An Interview with Tai Moses

For those of you not yet familiar with the inestimable Tai Moses, you’re in for an absolute treat. For those of you who already know Tai Moses (TM), it’s time to celebrate because she’s going to be in our store on June 30th for a reading!!! Tai Moses with ZooburbiaAnd, while you’re waiting for that, our bookseller Brandi Bailey (BB) interviewed her for your reading pleasure:


BB: The first question I need to ask you is, as you seem even more empathetic to nature and suffering than I am, how you keep yourself from just curling up in a little ball and crying your heart out?

TM: There are certainly times when I am tempted to curl up in a ball and cry; for instance, when I think about the wretched lives that cows, pigs and chickens endure at factory farms. However, there is something that helps me from feeling overwhelmed—and that is to act, to do something, to fight back in some way.

In Zooburbia I explore the ways in which compassion can be the basis for our actions in the world. The word compassion has Latin roots that translate to action andpassion. Technically, compassion is much more than just feeling sad about some heartbreaking thing you’ve read or seen—it means feeling the passion to act, and actually doing something to make it better.

For example, if you know of a dog who’s chained up in a yard, don’t just feel sorry for the dog: go talk to the dog’s owner, try to intervene, find out if there are anti-chaining laws in your community, politely educate the owner. I’m a big believer in taking matters into our own hands. Don’t wait for someone else to do something. Be that dog’s hero. There is always something we can do. You’ll find you start to feel a lot more powerful and a lot less like curling up and crying. And every time we speak up or take action on behalf of an animal, it helps to amplify and strengthen a larger vision of conscious concern for all animals.



BB: This book brought tears to my eyes every time you spoke about shelter animals but not as often when you talked about the wildlife. I’m sure a lot of people share that disconnect with me, and I’ve been re-evaluating my own outlook on wildlife since reading Zooburbia. Was that your intention when interspersing those topics? How do you handle people who insist that wild animals are not as worthy of their empathy as pets?

TM: In Zooburbia I wanted to tell stories about the lives of animals who are not beloved pets. The animals in Zooburbia are either wild or not wild but unowned and thus unloved, like shelter dogs and feral cats. Perhaps the reason many people feel less empathy for wildlife is because they are wild, we sort of expect their lives to be difficult. Whereas many of us have dogs and cats as family members, and the thought of their suffering is unbearable.

In our society, we’re conditioned to think of responsibility as linked to ownership. We’re responsible for the things and the people and the animals who belong to us. But I think this is an obsolete view. I believe that the wild animals who live around us and among us are a part of our communities, they are our wild neighbors and are deserving of our empathy. While no one owns them, we are still coresponsible for their well-being and safety.

So if your neighbor is putting out rat poison, try to explain to him—gently—that rat poison is going to harm not just rats, but dogs, cats, foxes, coyotes, raccoons, owls, hawks, and any animal who find the dead rat and eats it or carries it back to its nest.


BB: I really appreciated your honesty about loathing spiders. Bugs and insects are very hard for me to let be, and I’m nearly phobic of butterflies and moths. How’s the process of spider acceptance going? Any tricks for learning to accept the ickier creatures with an open heart?

TM: It’s an ongoing process. I still get the shivers from spiders, though I’d never kill one. I use a marvelous tool called a Snapy—a plastic wand with a clear plastic chamber at one end—to safely convey spiders from my house back outdoors. Why kill something when you don’t have to?

Try this, next time you come across a spider or other icky bug in your house or garden: give her a name. Once she has a name, she becomes an individual. That seems to go a long way toward decreasing the ick factor and making us feel more sympathetic. E.B. White was well aware of this when he put a spider at the center of Charlotte’s Web.

It’s easy to think of generic “spiders” as icky, but who wants to kill Charlotte?


BB: Speaking of acceptance: You incorporated quite a lot of Buddhist philosophy in Zooburbia. Are you a practicing Buddhist yourself? If so, did this come as a result of your love of nature or vice versa? Or are they too interwoven to tell?

TM: I am not a practicing Buddhist, but I do believe in a Buddhist principle called ahimsa, which means to cause no injury to any living being. It’s also known as nonviolence. Compassion and nonviolence are values that are shared with many different religious and spiritual traditions. I don’t belong to any of them, but I try to follow the principles of nonviolence in my life. Am I always successful? No. But none of us are perfect; all we can do is try to be kind and do the best that we can in every situation.


