August 26 is National Dog Day. What better way to celebrate than by sitting out in the yard with a good book, your pooch beside you? I’ll admit that my cocker spaniel, Mickey, rules our house. He once snacked on a 100-year-old edition of The Iliad, and (true story) my only response was “What good taste you have!” So it goes without saying I’m a sucker for anything about dogs (even if they just have “dog” in the title). Here are four of my recent favorites:
From Baghdad, with Love: A Marine, the War, and a Dog Named Lava, by Jay Kopelman and Melinda Roth
In November 2004, Lt. Colonel Jay Kopelman was a Marine taking part in the assault on Fallujah. Lava was a five-week-old puppy abandoned in a bombed-out house. Defying regulations, Kopelman’s squad adopted the puppy, going to extraordinary lengths to keep him safe and fed (and hidden from superior officers) while in the middle of a war zone. I love this book’s mix of dark and light emotions. Kopelman writes with raw honesty about how war affects even the steeliest of soldiers, and his first meeting with Lava says a ton: “I liked that he forgave me for scaring him, I liked not caring about getting home or staying alive or feeling warped as a human being—just him wiggling around in my hands.” That kind of authenticity makes From Baghdad, with Love a truly powerful memoir.
The Dog, by Jack Livings
“He worked on [his resignation letter] through the afternoon, and when he was satisfied that he’d communicated his opinions on the paper’s shortsighted appetite for gossip over real news, incestuous hiring practices, and inability to recognize and promote talent, he signed it with a flourish and took it to Personnel.” Ning Wang has just been fired after a lifetime in journalism. Determined to make bad worse, he spends his last day on the job picking fights and telling truths, gradually revealing the secret of what transformed him from an idealistic young reporter into the hack he has become. Each story in this marvelous collection presents a fresh, vivid character—a pickpocket, a factory worker, an American exchange student spreading her wings—and each shows us a different slice of modern-day Beijing through the eyes of Jack Livings, an American (and Time, Inc., editor) who taught English in China.
Brown Dog, by Jim Harrison
These six novellas, gathered together for the first time, recount the exploits of beer-guzzling, easy-loving, rough-living B.D., a Michigan Native American who prefers to sleep outdoors (houses are too warm), although he does tumble into women’s beds with alarming frequency—he’s a sort of backwoods Casanova. Wherever B.D. goes, he finds trouble. Luckily, he’s rarely at a loss for what to do: when the deputy shoots his dog for stealing chickens, for example, he calmly burns down the deputy’s chicken coop. Reading about B.D.’s larger-than-life adventures, the word “rollicking” comes to mind, and fans of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn or the work of Sherman Alexie are sure to find him a hoot.
Off the Leash: A Year at the Dog Park, by Matthew Gilbert
Matthew Gilbert used to be, in his own words, “that guy who rolled his eyes at people who treat their dogs like children.” A Boston writer and natural-born hermit, he kept the world at arm’s length, preferring to interact by cell phone. But that was before he fell in love, first with a human, then with a yellow Lab puppy named Toby. Off the Leash is Gilbert’s laugh-out-loud funny account of the personalities he encountered at his local park, where the real trick, as any dog lover knows, is making nice with the other owners. As Gilbert drolly points out, it’s not just the pups that get aggressive. Ordinary canine behaviors like humping or snarling can easily lead to human shouting matches, and the park comes complete with a bully: the badly trained whippet whose owner is in denial. Despite it all, this mismatched group of people, with nothing in common but their squeaky toys, inspires Gilbert to open up as he never has before.
What is your favorite dog-themed book?