Five Doggone Good Books on Canines

I love dogs. I have a quirky Lab-Chow mix by the name of Maggie. So, with Maggie as inspiration, and a friend's encouragement, I've come up with this wildly eclectic list of five beloved canine titles. Let us know what some of your favorites are.

Dog Years: A Memoir by Mark Doty. Doty, an acclaimed poet and memoirist, has long been one of those authors whose next book I await with an anticipation approaching Harry Potter mania. Here, he tenderly relates his relationship with his dogs Arden and Beau, whose affections and attentiveness helped buoy him during the loss of his partner and his battle with near-crippling depression. Soon, however, the tables turn, and it is Doty who must minister to the cherished companions, as their own health begins a heart-wrenching decline. Rousing, poignant, insightful and graced with Doty's lyrical prose.

The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst.
In this novel, Paul, a linguist, is devastated by the death of his wife, Lexy, who fell from a tree in their backyard. The only witness is Lorelei, his dog, a Rhodesian Ridgeback. (I had to look it up at the time -- it's a short-haired breed native to South Africa). Desperate for any insight into what happened and why, Paul makes every effort to teach Lorelei to speak. That leads to some comic and downright offbeat moments, all of which are interspersed with flashbacks of Paul and Lexy's courtship and occasionally too-perfect life together. A charming tale enchantingly told.

Good Dog. Stay. By Anna Quindlen.
A slim volume chock-a-block with pithy insights and boundless warmth and humor. The writer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, reflects on the intertwined lives she and her Labrador, Beau, have shared for many years. Very much the dog person, Quindlen passes on the wisdom she's learned from her faithful companion (some cliché, others compelling), all told with sincerity and good cheer. It will make you look at your own dog (or even cat!) with renewed affection.

Dog Year by Jon Katz.
Dog aficionados can't go wrong with any of Katz's delightful ruminations about his beloved border collies. This book continues the adventure begun in Running to the Mountain, which set the scene for all his subsequent doggie tales: Bestselling, 50-year-old author purchases a mountain cabin, looking for meaning, direction and peace. What he finds is an unexpected spirituality and a close bond with two incomparable Labs. Dog Year hones in on 12 months that changed his life -- the loss of his easygoing Labs and the adoption of Devon, one hellion of a border collie who turns his well-structured life upside down. Then he adopts another collie, Homer . . . well, I won't spoil the story. The exploits begin here and continue in a handful of later memoirs.

My Dog Tulip by J.R. Ackerley.
Published in 1956, it's perhaps the finestmemoir of a man and a canine companion. Ackerley was for a time the arts editor of The Listener (the magazine of the BBC) and friend of E.M. Forster, who finagled him a position as secretary to a maharajaH in India, the inspiration for his wry memoir Hindoo Holiday. His later life was consumed with depression and a fatal alcoholism, but his greatest source of joy, comfort and love was his Alsatian, Queenie, (the dog's name was changed to Tulip when the memoir was published, but I'll let you discover why), who became his sole companion during the most fruitful period of his writing life.

What dog books would you add to this list?

-- Christopher Schoppa

By Christian Pelusi |  August 7, 2008; 11:03 AM ET Christopher Schoppa
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I like Merrill Markoe's humorous dog books. Markoe was (is?) an award winning writer on the Letterman Shoe. One title:

"What the Dogs Have Taught Me: And Other Amazing Things I've Learned"

An excerpt: "I pick dogs that remind me of myself--scrappy, mutt-faced, with a hint of mange. People look for a reflection of their own personalities or the person they dream of being in the eyes of an animal companion. That is the reason I sometimes look into the face of my dog Stan and see wistful sadness and existential angst, when all he is actually doing is slowly scanning the ceiling for flies."

Posted by: CJB | August 7, 2008 12:24 PM

Thanks for the book list! I'd be lost without my Shetland Sheepdog, and hate to think about life without him.

Posted by: JohnJ | August 7, 2008 12:35 PM

No More Dead Dogs by Gordon Korman is a fun book for kids who are sick of reading books where the dog always dies.

Posted by: ELF | August 7, 2008 2:31 PM

It's not a novel, but I would nominate Harlan Ellison's classic SF short-story "A Boy and His Dog." As anyone knows who has read it, it's ending truly does affirm the essential bond of friendship between dog and, well, nominal owner.

Posted by: C | August 7, 2008 3:45 PM

This list has to include Marley and Me by Jon Grogan!

Posted by: JG | August 7, 2008 3:48 PM

Tellingly, J.R. Ackerley dedicated his autobiography, "My Father and Myself," not to his dad but to his dog Tulip. And his beautiful novel, 'We Think the World of You," features another wonderful canine, Evie.

A recent addition to classic dog fiction is David Wroblewski's "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle," set on a Wisconsin dog-breeding farm and paralleling "Hamlet," with an unforgettably soulful dog, Almondine, taking the Ophelia role.

Posted by: Ted Schaefer | August 7, 2008 3:59 PM

i would put "Merle's door" right up top, even though I havent read any of the above, except Marley and Me. This book is perfect, detailing a mans new found love and many factually based lessons. It is certainly a must read. The authors name escapes me but very good.

