Dogs Who Write

Pearl3

Here is a photo of my dog Pearl, reading the novel The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein which is this year’s pick for Everett Reads! The narrator of this book is a dog. There’s a long history of dogs as narrators of stories, starting with two by Jack London:

londonThe Call of the Wild and White Fang by Jack London. The Call of the Wild is the story of Buck, a dog stolen from his home and thrown into the brutal life of the Klondike to suffer hardship, bitter cold, and the mean lawlessness of men and dogs. White Fang concerns the adventures of an animal (part dog, part wolf) that was turned vicious by cruel abuse and is then transformed through the patience and affection of one man.

Jack London’s excellent ability as a storyteller and his deep understanding of nature and animals have made these among the world’s most favorite dog stories. They are both classic stories and well worth your reading time.

hankWe read the entire Hank the Cow Dog series out loud to our children. They are hilarious! Hank is the Head of Ranch Security, defending his Texan home along with his faithful deputy, Drover. In the first book of the series, The Original Adventures of Hank the Cow Dog, Hank turns from crime fighter to criminal after he is accused of murder, resigns his position, and joins a gang of outlaw coyotes.

We refer to this series often in our family. If someone doesn’t want to do a chore, we say, “Hank, my leg hurts! I can’t do it!” (That was always Drover’s excuse.) And often when the mailman comes, we break into this song: “Bark at the mailman! Give him your full load! He has no business walking down my road!” What a rich literary history our family shares because of Hank!

a dog'sPeter Mayle of A Year in Provence fame wrote a book narrated by his dog, Boy, –”a dog whose personality is made up of equal parts Boswell and Dr. Johnson, Mencken and A. A. Milne”. In A Dog’s Life, Boy is a master of eloquence and humor. If you need a bit of cheering up, this is the book to do it.

better marleyMarley and Me by John Grogan is the heartwarming story of a family in the making and the neurotic dog who taught them what really matters in life. As a dog owner, I’m left wondering if Marley just needed a good daily walk and some consistent training. If you liked the movie, you’ll like this book.

purposeThis next story is about a lovable dog’s search for his purpose over the course of several lives. More than just another charming dog story, A Dog’s Purpose touches on the universal quest for an answer to life’s most basic question: Why are we here?

Surprised to find himself reborn as a puppy after a tragically short life as a stray mutt, Bailey’s search for meaning in his new life leads him into the loving arms of 8-year-old Ethan. During their countless adventures Bailey joyously discovers how to be a good dog. But this life as a beloved family pet is not the end of Bailey’s journey. Reborn as a puppy yet again, Bailey wonders—will he ever find his purpose?

roamIn the book Roam, Nelson is a bright-eyed, inquisitive half beagle, half poodle. He lives with Katey and Don, newlyweds whose marriage is straining under the pressures of domesticity. There are few things Nelson likes better than to follow a scent, and one day he follows his nose and gets lost . . . very lost. Though he searches frantically for Katey—and she for him—Nelson can’t seem to find his way home, and he soon realizes that if he’s ever to see his great love again, he must make his way on his own and try to survive in the wild.

Over the course of eight years, Roam follows Nelson as he crosses the country searching for his family. For a time he rides shotgun with a truck driver named Thatcher, then he lives in the woods with a pack of wolves. Nelson has many adventures and believes that one day he’ll make it home . . . and maybe, just maybe, he will. . . .

rintintinAnd for an absolutely awesome dog read which is not written from a dog’s point of view, you simply must read Susan Orlean’s Rin Tin Tin; The Life and the Legend.

“He believed the dog was immortal.” So begins Susan Orlean’s sweeping and moving account of Rin Tin Tin’s journey from abandoned puppy to movie star and international icon. Covering almost one hundred years of history, from the dog’s improbable discovery on a World War I battlefield in 1918 to his tumultuous rise through Hollywood and beyond, Rin Tin Tin is a love story about the mutual devotion between one man and one dog. It is also an American story of reinvention and an exploration of our bond with animals.

