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I love dogs.
I have two of them, and despite their smell, the permanent swath of fur which envelopes my house and the humiliating task of cleaning up after them, I am a devoted mother. Considering they both have incurable ailments which can only be controlled by daily medication and exorbitant trips to the vet every other day or so, I’d better be.
As with other spiritual experiences people have in life, we dog owners search to understand the intangible magic every dog possesses.
Well, almost every dog. Maybe not poodles. But I digress.
Following are six books that illuminate that search in various ways. I have chosen pieces with the greatest cross section of people in mind, including serious readers, beach readers, teen readers and kids.
If you can’t find a book on this list to give to your dog-loving friend, then you’re probably lacking what I call “the dog thing,” which simply refers to dog owner’s obsessions with their pets.
If that is the case, I only ask one thing: Don’t give out books about cats.
White Fang by Jack London
The main character of this riveting book is a wolf—who is also one quarter dog.
Considered a companion book to Call of the Wild in which the main character is primarily a dog born with some wolf blood, it is the story of White Fang as he struggles to find his rightful place in the world. The most striking thing about the story is Jack London’s ability to make you feel White Fang’s animal heart. Whenever I read this—and I have many times—I feel the aching intelligence and loyalty of canine animals who live in the human world or the natural one, and I am always left heartbroken that there is such terrible difference between the two.
This is an incredible read for anyone, but particularly teens, who will find the story primal and mesmerizing. A great choice for a kid who doesn’t necessarily love to read as well, since the language is simple yet elegant.
The Legend of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
An unwieldy book with occasionally uneven storytelling, The Legend of Edgar Sawtelle nevertheless manages to shed light on the evolution of domestic dogs as well as the profound bond between dogs and humans.
The main character, Edgar, is a mute child who lives on his parents dog breeding farm. His ultimate task is to create the most intelligent and loyal dog ever born. Edgar’s muteness affords him a visceral connection to the dogs they breed and he is able to do and perceive things with and about them that are extraordinary.
Based on Hamlet—a fact I didn’t know until after I read it—it is one of many re-tellings of that classic story and one of the most unique.
This is superb read is for someone with a little extra time on their hands and a literary background, both of which will maximize their enjoyment of the book.
A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron
This one is near and dear to my heart, combining as it does two subjects I love: reincarnation and dogs.
In this terrifically written novel, as in White Fang, the main character is a dog. This narration, however, is even more true to that premise, as the dog is routinely unaware of human motivations and logic. In other words, he is less anthropomorphized.
The story unfolds as a series of lives lived by one dog who finds himself reborn over and over again, only to die and wonder what the point of his life was. Like humans who ponder this great question, he never stops searching for the answer.
This is profound for anyone who has ever loved a dog, particularly those who have loved and lost.
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
Hardly a literary tour de force, this book nonetheless holds it’s reader captive.
The main character, as in “White Fang” and “A Dog’s Purpose,” is a dog, this time named Enzo. Enzo, although having distinct canine sensibilities, also serves as a chorus to the story, an interpreter of the other characters emotions and a philosopher of sorts.
The book traces the events in the dog owner, Denny’s life, a single race car driver, who marries a woman and then finds out she has terminal cancer. Seen through the eyes of Enzo, Denny’s life is what all humans lives are to all good dogs, utterly absorbing and mysterious.
More human-centric than the other books I mention here, this nonetheless serves up some real canine gems, and is a must-read for anyone who imagines their dog to have a rich interior life–and what dog lover doesn’t?
Go Dog Go by P.D. Eastman
Without a doubt my very favorite book about dogs, this children’s classic is as exuberant as a child itself, and perfect for the beginning reader. Parents will likely have read this one themselves, and will squirm with glee along with their kids at the ending (spoiler alert)—a big dog party!!
Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant
My sister sent me this gorgeously illustrated children’s book when my first great dane, Bowie, died. I still have trouble reading it without choking up.
The premise is simply a description of where dogs go after they live their lives.
The final few pages read:
“Dogs in Dog Heaven may stay as long as they like and this can mean forever. They will be there when old friends show up. They will be there at the door. Angel dogs.”
If you ever loved a dog, you will love this book too.
All of these books are vastly different from one another, though they all share the same theme. For one genius Christmas present, buy all six and put your dog-adoring friends and family into a tail spin—pun intended, woof woof.
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