After the bountiful excesses of December, January has become for many a month for deprivation – and this year, Veganuary has gripped us in a benign chokehold of avocado, chickpeas and avid label-reading. Thousands of people across the UK have set aside burgers and haloumi for a month, out of empathy, guilt, or the desire to make a change.
It’s not easy. Not when it’s cold out, and when hearty stews and pies and fistfuls of roast lamb are calling your name.
So here are some books about cuddly, conniving and convivial animals to keep your vegetable-consumption goals firmly rooted until February 1.
Watership Down by Richard Adams
Nowadays, you probably don’t eat much rabbit. It’s not in the Marks & Spencer dinner deal, for one thing. But if you’re looking for a warm-blooded manifestation of the reasons to turn into a vegophile, the humble bunny, all twitchy nose and soft eyes, is a good place to start.
Richard Adams was one of the last victims of 2016, and if you’ve never read his seminal work, now’s a great opportunity: not only is it the best-selling children’s book of all time, but it’s also so very dark and gruesome and blood-stained that you’ll wonder how it ever came to be a children’s book at all.
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
It’s a classic, Black Beauty: one of those books that falls firmly under the definition of books that you know you should have read, but (unless your mother, like mine, was a devoted horse-lover, and had a copy in every room of the house) haven’t.
Luckily, it’s also immensely gripping and heart-rending (and free as a digital edition, leaving that money spare for double helpings of cous cous and the like), following the journey of Beauty herself from birth through multiple owners and disasters and stable fires and broken knees and best friends called Ginger.
You’ll be ever so glad that Tesco were taken to task for their dastardly horse-related trespasses of 2015.
Fantastic Mister Fox by Roald Dahl
A list such as this one would be sadly incomplete without the inclusion of Mr Dahl, a genius in the field of anthropomorphisation, and therefore exactly the man to make you empathetic to the gingery blighters who keep knocking over your bins and mating loudly in the early hours of the morning.
A children’s book, yes – but also one that explores notions of charity and family, as it details Mr Fox’s efforts to feed his family and neighbours in the face of unfriendly fire from the resident farmers.
Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
Whatever your motivation for a month of meatlessness, this savage non-fiction dissection of our current carnivorous ways is bound to give you the reinforcement you’re after. Presenting the gut-wrenching truth about the price paid by the environment, the government, the Third World and the warm-blooded creatures themselves, Foer debates the ethics of meat-eating unflinchingly.
It’s not all finger-pointing, though – the author also takes time to explore how you might live your life more conscientiously whilst still enjoying palette-pleasing poultry and the like. A good one to pick up at the close of the month.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
If you’re skeptical about the appeal of a book about a seagull, then make no mistake: this is not a book about a seagull. This is a timeless classic; an inspirational fable; the simple tale of a seagull determined to be better than ordinary.
You’ve probably never put yourself inside the mind of a gull, viewing them only as pests determined to get a gullet-full of your seaside fish and chips – but you’ll be hard-pressed not to after reading this homily about love, life and flight.
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Ah, fish. So delicious. BUT if you’ve ever felt outraged and horrified over the whaling industry, it’s pretty easy to backtrack from there to an understanding that the problem isn’t limited to the biggest of the fishes: on a small scale, we’re over-fishing and tipping the delicate oceanic balance on which we all depend, and therefore setting aside the fish and noshing down only on chips has all kinds of positive ramifications for both you and the environment.
To help you with your salmon cravings, sink your teeth into this Melville epic and enjoy the travails of Captain Ahab as he embarks on a journey of self-discovery in his quest to land the white whale.
Beautifully written, bold and surprisingly funny, you’ll be gripped from the epic first line to the closing battle during which (SPOILER) the whale wins. Score one for the animals.
Sea biscuit by Laura Hillenbrand
Having scoured the back-catalogues of animal-worshipping literature, there are two standouts when it comes to species that make us soft: dogs, and horses. This book follows the latter, in the non-fiction biography of the racehorse Seabiscuit.
This rags-to-riches tale of a roughly-hewn, undersized underdog of a pony is completely unforgettable, even if, like me, you keep accidentally misnaming the eponymous hero Seahorse. Seriously, surely that was a missed trick?
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
In truth, this is less a book about dogs than it is a book about families, mathematics, maps, astronomy, travel, chaos, illness, violence, mental dissociation, and dogs. But (stick with me here) it is a book that will take you out of your head – your own problems, and concerns, and fears – and present you with a wide-open universe, as experienced by one small scared boy.
Basically, if you’re looking for a novel that will make eschewing meat and dairy seem like a small task rather than a major mission, this is the one. The fact that it has a dog in the title is just a bonus.
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Whether you opt for the movie or for the book, Life of Pi will immerse you in the fruits of an incredible imagination – a journey as harrowing as it is beautiful. This is one of the more diverse offerings when it comes to members of the animal kingdom, featuring, among other things, a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan (not for long, don’t get attached) and a tiger called Richard Parker.
It’s the close of the book where questions of ethics and animals really arise – and where you’ll be forced to question whether the animals were ever there at all. At any rate, the scenes during which the incarcerated carnivores do what they do best will certainly give you second thoughts about ingesting flesh.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
The animal element of this Man Booker-nominated book by this prolific best-selling author is one I can’t explain without giving away an essential plot twist: suffice to say that this exploration of a young woman’s complex relationship with her family, her past and her present will leave you questioning exactly how hard and fast the boundaries between man and beast really are. A scintillating commute read.
TIP: Page 77 is where it all kicks off.
Northern Lights by Philip Pullman
This is not a moral question that ever gets raised in the book itself, but: if you knew that part of your own nature was a beautiful eloquent animal, and your own inbuilt best friend, would you still contemplate a carnivorous lifestyle?
If you managed to escape childhood without having been immersed in Philip Pullman’s fantastical three-volume world, then you must remedy this immediately. Featuring a sparky female lead, witches, ghosts, philosophy, angels and talking bears, this is exactly the kind of January escapism you need a generous dairy-free helping of.
Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann
Lamb is delicious – but arguably even more delicious is this witty detective story, in which a flock of crime-solving sheep set out to discover who murdered their shepherd.
Headed up by Miss Maple, Othella and Cordelia, this unusually intelligent ruminant-led caper will (as promised by The Guardian) be the best sheep-led detective story you read this year. It’s a bit macabre, very surreal and utterly original.
The Call of the Wild by Jack London
This is the classic tale of the bond between man and beast, based around the life of Buck, a domestic dog who lives as the prize pet of a judge, then as an Alaskan sled dog – and then finally returns to life in the wild. If you need a solid moral reason to stick to spinach this month, then the chapter where he saves his master from drowning will probably do it.
As an added bonus, spend some time reading up on the author himself, who died at the age of 40 having penned 50 books in 20 years, spent most of his childhood actively participating in the piracy of oysters in San Francisco Bay, and sold the full rights to his most famous book for $2000, because he wanted to buy a boat.
Enslaved by Ducks by Bob Tarte
This unusual little non-fiction book takes the prize for the best title – and tells the story of Bob, who married Linda, then found himself wholly at the beck and call of the multitude of feathered friends she brought into his life. This is a family comprised of ducks, doves, parrots, geese and turkeys, plus one errant bunny – and proof that even non-traditional pets can be top of the pecking order in an unconventional family.
It’s a bit Bill Bryson, a lot hilarious and – without preaching – guaranteed to make you think twice the next time you order monkey fingers down at the local pub.
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
If dinosaurs were alive, you would very much wish they were vegan. Apply this same logic to your own life.