I wonder what sort of book my dog Pearl would write if she were able to take pen to paper. It would definitely include squirrels, cats, other dogs, birds and a few good chase scenes!

Leslie

Back in Black

CorvusI think it is safe to say that every great story needs a great villain. If there isn’t someone in opposition, obstacles become way too easy for the protagonist to overcome and the story can get deadly dull. In The Art of Racing in the Rain, this year’s Big Read book, Enzo’s arch nemesis is clearly the common crow. As he states:

They sit in the trees and on the electric wires and on the roofs and they watch everything, the sinister little bastards. They cackle with a dark edge, like they’re mocking you, cawing constantly, they know where you are and when you’re in the house, they know where you are when you’re outside; they’re always waiting.

Now I’ve always had a certain sympathy for villains. In fact, I tend to make excuses for their somewhat questionable behavior: Grendel had issues with his mother; Macbeth was caught in an existential crisis; Darth Vader just wanted to rule the galaxy with his son. When it comes to crows, however, there are a gaggle of admirers who have a respect, bordering on admiration, for these often maligned creatures. Lest you think this is always motivated by some unrealistic new age feel-goodery, I present to you several excellent books that sing the praises of the crow based on the ice cold logic of science.

inthecompanyofcrowsWhen it comes to crow science, it won’t take you long to come across the name John M. Marzluff, who is on the faculty here at the University of Washington. He has teamed up with artist and writer Tony Angell to create two excellent books examining the complex lives of corvids and their often tempestuous interactions with humans. In the Company of Crows and Ravens is their first work together and Gifts of the Crow : How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans was just published last year.

giftsofthecrowMarzluff and Angell have spent years observing and studying crows and both books are chock full of impressive examples of the birds’ intelligence and cunning. One of my favorites includes the Carrion Crows in Sendai, Japan who purposefully place walnuts in the intersection while cars wait at a red light. Once the light turns green they get their nut cracked open without much effort. Interestingly enough, drivers began to purposefully aim for the walnuts in order to help the crows out in a case of cultural coevolution.

amurderofcrowsMarzluff has also conducted extensive studies demonstrating the way crows pass information, such as recognition of an individual, not only to each other but down through generations. This research, and much more, is detailed in the excellent DVD A Murder of Crows. If you can’t wait that long take a look at this snippet and watch which mask you wear the next time you are on the UW campus.

Fascination with crows is not limited to the intrepid duo from Washington, however. There are several other books in the library’s collection by dedicated naturalists that sing the praises of crows. Each is based on observations, studies and historical research and they are well worth reading:

Crow Planet : Essential Wisdom From the Urban Wilderness by Lyanda Lynn Haupt
Crows : Encounters With the Wise Guys of the Avian World by Candace Sherk Savage
Corvus : a Life With Birds by Esther Woolfson
Bird Brains: The Intelligence of Crows, Ravens, Magpies, and Jays by Candace Savage

Now I’ll admit that crows have a few attributes that some might see as villainous:  they are black, travel in numbers, won’t pass up a meal of carrion, and can have a disturbing tendency to stare you down. Just remember that there are always extenuating circumstances

Long Live the Dog!

Don't, just don't...

Don’t, just don’t…

I’ve never seen nor read Old Yeller - I just know better. My mom preferred stapling the last couple pages of The Snowman together over having me be repeatedly disappointed that the boy’s wonderful new friend never got to stick around. Bambi didn’t get much airtime in our house, and All Dogs Go to Heaven still makes me feel betrayed (but seriously, shouldn’t the halos on the posters have tipped me off?). Alas, I was a sensitive child.

Taking all that into account, it should be no shock to my readers that I still try to avoid books and films where the non-human lead dies in the end. If you’re like me, just knowing that a book has a lovable (or not so lovable) dog in it tends to be a deterrent because you just know how that’s going to wind up. It doesn’t matter if it’s supposed to be a heartwarming death or a senseless one, we instinctively know to steer clear.

