As my first entry into the blogosphere, I want to give thanks.
This fall, I am celebrating something even more meaningful to an author than the publication of a new book: the revival of beloved previous works. For now, the four most important books of my early career are back in print.
They’re all in new, updated editions, with new, all-color photographs, new forewords and afterwords, and most with new covers. They are back thanks in large part to one of my best friends, one of my main sources of comfort and joy, someone who, though we are not genetically related, I’ll always consider part of my family.
I’m extremely grateful to my dear friend Joni Praded, the editor who brought the books to the attention of Chelsea Green, which published these books this year. Joni and I have known each other since 1985, when she was editor of Animals magazine and I a regular contributor.
For, although Christopher has been dead for nearly five years, he continues to bring me blessings, including the blessings I celebrate today. For it’s a fact: my dead pig brought my dead books back to life.
Of course, a book is never really dead, thanks to libraries. One of scientist/author Temple Grandin’s colleagues pointed out to her that the world’s libraries contain our extra soma, or out-of-body genes. Libraries offer us immortality. But for a writer, when your book goes out of print, even though it’s still in libraries, even though there are always used copies floating around for sale, it’s like a knife in the heart. It feels like a betrayal and a failure that eats at you a little every single day.
By the time I began work on The Good Good Pig, a memoir of my 14 years with the extraordinary Christopher Hogwood, a sickly runt piglet who came home in a shoebox on my lap and grew to 750 pounds (he came to command a vast slops empire), all my major books for adults were out of print. My tiny, fragile writer’s ego, my shallow, drying-up pool of self-confidence, was vaporized. It really felt as if all my accomplishments to date had just vanished into thin air.
After all, these were books for which I had literally risked my life. Researching Walking with the Great Apes, which took me to Rwanda, Zaire, Kenya, Tanzania and Borneo, I got dengue fever (also known as “break-bone fever”) and nearly died. Working on Spell of the Tiger in Sundarbans, the only place on earth where tigers routinely stalk and eat people–they swim out after your boat like a dog chasing a car–a tiger had swum after my boat. To complete Journey of the Pink Dolphins, in my four trips to the Amazon, I had taken hallucinogenic ayahuasca with a shaman who promised I would meet dolphin spirits in a trace, and had swum with piranhas and electric eels. (They never bothered me.) For Search for the Golden Moon Bear, with biologist Gary Galbreath I had walked and motorcycled through forests laced with unexploded landmines.
(photo credit Dianne Taylor-Snow)
And for each of these books, the risks had been well worth it. I write about the relationships between animals and people, in hopes of helping to mend the rift between humans and the rest of animate creation. The people and animals I met in the journeys I undertook for each of these books taught me so much. Researching Walking with the Great Apes, my heroines Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Birute Galdikas showed how loving their study animals gave them insights that forever changed the scientific study of animals. The people of Sundarbans taught me that without predators, the world cannot be whole. The pink dolphins showed the transformative power of the Amazon and the value of keeping the promises we make with our fellow creatures. Searching for the golden moon bear lead Gary and me through the landscape of redemption.
And each of these books had enjoyed a good run. The average shelf life of a new book in the nation’s bookstores is said to be shorter than the shelf life of yogurt in the grocery. Walking with the Great Apes had been in print more than 15 years. It had been a New York Times Notable Book. Spell of the Tiger had been the subject of a National Geographic television documentary and I had written a children’s book, The Man-Eating Tigers, on the same subject, now in paperback. Journey of the Pink Dolphins–probably my favorite book–had won awards and rave reviews, as had Search for the Golden Moon Bear. But that wasn’t enough to save them. They went out of print, joining expired dairy products in the Not-So-Great Beyond.
But from beyond the grave, Christopher Hogwood rescued them all from obscurity.
When The Good Good Pig was published in 2006, Christopher’s indomitable spirit, his delight in the sweet savor of the world, proved irresistible. The book became a national bestseller. It was published in six languages. That book did so well that my friend Joni managed to convince Chelsea Green that maybe people who didn’t know about my work before its publication might want to read the other books I had written.
And so here they are.
I can’t tell you how great it feels to have these books back in print. It’s like the universe saying, “Oh, I guess your first 15 years as an author did matter after all!” Because the books are in inexpensive paperback (Search for the Golden Moon Bear was previously unavailable in paperback) they may find an even wider audience than they did on first publication. And I owe it all to Christopher. That pig hasn’t let being dead slow him down at all.
At first, his death really slowed me down, though. I was a mess. For fourteen years, I had counted on hearing his happy love grunts every morning as I hand-fed him delicious slops saved by friends and delivered by local restaurants (whose staff sorted the garbage in deference to his dietary preferences and restrictions: no meat–we didn’t want him to know he could eat us— no onions, no citrus.) For fourteen years, many times a day, I would stroke him and brush him and in the summer, wash him, often assisted by a small group of adoring children. His sense of humor, his great intelligence, and his penchant for escape had given me fourteen years of surprise and delight. His great bulk, and his great love, had made my sorrows seem small. And now he was gone. I believed in the survival of the spirit after death–but there was just no substitute for his expressive, hairy ears, his moist, strong, questing nose disk, his magnificent swishing tail. At 750 pounds, Christopher Hogwood was, in life, not only corpulent but very corporeal. I desperately missed his corporeal company.
But my friend Gretchen Vogel, who’s a medium, told me after he died she could see him. She said he was bigger than ever. In life he had been a great big Buddha master, who taught me how to make friends with neighbors and children. After death he became a great big benevolent spirit pig who, she told me, would now watch over me wherever I go.
Every day, I still desperately miss Christopher’s furry ears and his deep love grunts and the feel of stroking his full belly. But Gretchen is right. I feel certain he is looking after me. His is an immensely powerful spirit, and it is still with me. In helping to revive my books, he has given me the gift that as an author, I crave most: new readers, each one offering me a new chance to tell the truths the animals have shown me.
[This article was originally publishend on Sy Montgomery’s Amazon Author Blog].
Photo (Sy Montgomery with tiger cub): Phebe Lewan.