In Honor of Darwin, A Menagerie of Species

shelved under Fiction

This list was created on February 12, 2009. This date happens to be both the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publishing of Darwin's groundbreaking "The Origin of Species".

What to do when faced with such a special date? Turn to the Twitter* Followers of Flashlight Worthy and ask them to name Flashlight Worthy books with animal names in the title. I limited it to fiction only (with one obvious exception) and no children's books (just between frog, bear, and rabbit we could have come up with 100 titles.)

As I should have expected, I was immediately inundated; below are 50 of the many flashlight worthy titles suggested. I wish I could say they were in some logical or clever order but to be honest, it was all I could do to keep up with so many great suggestions. Enjoy!

* Twitter is extremely simple... and yet extremely difficult to explain. If you don't know what it is, here's a thorough explanation.


Water for Elephants

by Sara Gruen

Renee R. from Aiken, SC says:

I'd always wanted to be in the circus growing up. Reading this book made me feel like I was a part of the carnival life when such a life was perhaps the most difficult. This story made me fall in love with the circus all over again. This is a beautiful story with characters so well-developed, I found myself cheering out loud at every calamity that befalls the villain.


I Heard the Owl Call My Name

by Margaret Craven

Ian Alexander Martin from Metro Vancouver, Bri9tish Columbia, Canada says:

This tale of the West Coast of Canada is all about how one should never reject anyone's beliefs because they are not your own. My father thought the world of this book — still does, actually — for the reasons that he was born in the area of the story, as well as the fact that he'd run into more than a few weird experiences with the First Nations People of the area later in life where one could only walk away saying "don't know what happened, but... it wasn't 'normal', that's for sure". Read this to discover how acceptance of an idea works in two different sociological directions.


The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

by Mark Haddon

Tessa from Surrey, England says:

You need to read this book — you will love it. The storyline is simple, but it's told from the perspective of a teenager with Aspergers Syndrome. It's funny, happy, sad, intriguing, all through the filter of a person who sees what we don't see, and misses what we take for granted. One of my favourite books, ever.


Animal Farm

by George Orwell

Miss Hannah says:

Animal Farm is a political treatise under the guise of a simple story. It's also a great book, and one that seems to come up in a lot of serious discussions. Whatever your feelings on the politics, you will enjoy reading it, and find yourself thinking all the way through to the end. Also, the next time someone refers to it, you'll be able to catch the reference and contribute.


Bee Season

by Myla Goldberg

Bev a.k.a. "Hockeygal4ever" from Erie, PA says:

While it's far from on the edge of your seat thrilling, this book has a way of creeping into your lap and comforting you like a cup of tea. Bee Season is a story about a little girl who seems to be all but invisible to her own family. In her world of brilliant parents and brother, she is barely intelligent enough to get a glimpse from them, until she discovers that she has a knack for spelling. Discovering the world of Spelling Bees and whizzing through them like a brain-child, 11-year-old Eliza soon becomes the star in her own world, getting the attention she's craved her entire life. Heart warming, somewhat Godly-like in text, you walk away from this quick read feeling just a little bit better.


The Secret Life of Bees

by Sue Monk Kidd

Kathy H. says:

Okay, so maybe this one's a little sappy and predictable, but I remember one scene with a hairbrush that broke my heart. The motherless daughter in this book never stops searching and hoping, and the premise that perhaps she's the reason her mother is no longer there is almost too much to bear.


Animal Dreams

by Barbara Kingsolver

Mom3girls says:

I've purchased 6 copies of this book and still don't have a copy on my bookshelf. No one I've loaned it to has ever returned it!


The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

by Haruki Murakami

Ray Davis Curry from Portland, Maine says:

Even in translation, Murakami writes in a unique, piercing style of Zen crystalline prose, describing aspects of common life and things I've never experienced, like nothing i'd ever read. Mystery, love, different culture.


The Sparrow

by Mary Doria Russell

Jane Baker from Hampshire, UK says:

Describing this book is almost impossible to do without sounding glib or trite — 'Jesuits in space' unnecessarily trivializes a novel resounding with heartache and pain and desolation and, yes... Jesuits in space. Rarely have faith or religion shared page-space with such good, scientific science fiction so successfully. And beautifully, agonizingly well-written to boot.


The White Tiger

by Aravind Adiga

Karin Lewis says:

A brilliant and thought-provoking tale. It changed my view of India completely and made me rethink the concept of globalization and its effects on individuals.


Cat's Cradle

by Kurt Vonnegut

Stephanie Shelan Katz from New York City says:

This was my first introduction to Vonnegut in high school and remains one of my favorite books. Cat's Cradle follows the narrator's quest to write a book about what people were doing during the Hiroshima bombing, including the interesting people and ideas he discovers along the way. It's science fiction, political (and religious) satire and philosophy all squished together with some humor. My favorite part is the religion of Bokonism. This is a book to read over and over. Enjoy!

This book also appears on The Favorite Books of Laura Shea


The Eagle Catcher

by Margaret Coel

Leah Smith from Burtonsville, MD says:

Banished to the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming to recover from his alcoholism, Father John O'Malley teams up with Arapaho attorney Vicky Woman Alone to solve the murder of a tribal chairman.

