Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Best of 2011

One of the many items [old and new] enjoyed and recommended by Burbank Public Library staff during 2011 for your consideration:

I am a lover of dog books.

I grew up with cats (and still love them, despite a newly developed allergy). I was never particularly fond of dogs, so--when I moved into a house in Hollywood 13 years ago with a couple of friends, and one of them brought home an adolescent Rottweiler from a shelter to help guard the place, I was truly horrified!

Well... sweet, lovable, loving Rocky (utterly useless as a guard dog) proceeded to singlehandedly turn me into a dog person. I think his pre-shelter life had been less than wonderful, and he permanently recognized a good thing when he'd found it. And was he ever a good thing!

From him I learned the continual astonishment that a dog can bring to one's life. And after many romps and adventures, I continue to bemoan his death from lymphoma seven too-short years later.
Now that I live alone, I really can't have another dog until I retire and can give one the time s/he needs. So these days I devour dog books instead! (No, I don't chew them up.)

Dog books, of course, normally end with loss--it comes with the territory. Kipling shares this very eloquently: http://www.online-literature.com/keats/914/

Since the Marley fuss, I find myself rejoicing in books about wise, self-possessed dogs (I call them "anti-Marleys"). My all-time favorite so far is Merle's Door (2008), by journalist-adventurer-poet Ted Kerasote, about a found dog (who adopted his human on a river-rafting trip) who understands his place in the world with never a leash. (Checking online, I just see that Ted has found a new pup. I'm all over that book!)

Anyway, 2011 brought us another excellent contender in this category: Following Atticus, by Tom Ryan, in which a bigger-than-life miniature schnauzer leads his human friend deep into a less-than-welcoming Massachusetts community, and then (again unleashed) through New Hampshire's mountains. Not only does Atticus not die at the end of the book, but there is a wonderful all-human (and nonfictional) twist, which I will not spoil here.

I have also just finished another of (Bedlam Farm) Jon Katz's dog books, The New Work of Dogs: Tending to Life, Love, and Family (Random House, 2004), in which he explores the bittersweet changing roles of dogs in modern urban life.

Bittersweet--I guess that's the common denominator of dog books. Some who've said it best:

"In his grief over the loss of a dog, a little boy stands for the first time on tiptoe, peering into the rueful morrow of manhood. After this most inconsolable of sorrows there is nothing life can do to him that he will not be able somehow to bear."

--James Thurber

Top of my reading list now: How the Dog became the Dog, by Mark Derr (not yet available on Kindle, darn!). Recently, on the same subject of human-dog co-evolution: The Wolf in the Parlor: The Eternal Connection Between Dogs and Humans, by Jon Franklin (Holt, 2009)

Reviewed by Misha

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