Jessica Allen writes about food, culture, travel, parenting, and New York City, where she lives. In addition to The Little Book of Axolotl Wisdom, she’s the author of The Magic of Astrology and The Great American Read: The Book of Books.  

Little Book of Axolotl Wisdom

What is an Axolotl?

An axolotl is a large salamander native to a single lake system in Mexico City. They are neotenic, which means they retain juvenile characteristics throughout their lives—that’s part of what makes them so cute—and they always look like they’re smiling.

Axolotls also make great pets. You’ll find millennial pink axolotls, black axolotls, and speckled axolotls. They’re very adaptable, and have contributed to our understanding of evolution, genetics, and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.    

Describe your book in one sentence.

Blending science and self-help, The Little Book of Axolotl Wisdom explains how to live your life like this adorable amphibian, with sections on health and wellness, friendships and relationship, and work and home.

What is one cool thing we should know about axolotls?

An axolotl can regenerate body parts, muscles, eyes, tail, jaw, even a crushed spinal cord and parts of its brain, lungs, and heart. And they can do this over and over at any age. They are masters of resilience, with much to teach us about bouncing back and owning our hardships.

Why should readers read this book?

At the heart of The Little Book of Axolotl Wisdom are 31 axolotl axioms. These guiding principles are designed to help you live a smarter, sweeter, more fun-filled existence. I rely on facts, from biology to psychology to sociology, and I offer practical, actionable tips, such as great questions to have in your back pocket to prevent awkward small talk and advice for killing your inner critic (you’ll never hear an axolotl lamenting the size of its thighs).

What was your biggest challenge while writing this book?

Balance, for sure. I have a day job, a kid, a partner, a yoga practice, and an ongoing project to become best friends with every dog who lives in my apartment building. Moreover, I get squirrelly if I don’t eat three regular meals and two snacks a day. I try to remember that, in pretty much everything except surgery, the perfect is the enemy of the good.

What is the most rewarding part of writing a book?

Learning new things. For example, in the course of writing this book, I learned that smiling offers the mental equivalent of eating 2,000 chocolate bars. Axolotls “smile” as part of their hunting strategy: whatever floats by gets pulled into that big, open mouth. 

What is your favorite book?

I have 10 favorite books!

  • Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
  • The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
  • The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
  • Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
  • The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot
  • Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Brönte

Who is an author that inspires you and why?

Anthony Trollope. Every day he’d write for three hours before heading to his job at the post office. If he finished one novel before his writing session was up, he’d grab a fresh piece of paper and start another one. I’ve never actually read a book by him, but people seem to like them. 

What is your favorite animal?

Since “axolotl” would be too on the nose, I’ll go with manatees. These herbivorous sea cows spend their days sleeping and eating. Playful and friendly, they’ve also been described as “easily amused.”

What are you currently reading and watching?

I’m getting into the holiday spirit by watching atypical holiday movies like Batman Returns, The Green Knight, and Die Hard. And I’m reading Matrix, by Lauren Groff. I had no idea that life in a 12th-century abbey could be so engrossing. 

What do you like to do when you’re not writing/working?

I like to read. I also like to have adventures in my beloved hometown of New York City. Despite my living here for close to 20 years, the city is always offering up surprises. Just the other day I found out about a rave in the East Village based on the movie Shrek. 

What is your favorite movie/tv show?

A Fish Called Wanda, in part because of this classic line spewed by Otto: “You’re the vulgarian, you f*ck.”

What would you like the audience to know about you?

Later today, I’m going for a walk in Central Park, followed by dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant in Harlem. I will also be donating a portion of proceeds from The Little Book of Axolotl Wisdom to the Wildlife Conservation Society, which seeks to protect wildlife and wild places around the globe.