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I’d recommend Kitab al-Hayawan (“The Book of Animals”) by Al-Jahiz. From the ninth century, it’s a multi-faceted, multi-volume book about animals that begins with a passage in praise of books and, as Paul Lunde describes it, “is by no means conventional zoology, or even a conventional bestiary. It is an enormous collection of lore about animals—including insects—culled from the Koran, the Traditions, pre-Islamic poetry, proverbs, storytellers, sailors, personal observation, and Aristotle’s Generation of Animals.” But this is by no means all. In keeping with his theories of planned disorder, he introduces anecdotes of famous men, snippets of history, anthropology, etymology, and jokes.
An award-winning poet and translator, Jeffrey Yang is a poetry editor with New Directions.
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