Q. My husband, who was raised in Africa, often points out the inherent American problem with nature, and I know you discussed that many European countries already incorporate wildlife underpasses on their freeways. Are there any other notable foreign advancements in regards to the harmony between people and nature that you would love to see instituted in the States?

TM: In terms of animal protection, Costa Rica is one of the most progressive countries in the world: Sport hunting is banned, circuses are prohibited from using performing animals, and last year the Coast Rican government announced its plan to close public zoos, setting wild animals free in nature preserves or sending them to sanctuaries where they will be cared for.

India is another country that is making great strides in animal welfare. The Indian government has put an end to animal testing and has proposed a ban on the import of cosmetics that are tested on animals. India has also enacted a ban on keeping dolphins in captivity and is phasing out the use of battery cages for confining egg-laying chickens.

And in 2008, Ecuador adopted a Constitution that grants inalienable rights to nature, becoming the first country to recognize that nature has rights.

These are all groundbreaking policies, and hopefully they will percolate over to the U.S. Legislation—passing new laws or strengthening existing laws—is one of the most effective ways to protect animals. South Dakota recently became the 50th state to make cruelty to animals a felony. We still have a long way to go, but that’s a milestone worth celebrating.

BB: I really need to know if Papagayo ever knew freedom. Or is he still caged and you’re short a friend?

TM: Sadly, as far as I know, Papagayo is still living a solitary life in his cage in the dining room. But Papagayo is only one of many thousands of parrots and other caged birds who live similarly deprived lives. Parrots are highly intelligent and social birds, and they suffer when they are robbed of the chance to participate in flock life.

Their human guardian has to take the place of their flock and that means giving them abundant amounts of love, attention and stimulation. If you’re not up to that challenge—and it can be very time-consuming to properly care for a parrot—you shouldn’t have one.

That’s why I used the epigraph from Xenophon on that chapter: “Anything forced or misunderstood can never be beautiful.” The nature of bird is to fly and to flock. To cage a bird is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of bird.


 “Anything forced or misunderstood can never be beautiful.”


BB: Finally, you love, own, and care for species rather indiscriminately, but what’s your favorite animal? Are you more of a dog person or a cat person?

TM: I love both species and get so much joy from each of them. We love categories, and certainly it can be fun to argue the merits of cats vs. dogs. The truth is, I like some dogs better than some cats and some cats better than some dogs. That way all my bases are covered—in case cats and dogs ever acquire the ability to read English.


Best Author Photo Ever
Best Author Photo Ever



Pack Your Bags: We’re Going to Canada

photo 1 (1)




[pages 132 & 133 in Kus #16: Villages,

available now in our Zines section]

 Oh Canada, exotic neighbor to the north, land of mounties, maple leaves, and strange but delicious potato chips (seriously, what are you magical All-Dressed chips?!).

All joking aside, Canada is more than just poutine (eat it), five-pin bowling (play it), and hockey-fiends (run!); Canada is a country as vast and diverse as the United States and, if the rumors are to be believed, a much friendlier disposition.

One of our favourite authors, Kate Beaton, helps illustrate this point:

While we’re talking about Kate Beaton, you need to read her book. You won’t be able to stop laughing. And she’s Canadian.

Hark! A Vagrant

David Rakoff was Canadian, too.

Fraud: Essays

You can read his books and listen to this This American Life episode about the Canadians among us. Because Canadians are among us. They blend well, but they’re here. One of our favourite booksellers hails from the great white north (it’s Justus, you can tell because she’s the nice one).

With much more pronounced British and French influences than our country has maintained, Canada is not only a fun, fairly easy to access, vacation destination but also the setting to several excellent books. Whether you’re looking for historical fiction, young adult adventure, or puzzling detective mysteries, the big red maple leaf has something you’re sure to read again and again.

And our Canadian bookseller would probably speak sternly to us if we failed to mention her favourite book first:

The Orenda: A novel

The Orenda

by Joseph Boyden

Quite simply, you need to read this book.

You need to read this book.