Posted by: matt | August 7, 2008 4:21 PM

A collection of short stories from The Bark magazine called "Dog is My Co-Pilot". A lot of good stories, not too mushy or over the top.

Posted by: Donna | August 7, 2008 4:37 PM

By the way - you don't have a Lab-Chow mix.

You have a Chowbrador ;)

We made that word up years ago, and it was funny to see people nod sagely when we told them her "breed"....

Posted by: Anonymous | August 7, 2008 4:38 PM

Wow! Lots of good suggestions ... the Markoe book is one I've not read, though she's absolutely hilarious, which probably means I should get hold of it quickly. The Ted Kerasote book (Merle's Door) has been on my (ever-growing) list for a while now ... and I'm glad to find someone who is so fond of Ackerley. All of his books are just delightful. I don't read much SF, but do like Ellison, so I'll need to scrounge around for that, too. And the Wroblewski is in my "to read" stack at home ... that's one big novel!
Oh, I just discovered "Bark" magazine -- in fact there's one here on my desk. It's lots of fun. My first thought was that it was the Vanity Fair of doggie mags -- sleek and well designed. And lots of good content to boot!
My list was much longer -- Mark Haddon's novel, Abigail Thomas's small memoir, even dog stories from James Herriot. More of those later ...
PS -- love the Chowbrador wordage ... I can't wait to go home and share it!
Looking forward to more terrific suggstions ...

Posted by: Chris | August 7, 2008 5:01 PM

The Dog who Wouldn't Be

Posted by: Mowatt | August 7, 2008 5:21 PM

"Thurber's Dogs" by James Thurber. Absolutely hysterical stories, with drawings by Thurber. Great for kids.

"Travels with Charley" by John Steinbeck. Charley is a standard-sized French poodle. Steinbeck travels across the country with Charley, ending up in New York City and both man and dog are sent off for well-needed baths and grooming.

"The Voyage of QV66" by Penelope Lively. This is a children's book about a group of animals in England who band together after a flood (or some other unnamed disaster) wipes out the human race. The narrator of their adventures is a good-natured, sensible dog named Pal. A fabulous, very funny book.

"Lad: A Dog" by Albert Payson Terhune. A classic from my childhood.

Posted by: Sappho | August 7, 2008 5:32 PM

One that hasn't been mentioned and truly is a classic is Steinbeck's "Travels with Charley."

Posted by: muttmom | August 7, 2008 6:09 PM

"Pack of Two" by Carolyn Knapp

Posted by: dogwriter | August 7, 2008 7:10 PM

Nobody's mentioned Jack London yet. Most of us read The Call of the Wild and some of us White Fang. These are favorites from my adolescence, although they are most certainly not childrens' books.

Posted by: Terry | August 8, 2008 11:36 AM

"Timbuktu" by Paul Auster is narrated by the dog and offers a different point of view. It's offbeat, funny at times, but always entertaining.

Posted by: ShirleyS | August 8, 2008 4:23 PM

Does "Cujo" count? Obviously not a family book but, well, a dog does figure prominently...

Posted by: KLeewrite | August 8, 2008 4:30 PM

I second "Pack of Two" by Caroline Knapp. I think about that book often - it makes her untimely death and separation from her beloved dog all the more heartbreaking. It's an absolute must-read.

Posted by: Gayle | August 8, 2008 11:58 PM

Alston Chase's brilliant and moving book, We Give Our Hearts to Dogs to Tear (from a line in a Kipling poem) is a powerful essay on the nature of dogs, the personality of Jack Russell Terriers, the perils of uninformed breeding, and other themes. The book is set in the context of the Chases' odyssey to Montana and the dogs that came to live with them in the wilderness. It is a book that will linger in your mind and heart.

Posted by: Richard S. Wheeler | August 10, 2008 3:40 PM

"The Art of Racing in the Rain" by Garth Stein.

Posted by: Delight | August 13, 2008 3:08 PM

"comic and downright offbeat moments?" "charming tale enchantingly told?" Did this reviewer read the book? It was one of the most disturbing books I've ever read.

The dog owners who surgically alter their animals to create dogs who can speak kept me awake and gave me terrible dreams.

Despite that, I've recommended the book. It was beautifully written and a compelling story, but I warn people that the content is disturbing, especially those who love dogs.

Posted by: Chris | August 13, 2008 9:31 PM

I listened to "The Art of Racing in the Rain" on a long driving trip and it was a wonderful book. It is funny, captures both human and dog emotions and delivers some wonderful life lessons. I would actually recommend listening to this book rather than reading it.

And, by the way, I'm not an animal lover and I've never owned a dog!!

Posted by: Barbara | August 14, 2008 8:20 AM

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein is the best book I've read this year. It's told from the perspective of Enzo, who relates the events in his owner's life with beautifully poignant wit. A wonderful story!

Posted by: Trish | August 14, 2008 3:19 PM

The art of racing in the rain by Garth Stein is a given for any books on dogs

Posted by: collin de souza | August 16, 2008 8:05 AM

Anything by James Herriott! He writes wonderful animal stories, many of which are about the dogs that he encounters in Yorkshire farmyards in the 1930-40s.

Posted by: JRD | August 16, 2008 6:20 PM

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