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Dog Days

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The hostess’s dog turned 10 on Thrusday. She’s asking: what animal-related books have you read? Which do you love? Do you have a favorite literary dog? (Snoopy, anyone?)

I have a weakness for dogs and therefore I soak up books (especially novels) that feature canine narrator. I had always wanted to have a dog when I was a boy. But the usual tight living quarter in Hong Kong advised against a pet. Snoopy was my fantasy. As I grew older, and now living in the States, dogs become a reality. They sniff. They play. They slobber. They play catch. People celebrate their strong memories, their sense of belonging, the concept of gratitude, and fidelity. They are some of our keenest observers, taking in our daily happenings with a cycloramic vision. In The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, the outsider who always sees it all and sees it through is most unusual because it is a canine named Enzo. Enzo is the narrator of the novel. In this heart-wrenching but also funny narrative, as the old canine, down to his last days of his lifetime as a dog, takes stock of his life (with much dignity and honor), I’m once again assured that dogs are really men’s best friends. They might not be able to speak and communicate, but they are certainly aware of our gestures and vibes. Another book is W. Bruce Cameron’s A Dog’s Purpose, a remarkable story of one endearing dog’s search for purpose over the course of four lives. It touches on the universal, rhetorical question that has puzzled philosophers over time: Why are we here? As much as he was taught to avoid men at all costs, the dog’s fate is inextricably linked with theirs, feeling their pain, sharing their joy, and sensing their inner sadness. An ultimate purpose to be fulfilled once again brings the dog to another incarnation—one that truly demonstrates how dog is man’s best friend.

6 Responses

  1. Great thoughts, Matt. I wasn’t a big fan of Racing in the Rain but I have my own favorites and I also have a weakness for hound books. ;O)

  2. Dogs are wonderful…usually. My favorite book involving a dog — that I can think of off the top of my head — would have to be: The Hound of the Baskervilles. I’m not fond of the dog per se…but it’s a fun book. Then there is “Travels with Charley” by Steinbeck which I read back when I was in college. It involves a much nicer dog.

  3. I almost forgot: “Heart of a Dog” by Bulgakov. Such biting satire. Again, not a very nice dog, not a very nice book — for excellent reasons. Very Russian.

  4. I enjoyed Racing in the Rain though I don’t usually go for dog narrators. You might enjoy Virginia Woolf’s book Flush. It’s a biography of Elizabeth Barret- Browing’s dog. It’s really kind of fun. But, I do think My Dog Tulip by J.R. Ackerley is the best book about a dog every written. Funny, loving and very clear-eyed. He loves his dog but he has no illusions about dogs.

  5. I haven’t read those and I have to admit a little bit of an aversion to animal books. I still haven’t read Dewey the Library Cat or whatever, and I am a total crazy cat lady. Oh well! My kitties keep me busy enough I guess in real life!

  6. I’ve read my fair share of animal books, including biographies of animals from birth to death (Marley and Me, The Cat Who Covered the World), novels (Black Beauty, Watership Down) and memoirs (all of James Herriot’s books (vet) and most of Gerald Durrell’s (animal lover, animal collector and zookeeper)).

    However, my favourite literary animal of all time is a fictional dog named Fred. He is featured in Anyone But You by Jennifer Crusie and a more unlikely scene-thief is hard to imagine. Picture a middle-aged, depressed, lazy and food-stealing beagle-bassett cross, and you have Fred. He stole the show, he owned the book. When people mention the book, it’s Fred they want to discuss, and not the protagonists, whose names they probably don’t even remember.

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