Set in the mid-1600s, The Orenda tells the story of a time wrought with cultural clashes, conflicting identities, and struggles to determine place in a quickly changing world. Boyden is a rare writer at his peak: his visceral sense of character and place leave you breathless, and his ability to navigate the historical novel’s complicated and rich history is impressive. This could very well be the best book you read, ever.


The Boundless

The Boundless

by Kenneth Oppel

This book is pure adventure. A fantastical train is setting off on its maiden voyage across Canada in the mid-1800s and it must survive sabotage. That is if it survives the perils of the Swamp Witch, the muskeg, and the sasquatch. This book has a hint of The Night Circus but for kids. Trust me when I say that you don’t need to be a kid to enjoy this tale.


Trauma Farm: A Rebel History of Rural Life

Trauma Farm: A Rebel History of Rural Life

by Brian Brett

One of the best parts about reading Trauma Farm is knowing how close Saltspring Island is to Seattle — a relatively quick trip compared to other places in our neighbour’s vast northern wilds. This is a stunning narrative told over the course of a day but also over the entire history of agriculture. If you want a work that grounds you in this world, broadens your awareness, and allows your soul to grow, this is it.


Anne of Green Gables

Anne of Green Gables series

by L.M. Montgomery

Classics. If you remember the tales of spunky, carrot-haired Anne Shirley (breaking her slate over Gilbert Blythe’s head!) and the other inhabitants of Avonlea from your childhood, read them again. If you’ve never delved deeper than the film versions, pick up these books now!

Bones of the Lost: A Temperance Brennan Novel

Temperance Brennan series

by Kathy Reichs

Unlike the television series, Bones, these mysteries set in the southeastern United States and in Quebec. They follow the crime-solving exploits of forensic anthropologist Temperance “Tempe” Brennan. Start of with Déjà Dead.


Other notable suggestions:

Three Day Road

Three Day Road

by Joseph Boyden

The Blind Assassin

The Blind Assassin

by Margaret Atwood

Begin with the End in Mind

Begin with the End in Mind

by Emma Healey

Still Life: The First Chief Inspector Gamache Novel

Inspector Gamache series

by Louise Penny

City of Glass: Douglas Coupland's Vancouver

City of Glass

by Douglas Coupland

Except the Dying

Murdoch Mysteries series

by Maureen Jennings

And now you should be ready for the Great White North.

Don’t forget to stop by our Travel Section in the mezzanine for more fantastic recommendations, whether you’re traveling by armchair or truly transporting yourself over that border.


Sundays In: Bookstore Tourism

by Dave Wheeler

Before the storm, I visited New York City. Having never been there, I was excited to tour things and places I’d heard about since as long as I could remember (Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, Broadway, Times Square) as well as more recent points of interest, whether culturally or personally (the 9/11 Memorial, the Stonewall Inn, Rockefeller Center). And now, having only returned to Seattle mere days before Sandy broke through the Jersey Shore and flooded Lower Manhattan, it’s bizarre and newly heartbreaking to see photos all over the Internet of water-logged devastation to places I now recognize for having actually set foot there, reunited with friends there, made new friends there.

In the book business, other indie stores and staff quickly become friends, family even, so when I travel, I try to stop in and peek around or say hello. While in New York, I slipped into The Strand for a glimpse at those 18 miles of books. I tried popping into BookCourt to say hello to the genial and talented Emma Straub (Brooklyn bookseller and author of Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures), whom I hosted for her reading here, but, alas, she was home writing that day. Earlier this year, I visited Chicago during the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference, and made an appearance at Open Books, the Second City’s premiere used book and literacy emporium.

I really don’t travel all that frequently, so I primarily keep up with these and a bundle of other bookstores on Twitter. When news of the hurricane hit, Twitter became my mainstay for information (as it has been for much of the political campaigning this year, too; times I could not watch debates or conventions on my own television, I observed vicariously through the Twittersphere). I watched the warnings stream through my newsfeed–Go home! Stay safe! Then the bookstore newsfeeds went dark. Friends and others I follow on the East Coast informed the world they lost power. With all the water and wind and chaos, I, frankly, was surprised just how up-to-date of a live-stream I was getting.

And when the weather died down, and just when I began to worry over rows and rows of sopping books, I started seeing these:

But places like Powerhouse Arena (NY), The Book Barn (CT), and Bank Square Books (CT), suffered more damage.

