Shop Tails: The Animals Who Help Us Make Things Work
by Nancy R. Hiller
In this singular collection of essays, Nancy Hiller relates the ways in which non-human animals – some companions, others wild or raised on farms – have provided warmth and comfort, prompted laughter and offered examples of courage or composure in the face of distressing events.
“Shop Tails” is a loving tribute to the animals whose lives have been intertwined with Hiller’s own and taught her lessons about relationships, loyalty, illness, joy, death and (also important) pudding. It is also an unflinching look back at old wounds that have played their own part in making Hiller the person she is; she documents her efforts to prove her worth to others, as well as herself, in the workshop and beyond. In doing so, she discovers the empowerment that can come from honoring the life you’ve made in response to the hand you’ve been dealt. Every one of us will at some point experience challenges that feel insurmountable. We can only exert so much control over circumstances and events, but more often than not, we have the capacity to decide how we will respond.
Her 21 essays within will make you laugh. They will make you angry. They will inspire you to create something beautiful (a piece of furniture, a garden, a better relationship, a home). They will break your heart. And they will stay with you.
Ten percent of net profits from the sale of “Shop Tails” will go to The Ranch Cat Rescue (theranchcatrescue.org).
About the Audiobook Version
The audiobook of "Shop Tails" was recorded by Nancy Hiller at Primary Sounds Studio. It features the unabridged text of the print book, plus a bonus chapter. When you order the audiobook, you will get a link to download it as a zip file. It likely will go to your computer's downloads folder. From there you can import it into whatever audio program you please. It is free of DRM (digital rights management) and is presented in an mp3 file format.
About the Print Edition of 'Shop Tails'
Like all Lost Art Press books, “Shop Tails” is produced and printed in the United States. The book is 368 pages and measures 6" x 9". The text is printed on acid-free paper in signatures. These signatures are sewn and reinforced with fiber tape. The interior is then wrapped in hardcover boards and cotton cloth, and protected by a tear-resistant dust jacket.
Erratum for the first edition: On page 15, Hiller writes that her diagnosis is “adenoma of the pancreas.” The correct name is "adenocarcinoma."
Critical Praise for 'Shop Tails'
“It was only a matter of time before Lost Art Press found itself publishing a beautiful book that is not about woodworking.
"I have long admired Nancy Hiller as a craftsperson and a writer, so I am thrilled to the marrow at this examination of her life through the lens of relationships with animals she has known. Here you hold the richly penned, fantastic memoir of a plucky and clever woodworker, kitchen designer and writer, who honestly describes her ascension on the path of wisdom, with a special focus on the stumbles. Among the signposts and guides she has been lucky enough to encounter, she counts a parade of charismatic creatures and the charming directions they lent to her life’s decisions."
— Nick Offerman, woodworker, actor, author, humanist
“It’s hard to describe these essays without lapsing into the kinds of qualifiers that
usually sound (but definitely are not, in this case) overblown: breathtaking, searing,
hilarious, intricate, and above all else, wild and original, like nothing else I’ve read.”
— Edith Sarra, Associate Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures
“I couldn't put it down… The mix of humor, vulnerability, and such humanity is very compelling. It made me feel more alive to read it.”
— Jane Goodman, Professor of Anthropology, Indiana University.
“When I got to chapter 21, I got a different view of you, your outlook and life philosophy. You're a strong, talented, and thoughtful woman, a real mensch. The older I get the more I appreciate thoughtful, genuine friends. I don't have that many. We're privileged to know you, even though our relationship has been mostly through books, articles and emails.”
— Christian Becksvoort
“Honest, insightful, joyful and wrenching. I love the way you run ‘headlong and reckless’ into your fears and deftly turn pain into purpose.”
—Rachel Berenson Perry, author of “The Life and Work of Felrath Hines: From Dark to Light,” “William J. Forsyth: The Life and Work of an Indiana Artist” and “T.C. Steele and the Society of Western Artists, 1896-1914.” (Quoting Emily Scott Robinson from “Lost Woman’s Prayer”)
“Just finished Nancy’s Shop Tails after receiving it Thursday afternoon – WOW is all I can say – captivating as usual with Nancy – autobiographical as to Nancy – biographical as to her family of humans and pets – all intertwined – and as always bare honesty with regard to her living of her life and the joys/tears of that journey.”
— Bill Morris, via Instagram.
"[H]its the mark of why you are who you are what you are, reminding me of James Krenov’s writings. I want to know what makes creative people tick. I’m one too, but need to know I’m not crazy…"
— Lyn Baker, via Instagram
Table of Contents
1: What Are Dogs For? 1
2: What Is Anyone For? 29
3: Sidney and Phoebe 61
4: Binky 69
5: David 87
6: Oscar 97
7: Shadow, the Turkey Vulture 127
8: Daisy June and Her Great Adventures 131
9: Wilhelm Von Wundt, the Dog Who Saved My Life 149
10: Lizzie, Part One 177
11: Winnie 193
12: Louis, the Mayor of Louisville 221
13: Lucy, As Told by Herself 235
14: Alfie and the Cat Whisperer 239
15: Warring Parties 243
16: Joey Walker Kangaroo Tail 259
17: Pedro 275
18: Missing in Action 289
19: Harley and the Goat 315
20: Henry 319
21: The Cattle Dog and the Pigs 321
About the Author
Nancy R. Hiller was a cabinetmaker specializing in period-style work for late-19th- to mid-20th-century interiors. She trained as a furniture maker in England, where she moved with her mother and sister at age 12, and worked in shops there as well as in the States. She returned to college at the age of 30 and graduated with a master’s in Religious Studies, specializing in ethics. From 1995 to 2022, she operated NR Hiller Design, Inc., based in Bloomington, Indiana. Her work has been featured in Fine Woodworking, Old-House Journal, American Craft, Popular Woodworking, Arts & Crafts Homes and the Revival and Fine Homebuilding. She has authored five books in addition to “Shop Tails,” among them “The Hoosier Cabinet in Kitchen History,” “English Arts & Crafts Furniture,” “Kitchen Think” and “Making Things Work.”