Seaside Book Club –
by Deborah Rogers –
There was a big turnout for our discussion of Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans De Waal despite it being another of those books that many wanted to like, but struggled to read. Primatologist De Waal has spent his life researching animals and is clearly an expert in his field. He poses the question of the book’s title as a way to make us examine the barriers we have put up between humankind and animals as we assess intelligence and skill. De Waal’s argument is that we should be attempting to understand a species’ intelligence within its own context and world – that there are many different forms of intelligence and each should be evaluated relative to its environment. “It seems highly unfair to ask if a squirrel can count to 10 if counting is not really what a squirrel’s life is about,” de Waal writes.
There were two overwhelming reactions from the many readers at the meeting: firstly “why” all the animal testing, and secondly that the style of the writing was very dry, making it hard to plough through.
The resounding “why” that many readers came with relates to the waste that all the animal testing demonstrates. Wasted resources, and animal lives, to prove a point that seems to largely miss the point. Animal tests have been conducted over the years as if to prove that humans really are the top of the pile, superior in every way, but in striving so hard to prove that point the testing methods and skills tested for have disregarded the different, quite incredible, innate intelligences different species have.
Addressing the second point, the tone of the book surprised some readers. For a science topic that would obviously have a lot of interest from the general population, there was none of the humour that popular science books often use to help relay complex material. The animal anecdotes were intriguing, sometimes surprising and often a bit heartbreaking, but De Waal himself remained dispassionate. It’s a methodical analysis, which made one member question if perhaps we weren’t the audience he was writing for. Another member of the group found some YouTube videos of De Waal at a TedTalk and remarked how much more accessible the subject matter was, and that the scientist was funny and engaging. Perhaps that is a better starting point for anyone interested in his research.
At our next meeting we will be switching gears to a novella based on an Athabascan Indian legend: Two Old Women: An Alaska Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival by Velma Wallis.
The meeting will be held on March 14 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. upstairs at the Shoal Centre, Resthaven Drive. Visit www.seasidemagazine.ca/book-club for more information and to sign up!
Book Club Q & A
Q How do you choose the books?
A The book selection is a little down to luck – each month the Sidney/North Saanich Library tries to get hold of a book club set for us to use. Availability is based on demand. So far we have had a choice between several titles each month, and have voted which one to use. Generally this will mean that people can leave the meeting with a copy of next month’s read. Book Club members can suggest titles they would be interested in reading from the VIRL book club sets list:
Q How do you structure the meeting?
A Members bring questions or discussion points with them, written down. These are put in a “hat” and drawn from to keep the discussion going. It leads to diverse questions and no need for anyone to feel self-conscious. The meeting is facilitated by Seaside Magazine’s Deborah and Sidney/North Saanich Library’s Virginia.
Q How do I stay up to date with Book Club happenings?
A Sign up for our mailing list and you’ll get meeting reminders by email. And follow us on Facebook to see everything that’s happening at Seaside Magazine!