Dog Years: A Memoir

Dog Years: A Memoir

by Mark Doty


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061171017
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 04/08/2008
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 456,659
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Mark Doty's books of poetry and nonfiction prose have been honored with numerous distinctions, including the National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN/Martha Albrand Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and, in the United Kingdom, the T. S. Eliot Prize. In 2008, he won the National Book Award for Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems. He is a professor at the University of Houston, and he lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt

Dog Years

A Memoir

Chapter One

No dog has ever said a word, but that doesn't mean they live outside the world of speech. They listen acutely. They wait to hear a term—biscuit, walk—and an inflection they know. What a stream of incomprehensible signs passes over them as they wait, patiently, for one of a few familiar words! Because they do not speak, except in the most limited fashion, we are always trying to figure them out. The expression is telling: to "figure out" is to make figures of speech, to invent metaphors to help us understand the world. To choose to live with a dog is to agree to participate in a long process of interpretation—a mutual agreement, though the human being holds most of the cards.

What the interpreter must do is tell stories—sometimes to the dog in question. Who hasn't heard a dog walker chattering away to her pet, as if she were serving as a kind of linguistic mirror: "You are scared of that police horse," "Lola loves that ball!" Some people speak for their dogs in the first person, as though the dog were ventriloquizing his owner. There's inevitably something embarrassing about this; a kind of silly intimacy that might seem sweet at home becomes a source of eye-rolling discomfort to strangers.

But most stories about dogs are narrated toother people, as we go on articulating the tales of our animals' lives, in order to bring their otherwise incomprehensible experience into the more orderly world of speech. Taking pictures of your pet serves much the same function; it isn't just about memory and the desire to record, but a way to bring something of the inchoate into the world of the represented. This is a part of the pet owner's work. In order to live within the domestic world, the dog must be named, read, and in some way understood.

Of course, listening to stories about other people's pets is perilous, like listening to the recitation of dreams. Such reports may be full of charm for the dreamer, but for the poor listener they're usually fatally dull. The dreamer has no distance from the spell of the dream, and cannot say just how it mattered so, and language mostly fails to capture the deeply interior character of dreams anyway. We listen with an appreciation for the speaker's intent, but without much interest in the actual story.

Love itself is a bit like that: you can describe your beloved until the tongue tires and still, in truth, fail to get at the particular quality that has captured you. We give up, finally, and distill such feelings into single images: the bronzy warmth of one of his glances, or that way of turning the head she has when she's thinking and momentarily stops being aware of other people. That, we tell ourselves, stands for what we love. But it's perfectly clear that such images explain nothing. They serve as signposts for some incommunicable thing. Being in love is our most common version of the unsayable; everyone seems to recognize that you can't experience it from the outside, not quite—you have to feel it from the inside in order to know what it is.

Maybe the experience of loving an animal is actually more resistant to language, since animals cannot speak back to us, cannot characterize themselves or correct our assumptions about them. They look at us across a void made of the distance between their lives and our immersion in language. "Not a single one of his myriad sensations," wrote Virginia Woolf of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's cocker spaniel, Flush, "ever submitted itself to the deformity of words."

Maybe they remind us, in this way, of our own origins, when our bodies were not yet assumed into the world of speech. Then we could experience wordlessly, which must at once be a painful thing and a strange joy, a pure kind of engagement that adults never know again. Can it even be called "painful" or a "joy," if the infant who is feeling those things has no terms for them, only the uninterpreted life of emotion and sensation? We suffer a loss, leaving the physical world for the world of words—even though we gain our personhood in the process.

Love for a wordless creature, once it takes hold, is an enchantment, and the enchanted speak, famously, in private mutterings, cryptic riddles, or gibberish. This is why I shouldn't be writing anything to do with the two dogs who have been such presences for sixteen years of my life. How on earth could I stand at the requisite distance to say anything that might matter?

Last month five thousand people died here in New York; the ruins of the towers in which—with which—they fell smolder still. [I wrote these words in October of 2001; the dead had not yet been properly counted; it was impossible to find the bodies, and the lists of the missing were unclear.] When the wind is right, Chelsea fills with the smell of burning plastic, as if somewhere down in the rubble thousands and thousands of computers were slowly, poisonously burning, along with fluorescent tubes and industrial carpeting and the atomized pieces of corporate art that lined the reception room walls. My friends in other cities speak about the new war, the roots of this atrocity and its relationship to other atrocities around the globe; they worry over the notion of "evil," whether it's a reality or a concept with no use in the public sphere. I understand that such things matter, but for me they're nothing but air.

I can't stop seeing the whitened boots of the rescue workers trudging back uptown, or sitting beside me on the subway benches. Their battered leather and shoelaces, cuffs and ankles are covered with a thick powder composed of atomized concrete: the pulverized stuff of two hundred floors of offices—desk chairs, files, coffee cups—commingled with the stuff of human bodies reduced to creamy ash. The rubble trucks rumble up Eighth Avenue, uncovered. The white grit blows out in troubled eddies, and snow gusts and coats our faces and hair. Somewhere in that dust are the atoms of Graham, a man I knew a little, and saw last at the end of summer, when he was laughing on the street, his tattooed arms flashing in the sun.


Excerpted from Dog Years by Mark Doty Copyright © 2007 by Mark Doty. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

Ken Munger

“By turns, comic, heartwarming, sentimental (in the very best way) and ultimately heartbreaking.”

