, is what animals mean to a consciousness--whip-smart, observant--that came of age at the end of the twentieth century, when
Oct 03, 2018 rated it did not like it
Horrible. Whay kind of person feels the need to share some of the most atrocious ways that people treated animals? Spare me the “we need to learn from our mistakes” nonsense. The last “chapter” about Cecil the lion was pure liberal bias. It has all of the elements to make people scream, kick, protest, and yes, talk about the book: a big bad scary gun, a beautiful creature who has a name, and a white guy. Really? Not a word of background, just bad people being bad and gee, human beings suck. ...more
Mar 13, 2017 marked it as to-read
Shelves: short-stories
breathlessly reviewed by author of H is for Hawk:
Mark Hennion
Passarello's newest offering is absolutely worthy of the praise being lavished on it. On one hand, this fascinating book offers its readers the advertised "modern bestiary," replete with historical examples and enriching narratives that ably tell the story of humanity's troubled relationship with other life forms. On the other hand, the narrative requires keen attention and I suspect would struggle to attract a general readership.

Passarello varies her techniques as much as she does her subject.
Aug 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: library, essays, animals
One of those books that feels like it was written specifically for me. It combines two of my favorite things: lyric/experimental essays and explorations of human-animal relationships. Passarello is so skilled, and the joy she gets from putting words together in brilliant ways comes through when reading. I felt both her heart and mind reaching off the page: she has sincere empathy for the animals about which she writes, and also interesting and new ways to think about them. I got this from the ...more
Jul 01, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
*3.5 stars. An interesting and creative book. I very much enjoyed the Mozart/starling section and the description of the horse’s mouth. Many beautiful and lyrical passages, but here’s one that gave me pause and made me laugh:
“I was just one of the thousands of Americans born in 1978 that watched a surgically altered goat ride a golden chariot around their local civic center” (184).
Apr 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Strong collection of creative nonfiction about famous & notable animals, arranged chronologically from Yuka the Woolly Mammoth to Cecil the Lion. You never know what you're going to get from section to section: while some of the pieces were factual and essay-like, others read a bit like fiction. "Jeoffrey" takes a strange old English poem about a Cat that survives only in fragment (Jubilate Agno, "For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry") and writes/fills in a missing section. "Harriet" tells the ...more
Alex V.
Dec 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I haven’t quite finished it but want to get it in before year’s end that ANIMALS STRIKE CURIOUS POSES is the best book I’ve read not only in 2017 and from 2017 but in a few years from any year. This unassuming book of essays about specific animals and their historic, mythic, symbolic relationships to certain humans is dazzling in its language and savage in its emotional range. The bit about Mozart and the starling will make you cry. Edison vs. Jumbo will make you punch somebody. The opening bit ...more
Dec 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I haven't read a collection of essays as brilliant and engaging as ruthlessly inventive as these since the last book by Eula Bliss. Passarello explores the relationship between humans and animals by individual takes on some of the great, known animals of history. While not a pure work of scholarly "natural history", Animals Strike Curious Poses provoked set-down-the-book moments of deep contemplation for me, and is filled with the surprises and realizations that brought about when reader is ...more
bklyn mike art
Dec 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
a fantastically original book on endangered animals and the attitudes of humans who endanger them. highly recommend.
Mar 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019reads
Did not expect to like this book this much. Essays, each linked to a single animal, with history and human quirks throughout. Many are sad, because we kill things a lot, but the writing is good, the stories are mostly charming, and I learned stuff.
Jul 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
What an expected delight of my summer reading!
Mar 07, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: requested
Interesting topics and information, but I ended up liking it just all right.
Maisy Bowden
Jul 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
I struggled with the beginning of this book — while the writing was beautiful, the stories were often so abstract that I felt I needed to have read the histories of each animal before reading Passarello’s unique delivery of the their stories... a lot of the details were lost on me. I felt that rather than factual accounts of animals in history (as I was expecting), I was getting an anthropocentric narrative that focused more on the humans of the time than the animals. But by the end, Passarello ...more
Matthew Gavin Frank
Mar 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Elena Passarello’s essays tell secrets. They pass notes riddled with urgent information. They re-invent urgent. These are essays so impossibly good that we unfold them slowly and quietly beneath our desks. They may tell us that they’ll beat us up at dusk on the playground. They may tell us that they love us. We will emerge from them changed and bemused, as the world stretches out now, differently burnished and so much bigger before us. We suspect we will get in trouble for reading them. We ...more
Peter Tillman
NYT review, by Helen Macdonald, author of “H Is for Hawk”:

I'm struggling with this one. Almost cerainly a DNF, as it's due back in a couple of days, with someone else waiting for it.