Thankfully there are books out there that buck the trend. The best way that I have found to avoid having my emotions brutally toyed with is to get into a series in which the dog happens to be the main character. To help you all out, here are a few series that I would recommend for other softies like me who wouldn’t flinch if the human protagonist got eaten by a tiger, but would cry their eyes out if the author dared to have Rex die peacefully of old age surrounded by a litter of loving offspring.

For kids and young adults:

Clifford the Big Red Dog by Norman Bridwell. Originally introduced in 1963, Clifford has lived to an amazing 213 dog years and shows no sign of decline. The Clifford empire has expanded from simple, delightful softcover books for young readers, to a range of television programming, movies, video games, and toys.

Harry the Dirty DogHarry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion. Harry was one of my favorite books when I was a kid. I’m happy to report that, like Clifford, Harry continues to live a long and productive book, DVD, and merchandise life.

Castaways of the Flying Dutchman* by Brian Jacques. This title gets an asterisk because technically the dog is already dead; that’s how the series begins (no real spoilers there). I won’t get into the details, but Ben and his dog companion Ned travel throughout the ages, irrevocably tied to the fate of the famously cursed ship, The Flying Dutchman. As they wander through time the duo get into a series of adventures, befriend an interesting cast of characters, and fight evil when they encounter it. Though these books can be a little bittersweet at times, because Ben and Ned are always forced to move on from their newly established lives, you know that they will not be parted from each other.

For Adults:

The Mrs. Murphy Mystery series, by Rita Mae Brown. I know some dog-loving purists may take issue with the fact that this series was co-authored by Brown’s cat, Sneaky Pie, and features two cat detectives, but hear me out. I personally love Tee Tucker, the lively crime-stopping corgi that plays a big role in all of Brown’s mysteries. I think if you gave the series a chance you’d root for Tee too.

A Fistful of CollarsThe Chet and Bernie Mystery series, by Spencer Quinn. For those who can’t stomach the idea of their dog hero sharing the spotlight with a couple of cats, there are Chet and Bernie. Failed K-9 cop Chet, the narrator, works with his human companion Bernie as a private eye. These books are full of suspense, humor, and a little bit of canine mischief, that all adds up to very enjoyable reading.

All of the above series have multiple volumes, so you shouldn’t have any trouble getting your dog hero fix with minimal heartbreak. That should keep your eyes busy and your tails wagging!

Lisa

Everett Reads! 2013

Everett Reads 2013a

It’s 2013, and it’s almost February. Time for Everett Reads!TM 2013!

Those of us with pets often wonder what it is our pet is thinking. What do they perceive about us? What do they perceive about the world? This year’s read is a playful exploration of that concept, yet it delves into almost every one of life’s dilemmas, frustrations, and celebrations.

This year the Everett Public Library brings Garth Stein and his two books The Art of Racing in the Rain and Racing in the Rain: My Life as a Dog (the latter his “tween” version of the book) to Everett. Following a month of engaging programs designed to enhance the experience of reading the book, Stein will appear in Everett on March 8th, 2013. At 2 p.m. he will meet exclusively with teens/tweens at the Main Library, 2702 Hoyt Ave. The all-ages marquee event is at 7 p.m. and for the first time it will be held at the Historic Everett Theatre, 2911 Colby Ave. Like all library events, these are free and open to the public – though you might want to arrive early to assure a seat at the Historic Everett Theatre.

Before Stein gets here, you’ll have a chance to meet Zep, one of Everett Police’s K-9s on Saturday, February 16th at 2 p.m. in the Main Library Auditorium. In addition, the library is hosting a dog adoption event with the Everett Animal Shelter, hosting a book discussion, film screenings, and other author events. Take a look at our flier to view all the great programs. And just in case you want to read more, we have a list of complimentary titles ready for you right in the library’s catalog.

Whether you want to download the audio or text version or check out any of the 3 different editions (it’s available in paperback, large print, and audio cd), the library has a copy for you. What are you waiting for – go meet Enzo (and his owner).

Kate