John Freeman

“Frankly and beautifully told…DOG YEARS respects Beau’s and Arden’s singularity. Doty describes them lovingly, with poetic specificity.”

Amy Hempel

“Evocative, compassionate, a love story both intimate and grand, this is a beautiful book.”

Pam Houston

“Life-affirming, lyrical, and profoundly affecting…Only Mark Doty could have written a dog book...that covers so much ground.”

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Dog Years 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 39 reviews.
LauraK More than 1 year ago
This book is definitely not for dog lovers only. It's about love, devotion, poetry, life and yes, loss. If you have never loved a dog, you may understand the bond that forms between dogs and their humans better. But the book is about so much more than that! It's simply beautiful- Mark Doty is my new favorite writer.
JoyinHim More than 1 year ago
I thought I was buying Marley and Me, maybe with a little more pathos, but this book is a work of literary non- fiction. My brain had to work to read it, not a bad thing, but unexpected. A well written account of a relationship between two dogs and two men... touching and rich and humorous. The first part was more objective, more distant, more rational. But once I got into the story I wanted to find out what happened. I grew to care about the dogs and the people. I could feel the love between them all in the words of the author. Though not what I expected when I bought it, I am glad I did buy it and read it. It enriched my life.
mkdulle More than 1 year ago
This was a moving memoir. I've lost animals I've loved, I've felt depression and despair as well as love and hope. Mr. Doty's real-life experiences can bring you to a fuller understanding of the human condition and how we can find ourselves by being open to other people and other species.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Anyone that has and loves dogs should read this book. It was so inspiring and hard to put down. I laughed, cried and it made me think about my Lab and Schnauzer in a different way. I love you Mark Doty for introducing me to this book.
thebookwormNJ More than 1 year ago
I borrowed this ebook from my local library and pretty much read it in a single sitting. As Mark Doty shared his story I laughed, I teared up, and having recently lost my own dog, I related to it. Mark and his partner Wally, are dads to Arden, a black Retriever. Wally has AIDS and is bedridden and dying. He was the one closest to Arden and the dog now sleeps in his bed, rarely leaving his side. Although some thought it was not a good idea to bring a new dog into the house while his partner is terminally ill, Mark winds up going to the shelter and adopting Beau, an underweight, yet rambunctious Golden Retriever. Not too long after, Wally passes away leaving Mark and the dogs behind. During a time of devastating grief over the loss of his partner, Mark says his dogs gave him the will to live. They needed him to care for them just as much as he needed them. Mark gives glimpses of his daily life with his dogs and with the new man in his life, Paul, whom he starts dating a year later. As the years pass, the dogs Arden and Beau both start to become ill. When Arden was sick and Mark described the visits to the vet and how he was trying to save him but deep down knew the end was near, I truly teared up. Then there were moments I laughed out loud, like when one woman took one look at Arden, who was obviously an older dog and getting towards the end of his life, and she makes a comment about how it's all part of the cycle of life. Mark shared the colorful reply that popped in his head but that would be too rude to say aloud. Moments like that made this a very down to earth read and I appreciated that this one wasn't all depressing. Mark pays homage to his dogs and to the love and happiness all dogs bring their owners. He does this by sharing memories close to his heart. I'm not surprised to see the author has published poetry as there is a distinct poetic flair within this candid memoir. I also enjoyed the Emily Dickinson snippets and references throughout. I enjoyed this one and I recommend Dog Years: A Memoir to any dog lover or to those who like heartfelt memoirs. disclaimer: This review is my honest opinion. I did not receive any type of compensation for reading and reviewing this book. While I receive free books from publishers and authors I am under no obligation to write a positive review. I borrowed my copy of this book from the local library.
andante More than 1 year ago
What a beautiful and sad story. It is so nice to read a real story of loss and love. Not only for a furry friend, but love between people and their dogs.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Dog Years made me laugh, made me cry and it made me think. Plus, the dogs were a rescued Golden and a rescued lab mix - my favorites! What more could you want from a book? Highly recommended! Mark Doty is a wonderful poet/writer and a downright nice human being.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Fell in love with the cover of this book! I've had dogs in my life since I was a child, have wonderful memories & stories of each one. I can totally relate to this memoir. It's beautiful. If you think your pet is not a member of your family,you won't get it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you love dogs -- and maybe even if you don't - you'll like this book! Love, humor and loss - you'll experience it all with this author. I highly recommend this book. I loved it.
mielniczuk on LibraryThing 28 days ago
Memory of Sam, our golden, who looked very much like the cover, led me to grab this book. Seeking support for my memories got in the way of the rich language and personal loss of a partner in the beginning. Once it dawned on me that this is a book about presence and passing, not only did memory and emotion return, they became enlightened by new facets of meaning.
bobbieharv on LibraryThing 28 days ago
After the beginning pages, which were a little tedious, I really loved this book. I'm not a dog person, but the deaths of his dogs brought real tears to my eyes.
jolynna on LibraryThing 28 days ago
I thought the book was beautifully written. There are parts that, in my opinion, are works of art. It was interesting, funny and made tears stream down my face. I loved it.
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Hottest... Hmm... Dang, hard to pick. Maybe one of the higher people. Shesh, uhh. I guess....ugh, i have to say who I think? <p> 1. Uhh. *cough* Cyrus*cough* <p> 2. Hmm. Id have to say... no one. Now click that beatiful little {X}
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Janzee More than 1 year ago
Never really finished this book.Understand the authors love of animals though!
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