This book also appears on Mysteries Solved by Clergy. Really.


Cat's Eye

by Margaret Atwood

Gemma from hull,uk says:

I read this in school for a paper, and the insights it gave me into the world of young girls and how they can be manipulative and sneaky is one reason I shall be keeping a close eye on our daughter as she grows up. And its amazing how we see these neuroses come back to haunt Elaine as she travels back to her home town — fantastic leaps from past to present.

This book also appears on 9 Wicked Beach Reads about Friend-Fatales


The Bird Artist

by Howard Norman

A cast of eccentric characters accentuates this “Newfoundland Gothic” story of betrayal, murder, love lost, and found.

This book also appears on 10 Canadian Fiction Favorites


Still Life with Woodpecker

by Tom Robbins

Malori from Alta Loma, CA says:

Reading this book was a foray into the minds and romance of a couple of the most eclectic, insane and deliciously absurd characters that you will ever love. It's at times random and at other times, organized chaos. This book was my first Robbins read and I will admit that at times I was shocked by some of the more blunt and explicit scenes, but I came to love Robbins' style and way with storytelling. Definitely not a book for the fainthearted or prude, but I do recommend it for anyone looking to experience something different.


Tears of the Giraffe

by Alexander McCall Smith

Jan McClintock from Texas says:

The particular style of writing for this series will not be to everyone's taste, but the stories are sweet and light. This is the third in the series (starting with "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency") but I think it can be read alone, since the author's tendency to repeat the characters' circumstances begin each book. These are simple tales of the methodical and intelligent woman Mma (Ms.) Precious Ramotswe, a private eye in Botswana, Africa. She has guts and knows her place in the world, which endear her to fans. The supporting characters are developed throughout and the atmosphere is well built. The slow pace may hamper some readers, but these are not adventure stories. I enjoy reading Mma Romotswe's thoughts about her world and the traditions that are so important to any society, as well as the stories themselves, always including observations on our strange of wonderful human nature.


All the Pretty Horses

by Cormac McCarthy

Expatina from Berlin, Germany and Umbria, Italy says:

McCarthy is a maestro of simple language and strong stories. This might be his best book — it tells of two teenagers who run away to Mexico in a way that will stop you from thinking the Old West was ever glamorous.


The Beekeeper's Apprentice

by Laurie R. King

Jan McClintock from Texas says:

The first volume of a fascinating and well-written historical mystery series about the partnership of two oddly-matched detectives: Mary Russell, an American-born young woman with an overburdened intelligence living in England, and her neighbor, Sherlock Holmes. The relationship, as unlikely as it seems, is wonderfully developed. The mystery is engaging but I treasured the interaction between the characters more. Told from Mary's point of view, the story is a mix of adventure and thriller, with humor punctuating. Highly recommended for historical fiction and mystery fans.


I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

by Maya Angelou

Kaye Mitchell from Austin, Texas says:

This is a very personal look into the growing up of a young black girl in a poor as dirt town in Arkansas. I know those towns myself and so the story came to life for me. I will tell you the answer to why the Caged Bird Sings, it is because it has to. You will read this small book in one sitting and know you didn't waste your day. I want to read it for the first time again.

This book also appears on The 10 Most "Challenged" Books of 2007


To Say Nothing of the Dog

by Connie Willis

R. Kelly Wagner from Baltimore, MD says: This is the funniest book Willis has ever written, and that's saying something. One can get even more out of it if you've read the century-old classic "Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)" by Jerome Jerome, but you don't have to have read that to enjoy this story of time travel, the Bishop's Bird Stump, and boy meets girl.


Rabbit, Run

by John Updike

Chris Connaughton from Hampshire, UK says:

It's been years since I first read this, but it sticks in the mind forever. Updike succeeds in recreating a period of long gone American society in flawless details, yet like all good writing it still seems up-to-the-minute incisive and relevant. The central character could have invented the term "Everyman", and his struggles, tragedies and small triumphs are as heartwarming, frustrating, terrifying and hilarious as life itself. Heartily recommended for those looking for a way in to the late, great John Updike.

This book also appears on John Updike's "Rabbit" Series


The Wasp Factory

by Iain Banks

Richard Jay Parker says:

Bizarre character study of Frank – murderer of three people and inhabitant of a grotesque world that precipitates revelations far more shocking than the crimes he believes himself guilty of. Killer: Innocent?

This book also appears on Books Narrated By Killers


The Dogs of Babel

by Carolyn Parkhurst

Lynette Mattke from Silver Spring, MD says:

I was extremely intrigued with the cover, summary and very clever title of this novel. The main character, Paul Iverson, grieving for his deceased wife, is determined to teach his pet dog, Lorelei, to talk, since she was the sole witness to his wife's death. The first third or half of the book is suspenseful, but as the story progresses, the increasingly obsessive Paul and the other rather twisted characters got to be a bit too much for me. There are some interesting questions raised about language, humanity, and monstrosity. In the end, I'd have to say: go read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein instead.


Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

Brenda from Amsterdam says:

Compelling. Golding's view on humanity when stripped of morals and social boundaries: man is essentially evil (as shown through innocent children) and power corrupts.