I read at a couple of the essays when the book arrived, was unimpressed, and put it back on the shelf. Today I picked it up again, and read her essay on (mostly) Hunphrey the humpback whale, who got lost above SF Bay when the author was a kid. Humphrey ultimately made it back
Jul 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
The owner of my favorite bookstore gave me this book, for believing in his bookstore, basically. I am glad I kept reading it because all my favorites are in the second half: Jumbo II, Arabella, Lancelot, Osama. Each of these gave me a much-needed dose of wonder at the world we're alive in.
Jun 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Sweet jesus, I will not lie:

I did not read this book for the essays.

I did not read this book, cover to cover, for knowledge of its author.

I did not read this book for its insight.

But its language. Lush, lyrical, magnificent as Mozart's best work, Passarello's prose outrages with the debauchery of its riches; it is prose that fiction writers aspire to, prose that new stories hope to grow up to resemble. I read this book for Passarello's gift in language. And I will do it again very soon.
Jul 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Such a unique book of essays that explores the stories of notable animals in history; animals that are mythical, grotesque, tragic, scientific, terrifying, and beautiful. The writing style varies wildly, which makes every page surprising and unexpected, but the prose is consistently thoughtful. SO GOOD. No Harambe, though.
Nov 29, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: unfinished
Quite simply, I couldn't get into the book. Initially, I was excited to read this work after hearing the author interviewed on NPR. Her explanation for writing the book and how she narrowed the broad scope of her topic to a manageable one further intrigued me. While the theme for each essay was interesting, in my opinion she missed the mark entirely. Her style was long-winded and pedantic.
Terry Mulligan
Nov 03, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Animals Strike Curious Poses, Elena Passarello’s collection of essays about animals, is…well, different. She mixes fact and fiction to create what might be dubbed entertainment science. The anthology begins with “Yuca,” who was a 39,000 year-old mammoth. Throughout the book, readers are continually reminded of the magical nature of animals and the pleasure and wonder they give us. For example, wooly mammoths inspired some of the earliest artwork known to man—cave drawings. The author also ...more
Jul 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
This boldly imaginative collection opens up new ways of defining man's troubled relation to the natural world, as each essay explores the life of an animal which intersected with human culture and society in profound ways.

Animals have always held a numinous place in the human psyche and what Passarello achieves here is that reading these works gives life to that deep sense of connection. For example, the act of riding a horse is a conversation between two bodies which are not so unlike each
Jan 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book of essays is excellent and oh, so odd! (which I intend as a compliment rather than a demerit) Not all of the experiments were equally successful in my view, but the ones that did zing also stung; Passarello has no illusions about the cruelty that human beings are capable of in their treatment of animals as raw materials rather than living, sentient beings. My favorite of the essays wove together the use--and particularly the abuse--of elephants as circus performers with the development ...more
Dec 30, 2019 rated it did not like it
This could've worked if:

1) In addition to the creative prose, straightforward context was provided before each story.
2) All the stories were modeled like Lancelot: An account of a personal connection/interaction with an animal issue (ex. zoos/circuses) centered around a particular individual animal without contrivance.
3) The author would write normally instead of trying to do whatever it is she was trying to do.

Boy, the author was really *trying* something here, weren't they? My main problem is
May 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
I was iffy on this when I started it (it was a gift)...but, I found myself thoroughly engrossed. Each essay is some sort of a reflection on the relationship between humans and animals, through the lens of one particular animal (or species) at one particular time in history.

There are two essays that stood out to me as particularly brilliant: One is on the disturbing overlapping trajectories of the industrialization of electricity in the late 19th and early 20th c. and the use imported of
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Elena Passarello is the author of Let Me Clear My Throat (Sarabande 2012), a collection of essays on some unforgettable moments in the history of the human voice. Her writing on music, performance, pop culture, and the natural world has appeared in Slate, Creative Nonfiction, the Normal School, Oxford American, Iowa Review, and the 2012 music writing anthology Pop When the World Falls Apart (Duke ...more