Saturday, September 11, 2010

Books about dogs

The United States has more pet dogs and more dogs per family than any other country in the world. According to the Humane Society, 39% of our households include at least one dog, and nearly 80 million dogs live within our borders. Two of those dogs belong to us. We are desperately in love with them.

So I suppose we are the intended market for the flood of dog books that followed John Grogan's phenomenal publishing success, Marley and Me. When it sold 5 million copies and was made into a major motion picture, lots of publishers sat up and wagged. Whole litters of dog memoirs followed, most with appealing pups on their covers. Most were quickly remaindered, for good reason. Copy-cat books, even if they're about dogs, seldom appeal.

Let me recommend instead some excellent dog books that were published before Marley and are still available. All of these authors have written other good books too.
Time was, dogs earned their keep by herding, hunting, maiming intruders, or even fighting other animals. Some dogs still do - but most have quite a different job description nowadays. "The new work of dogs," says Katz, "is attending to the emotional lives of Americans, many of whom feel increasingly disconnected from one another." This insightful book highlights the dog-human relationship through stories about new dogs and their people.
McConnell, who is an adjunct associate professor in zoology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, an animal behaviorist, and a dog trainer, helps us understand how our dogs think and helps us communicate so that our dogs will understand us. Who knew, for example, that you can get a dog to stop pestering you by gently patting it on the head? Unlike the ever-popular but controversial Cesar Milan, McConnell favors benevolence over dominance.
This is memoir as it should be written: a delicate interplay between the author's emotions and the world beyond herself. Knapp adopted Lucille, a German shepherd mix, when she was recovering from 20 years of alcoholism, the death of both her parents, and a failed relationship. Using her relationship with the dog as a springboard, she explores many facets of the human-animal bond.
Pick up this book if you love Mayle's Provence books, or if you simply want to spend a delightful evening or two curled up with a laugh-out-loud story. Boy, a large French dog of uncertain ancestry, is the narrator. After a brutal childhood and adolescence ("a lesser dog might have despaired"), he is rescued from the side of the road by Madame. "The other half" grudgingly agrees that the dog may stay, and a series of hilarious adventures follow. Illustrated throughout by New Yorker cartoonist Edward Koren, this book would make a great gift for all the francophilic book lovers on your list. Me, for example.
Thomas had a rich career as an anthropologist and novelist before turning her observant eye on dogs. The result is a fascinating study of how dogs think, what they want, and why they act the way they do. Warning: dog lovers and dog trainers protested her hands-off approach to dog care, and scholars hated her anthropomorphizing (which she cheerfully admits and defends). Nevertheless, the book became a bestseller because - hey - it's really interesting!
Ackerley spent his life looking for what he called an "Ideal Friend," finally finding it in an Alsatian bitch (U.S. translation: German shepherd female). This is his paean to a dog that was probably worse than Marley - so bad, in fact, that most of Ackerley's human acquaintances stopped visiting. He didn't care. In their absence he got a lot of writing done - and anyway, he had the dog. Now a minor motion picture starring the voices of Christopher Plummer, the late Lynn Redgrave, and Isabella Rossellini, My Dog Tulip is unlikely ever to play at a theater near me. It's touring a few cities between now and November, though, so click on the link to see if one of them is near you. Or buy the book, which Truman Capote called "one of the greatest books ever written by anybody in the world."

1 comment:

  1. We too desperately love our two Labrador retrievers, and I thoroughly enjoy the occasional dog-centric read (I was surprised at how much I enjoyed and was moved by Marley & Me when I first picked it up; somehow, I wasn't expecting that). I'm interested in your picks, LaVonne, and will definitely add one or two to the growing pile of "must reads" I accumulate as the daylight hours grow shorter. Thanks for the suggestions! ~ Jane Johnson Struck

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