Oryx and Crake

by Margaret Atwood

Lori says:

This book gives a great view of a possible post-apocalyptic world. Some startling possibilities are explored and the main character is written very well. An entertaining read that is very hard to put down.


Birdsong of Love and War

by Sebastian Faulks

Lynette Mattke from Silver Spring, MD says:

Lovely. The writing is fluid and poetic and the story is captivating and thoughtful. I particularly appreciated the imagery. As you can probably tell from the title, Birdsong is not "light", but if you are in the mood for a good, substantial book, give Birdsong a try.


In the Skin of a Lion

by Michael Ondaatje

John H. Moore from Augusta, Maine says:

In the Skin of a Lion is a gem of a book. A study on the socio-politics of the underground where immigrants and locals meld together, it portrays an unjust world that's protested through satire and minor actions. This is a working man's book — people who want to change the world should read it. I had Orwellian thoughts while reading In the Skin of a Lion and look forward to reading some more of Ondaatje's novels.


Birds Without Wings

by Louis De Bernieres

John H. Moore from Augusta, Maine says:

This was a very good book. The life of a village during World War I — a village that is enjoyable before the war where Muslims & Christians inter-marry. Then the intertwining lives are shattered by the war and the Christians are forced to move as a result. What I enjoyed about the book is that it illustrates that 90% of the population live in peace without caring about race, creed or religion. How you live your life is judged not by how you look. The other 10% make life difficult for everyone else. The evolution of a village is beautifully drawn out. I highly recommend this book.


I Am a Cat: Three Volumes in One

by Soseki Natsume, translated by Graeme Wilson, Aiko Ito


To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

Roy L. Pickering Jr. from says:

Another classic that needs no introduction. A white lawyer defends a black man wrongfully accused of raping a white woman in the 1930s South. Readers see it all unfold through the eyes of his young daughter as she witnesses the worst and best that people are capable of. It's impossible not to be thoroughly absorbed by this story and admire its message that the quest for justice is always worth embarking on, regardless of the odds or possible consequences.


Plague Dogs

by Richard Adams

Chris Connaughton from Hampshire, UK says:

This is a book that can be enjoyed on a number of levels. Firstly as an exciting adventure story from the unusual — and occasionally very moving — viewpoint of two dogs who have escaped from a vivisection lab and are trying to survive in the wild. Secondly as an effective polemic argument on our cruelty and inhumanity and as a starting point for discussion about the rights and wrongs of animal experimentation it offers insights from a variety of viewpoints. As with much of Adams's other work, the style can grate at times, but stick with this story until the final climactic encounters and you will be rewarded with a unique novel that still has much to say over a quarter of a century on from its original publication.


Pigs in Heaven

by Barbara Kingsolver

Lynette Mattke from Silver Spring, MD says:

How can you not like a book with the title Pigs in Heaven? Kingsolver is as imaginative and engaging as ever with this novel. Her characters are lovingly developed and I appreciate her treatment of the mother and daughter topic. It is a book I will recommend to my 15-year-old daughter.


Of Mice and Men

by John Steinbeck

Marcella Bogart from Texas says:

Steinbeck was not America's great writer, but he was a uniquely American writer. Disenchanted, but not disaffected, he was never far in his heart from the people about whom he wrote. He was at his best, I think, when he wrote of the central coast of California and of the common man, as he does here. Of Mice and Men is small story, but a powerful and heartbreaking one.

This book also appears on Books That'll Make You Cry Like a Baby


Moby-Dick: or, The Whale

by Herman Melville, introduction by Nathaniel Philbrick

Katrina Naugle says:

Oh my bejeezus, Herman Melville has a great sense of humor. I put off reading this book 'cause I thought it was slow-going; turns out, I just wasn't catching his dry, witty sense of humor, and once I did, he just kept getting better and more clever! Ishmael is a truly funny character, in a dark way, which makes me wonder why they haven't made a movie yet (don't get any ideas! Don't ruin it! Just kidding — a little).


So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

by Douglas Adams

Marcella Bogart from Texas says:

I first read these books when I was about 12. When my sons were about that age, I bought each of them the complete works of Douglas Adams. I always wanted to be educated in the British Classics: Shakespeare, Chaucer, Monty Python, and Douglas Adams. Like all the books in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series, this one is side-splittingly funny, full of completely implausible, illogical events, characters and places. Douglas had the rare ability to capture unwieldy wild humor and commit it to the page without domesticating the beast. Wordplay abounds, and there is even the odd bit of sly, marvelous social commentary, if you look for it. Highly recommend it to fans of the brilliant but absurd.



by Kurt Vonnegut

Linda Shorey says:

Galapagos is satire but it is not over the top. A violent disaster leaves as the only human survivors on earth a diverse group of characters on a cruise ship off the coast of Ecuador. We learn their backgrounds and what brought them to Quito to take the cruise before they to make it to the ship. Eventually the ship comes to ground on one of the Galapagos islands. Generations pass and evolution takes its toll, leaving little, if any, life that would be recognizable as human. The book is funny, sad, and thought provoking.