By Heidi Simmons
It is officially the dog days of summer. That time of year when the heat languishes and the humidity builds as we drift in the doldrums.
The ancient Romans used the term “dog days” to describe this season when Sirius, the Dog Star, is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major (large dog). So, isn’t it apropos to have some summer reading where a dog is the star?
Here are some old and new books about amazing dogs and their human friends to help you get through these last warm weeks.
Lad: A Dog by Albert Payson Terhune (Puffin, 288 pages) was first published as 12 short stories for “Red Book” magazine. Readers followed the adventures about the author’s real-life collie named Lad. Fans mourned the beloved pet when he died. Lad was so popular, Terhune compiled the stories into a novel that was published in 1919. It has since been reprinted 70 times and has sold well over a million copies.
Flush: A Biography by Virginia Woolf (Mariner Books, 204 pages) is a mix-genre of fiction and nonfiction. Flush, a cocker spaniel, narrates the story. He is Victorian era poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s favorite pet. Published in 1933, the book provides an impressionistic social commentary during crucial years of the poet’s life from the animal’s point of view.
My Dog Tulip by J.R. Ackerley (New York Review of Books, 190 pages) is a memoir about an eccentric British gay man and his German Shepard named Queenie. Published in 1956, the book details their intimate life and adventures together in London society. The author includes Queenie’s doggie admirers and her sex life. Queenie’s name was changed to Tulip for the book because it was thought to be less “provocative.” This adult story was also a 2009 animated feature film.
Travels With Charlie: In Search of America by John Steinbeck (Penguin Books, 112 pages) is a travelogue by the iconic author who reports on his trip across America for the last time with his French poodle Charley. Steinbeck was 58 years old and in bad health when he took the 10,000 mile journey. Together, dog and man, experience the changing culture of America and discover a deeper bond.
The Art of Racing In The Rain by Garth Stein (HarperCollins, 304 pages) is a novel told by Enzo, a lab-terrier mix, who is saved by Denny Swift, a mechanic and racecar driver. Enzo observes the Swift family and the world around him with wise aphorisms, which apply to both driving and ordinary human life.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (Vintage, 226 pages) by Mark Haddon recounts the story of Christopher, a high functioning autistic teenage boy, who investigates the death of a neighborhood poodle, Wellington. But Christopher is the chief suspect of killing the dog. Against his parent’s wishes, he gets to the bottom of the mystery. The story is told from Christopher’s point of view. He takes everything literally and doesn’t completely grasp the adult world around him. Christopher has tremendous compassion for the dog and its demise. Through the eyes of the boy, we get another way to view the world.
The Other End of the Leash (Ballantine Books, 272 pages) by Patricia McConnell looks at how humans behave around their pets. An animal behaviorist, Dr. McConnell gives advice on how to interact with dogs. She suggests that miscommunication is the cause of what we consider pet disobedience. She includes better ways to connect with your dog by reminding us how a dog perceives human behavior.
Travels with Casey: My Journey Through Our Dog-Crazy Country (Simon & Schuster, 352 pages) by journalist Benoit Denizet-Lewis follows the author and his dog, Casey, as they discover the dog culture of America. Like Steinbeck, the two travel in a rented RV and meet an amazing array of people and their beloved dogs; however, Denizet-Lewis mainly explores the powerful interspecies bond between dogs and their humans.
Off the Leash: A Year at the Dog Park (St. Martin’s Press, 240 pages) by Matthew Gilbert drops the reader into the middle of a park for dogs and introduces us to the people who take them there. The author and his rambunctious, yellow lab puppy Toby, go to Boston’s Amory Park where, over one year, they meet dogs and owners that change the author’s perspective — in a good way — regarding dogs and humans.
In the United States, almost 80 million dogs live in households as pets. We have the highest rate of dog ownership in the world. Even if you don’t have a dog, these books are engaging and remind us how a dog can change and greatly enhance human life.