They do plan to reopen soon. Most already have. It would be a sad thing to see bookstores have to go out that way. In a time when so many are closing their doors for so many other reasons beyond their control, in a time when Seattle has to watch another of our fine bookstores, Queen Anne Books, empty their shelves for good, it’s good to be reminded that bookstores are resilient, dynamic, and adaptable. It’s good to see communities rally to recover what they can in dire circumstances.

So many people and businesses have been affected by the hurricane. For the purposes of this blog, I saw fit to highlight the bookstores, but many more still need aid. Please consider donating to relief efforts like the Red Cross or Occupy Sandy Relief.

“Sundays In” is a bi-weekly column written as the experiences of one reader to another. While much of the week might be filled with work and errands, there might just be one afternoon to enjoy the pleasure of reading. For this bookseller, “Sunday” is Thursday.

Summer Booknotes from Our Staff

Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle by Thor Hanson (Basic Books)

It turns out feathers aren’t just interesting to birders as Thor Hanson entertainingly shows here. Peppered with historic anecdotes and interviews with both scientists and feather fanatics, his book guides the reader from the controversial fossil record (which sparks hot debates such as the “ground-up” vs. “tree-down” flight theories) to Vegas show girls in their elaborate feathered costumes. The enthusiasm of the people he encounters and his own passion for the topic is surprisingly contagious, turning a book on the niche study of feather evolution into an unexpectedly fast paced read. –Pamela

Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon’s Army & Other Diabolical Insects by Amy Stewart (Algonquin)

Amy Stewart follows her award-winning book, Wicked Plants, with a look at the high drama of insect and human confrontation in Wicked Bugs. Among the many stories Stewart collects are that of an Arizona woman who, upon awakening from surgery for a supposed brain tumor, discovers that she is harboring a huge tapeworm. Readers will also find out about the chemical weapons brandished by the bombardier beetle (famous for avoiding being eaten by Darwin), and discover that bed bugs can live in overgrown toenails. Here’s more proof that fascinating stories live close to home. –Karen

Booknotes, the newsletter of The Elliott Bay Book Company, is written entirely by bookstore staff. It represents a sampling of recently published books that we have enjoyed reading. We appreciate every opportunity to assist in finding books to meet your interests.

Booknotes from Our Staff

The Moral Lives of Animals by Dale Peterson (Bloomsbury)

The argument is that morality is a biological evolution rather than a learned social idea—an evolution that was selected long ago—meaning that we aren’t the only species capable of moral reasoning. The reader is introduced to dolphins who respect the catches of other dolphins, vampire bats who share regurgitated blood with deserving fellow bats, and egalitarian female lions who hunt cooperatively. Throughout the book, the author employs Herman Melville’s Starbuck and Ahab to illustrate the division in our view of animals: are they commodities or thinking creatures? The Moral Lives of Animals is an intelligent appeal to reconsider the way we think about animals. –Pamela

Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout by Philip Connors (Ecco)

Between April and August for the past eight years, Philip Connors has been a fire-watcher in the remote New Mexican wilderness of Gila National Forest. Like Kerouac, Snyder and Abbey before him, Connors experiences and observes a vast array of raw nature from his perch high above the forest floor. As Fire Season tracks the changing Gila life cycle, the reader is educated about the evolution of wilderness management and the constant challenge of being responsible stewards of this forest tinder box. These field notes will leave you yearning for the solitude required to live and reflect in such a lucid fashion. –Jamie

BOOKNOTES, the book review of THE ELLIOTT BAY BOOK COMPANY, is written entirely by bookstore staff. It represents a sampling of recently published and forthcoming books that we have enjoyed reading. We appreciate every opportunity to assist in finding books to meet your interests.

Staff Recommendations from Elliott Bay

Few writers are able to reveal the natural world’s intricacies with prose so ravishing, fanciful and evocative as Ms. Ackerman can. In her newest book she offers a feast of facts, images and ideas, in these seasonally arranged essays based on the theme of dawn. The behaviors of animals, birds, humans at daybreak, the inspiration experienced by painters such as Monet, and our many sunrise-centered myths and rituals are a few of the subjects explored. With joyful contemplation we should be able, as the author puts it, “to enchant ourselves by paying attention.” –Erica