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A brief survey of animal rights literature

Awhile back I started a “best eco-fiction” list on GoodReads.

While there is plenty of excellent non-fiction out there about animal rights and activism, I wanted to focus on fiction.

Since then, the list has grown as others have suggested books I wasn’t aware of or had completely overlooked.

Here are a few titles from the list that are specific to animal rights:

Elizabeth Costello
J.M. Coetzee

I could have just as easily highlighted two other novels by Coetzee: Disgrace and Diary of a Bad Year. Animal rights is a recurring theme in Coetzee’s work and a few of his protagonists are vegetarians. Elizabeth Costello is a vegetarian (or vegan) and her speech in a chapter of the book called The Lives of Animals has become a popular work on its own. What’s I most like about this book is the dynamic between Elizabeth and her son’s family (who are not vegetarians). It’s a tense relationship to be sure and one that I think many vegetarians can relate to.

A Report to An Academy
Franz Kafka

Though this story is only a few thousand words long, it left a mark on me. It is a speech given by an ape that was once wild but is now “civilized.”

Here is an excerpt:

I could never have achieved what I have done had I been stubbornly set on clinging to my origins, to the remembrances of my youth. In fact, to give up being stubborn was the supreme commandment I laid upon myself; free ape as I was, I submitted myself to that yoke. In revenge, however, my memory of the past has closed the door against me more and more. I could have returned at first, had human beings allowed it, through an archway as wide as the span of heaven over the earth, but as I spurred myself on in my forced career, the opening narrowed and shrank behind me; I felt more comfortable in the world of men and fitted it better; the strong wind that blew after me out of my past began to slacken; today it is only a gentle puff of air that plays around my heels; and the opening in the distance, through which it comes and through which I once came myself, has grown so small that, even if my strength and my willpower sufficed to get me back to it, I should have to scrape the very skin from my body to crawl through.

A Mother’s Tale
James Agee

A Mother’s Tale is a short story that deals head-on with animal slaughter. The story can be read in many ways; it is surely as much about humans as it is about animals.

I also have to mention my novel The Tourist Trail. This is a story about those who put their lives on the line to protect animals. 2019 Update: I should also mention the sequel Where Oceans Hide Their Dead. This novel tackles animal slaughter, in Iowa and abroad, as well as a host of other animals issues.

For children, there is quite a lot of literature out there, from Black Beauty to Mrs. Frisby and The Nats of NIMH. And I must mention that our press has recently published a young adult “vegan vampire” novel: Out of Breath.

I remember as a child being struck by the violence that animals often endured (or were forced to escape from) in these books. Looking back, I wonder how I was able to reconcile reading books that took the points of view of animals with the fact that I was also eating animals. But I quickly learned, as did others, to reserve empathy for those animals we consider pets.

As Coetzee writes in Foe: We must cultivate, all of us, a certain ignorance, a certain blindness, or society will not be tolerable.

It is clear to me that we as a society are just beginning to remove the blinders regarding animal welfare.

I’m looking forward to publishing several books that will further the cause. Stay tuned.

If you have any books to add to this list, login to Goodreads and please do so.

Also, check out EcoLit Books for new reviews.

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  1. I just wrote a fiction novel called “Death Cry” They are listening… You can find it at Amazon.com, it’s about animal rights & animal cruelty. I would like to donate some ebooks to auctions that help fight against animal cruelty if I can find any auctions like that. Death Cry is a 45 chapter Fantasy novel.

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