Recently I noticed that my collection of dog books was starting to fill my shelves like dog hair on the furniture. They’re crowding out the serious literature but I think each of them is worth reading in part, if not cover to cover. They run the gamut from insightful to silly, reference to ridiculous. Here are a few, the pick of the litter, you might say.The Dorling-Kindersley Eyewitness Handbooks are always a treat to behold. Dogs, the Visual Guide to Over 300 dog breeds from Around the World is a beautifully designed picture reference book, particularly helpful if you’re curious about the origins of that new guy at the dog park. Or a few hundred others. Brian Hare’s The Genius of Dogs is full of gee-whiz, anthropological revelations about how dogs think, why dogs and humans get along so well and how this all came about. Check out Hare’s work with dogs at http://evolutionaryanthropology.duke.edu/research/dogs and at https://www.dognition.com They really are smarter than you think. And not just those Border Collies. David Hockney’s Dog Days is a collection of paintings and drawings of his two obviously well-loved dachshunds. The images are lovely, every last one of them, and the book is a delight. The Betty and Rita books are great fun. These two girl dogs cavort through the cities of Paris and Rome, taking in l’Arc de Triomphe, il Pantheon and enjoying all sorts of in-between indulgences. We follow fetching black and white photos as they become more culturally sophisticated than any hound oughta be. betty and rita go to paris and betty and rita la dolce vita. Mary Oliver’s Dog Songs is a collection of poems as touching as those in any of her previous books. Beautiful language describes beautiful dog spirits, language that makes me pause, to rest, to remember, to pay attention. This book is good for the soul. EB White on Dogs is a collection of his essays, stories and letters about his dogs. White’s obituary for his scottie, Daisy, is a fine example of the craft: “All her life she was subject to moods, and her feelings about horses laid her sanity open to question.” This is a book for those who love good writing as well as for those who love dogs.
The introduction to Throw the Damn Ball, Classic Poetry by Dogs, tells the reader, “These dogs reveal more than a passing acquaintance with Western human poetry, as evidenced by the many verses in this volume alluding to great works by Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Dylan Thomas, William Butler Yeats, William Carlos Williams, John Donne, Allen Ginsberg, Joyce Kilmer, Helen Reddy and others.” Who knew our canine friends were such literati. The Big New Yorker Book of Dogs.
Nearly 400 pages, folks. About dogs.
The table of contents provides familiar categories: Good Dogs, Bad Dogs, Top Dogs, Underdogs. From Malcolm Gladwell’s Introduction:
“A few words about you. You bought this book. You are, in other words, as unhealthily involved in the emotional life of dogs as the rest of us are. Have you thought about why you bought it? One possible answer is that you see the subject of man’s affection for dogs as a way of examining all sorts of broader issues. . . . But let’s be clear.
You didn’t really buy this book because of some great metaphor. Dogs are not about something else. Dogs are about dogs.”