“A person can learn a lot from a dog, even a loopy one like ours…Marley taught me about living each day with unbridled exuberance and joy, about seizing the moment and following your heart. He taught me to appreciate the simple things – a walk in the woods, a fresh snowfall, a nap in a shaft of winter sunlight. And as he grew old and achy, he taught me about optimism in the face of adversity.” –John Grogan, Marley and Me
One could say that Marley and Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog by John Grogan, first published in the fall of 2005, played a significant role in the most recent formation of a great wave of dog memoirs that is still going strong today, especially evident during the holiday season. Dog books are prominently displayed everywhere, each enticing and each with endearing pictures beckoning, like a puppy in the window, to be brought home.
Indeed, never has there been a better time on planet earth to be a dog. From boutique dog shops with Swarovski-studded poodle skirts and cashmere sweaters to comfy pillow beds, spas and doggie daycare buses that transport dogs to and from their homes, bed and biscuit boarding “inns”, dog-friendly restaurants and hotels, dogs today truly have never had it better. No longer toughing it out in the distant coldness of a doghouse, they have been warmly welcomed into the luxury of modern day living.
In contrast, the 69 brave dogs that accompanied Shackleton on his Arctic expedition back in 1914 could have used a warm comfy bed and biscuit after a typical day’s work pulling a loaded sledge in the arctic cold for 29 miles. The Newfoundlands, St. Bernards, Eskimo Wolfhounds and wolves all played a vital role in the expedition while developing strong bonds with members of the crew in the brutal, unforgiving conditions of the arctic.*
No matter the living conditions – whether they be warm luxury or extreme cold – it is the bond, in any and all conditions, that dogs develop with their caretakers that so deeply stirs our emotions and causes us to ponder in wonder and amazement their devotion, loyalty and other human-like qualities.
In his book All My Dogs, Bill Henderson references Charles Darwin’s observation that there is “no fundamental difference between man and the higher mammals in their mental faculties…that they experience happiness, wonder, shame, pride, curiosity, jealousy, suspicion, gratitude, and magnanimity, plus love and sympathy.”
It is no surprise, then, in this sometimes lonely world, that humans are attracted to stories about the only animal whose love is always constant and true. The unconditional love, commitment and acceptance that dogs offer to their companions is, after all, why dogs are considered to be “man’s best friend.”
It is in the spirit of All Things Dogs during this “All I Want for Christmas is that Puppy in the Window” holiday season that ATG shares below some “best” books about man’s “best” friend.
Four favorite classics that will make you cry while reading aloud to your children:
- Where the Red Fern Grows (1961) by Wilson Rawls
- Old Yeller (1956) by Fred Gipson
- The Incredible Journey (1960) by Sheila Burnford
- Lassie Come Home by Eric Knight, first published as a short story in the Saturday Evening Post 1938
Three recent books:
1. All My Dogs: A Life (2011) by Bill Henderson, Founder of Pushcart Press
A beautiful little book that chronicles the ups and downs of Bill Henderson’s life through the many and varied dogs who shared it: Trixie, Duke, Snopes, Ellen, Rocky, Sophie, Charlie, Airport, Opie, LuLu, Max, St. Francis of Assisi (Franny), and Sedgwick.
- “We read biographies of great and noble people,” Henderson writes. “They all expire. But somehow it hurts more when a great dog dies.”
Also of interest: in the prelude, Henderson mentions a book by Elizabeth von Arnim, an admired literary figure, who in 1936 published one of the supposedly first modern dog/human memoirs, entitled All the Dogs of My Life. Similar to his book, it is part autobiographical and an account of the many dogs she loved: Bijou, Bildad, Cornelia, Ingraham, Ingulf, Iago, Ivo, Prince, Coco, Pincher, Knobbie, Chunkie, Woosie, and Winkie during her life in Germany, Switzerland, London, land the French Riviera.
2. Good Dog: True Stories of Love, Loss, and Loyalty (2014) by David DiBenedetto and the Editors of Garden & Gun Magazine
- “By turns humorous, inspirational, and poignant, Good Dog offers beautifully crafted stories from such notable writers as P.J. O’Rourke, Jon Meacham, and Roy Blount, Jr.”
3. The Dog Walker (2015) by Joshua Stephens, a self-avowed anarchist who tells his “irreverent and perceptive fish-out-of-water story” about walking dogs for “powerful politicians and big corporate types.”
*If you’re looking for a name for a new puppy, consider the names of 65 of Shackleton’s dogs:
- Alto, Amundsen,Blackie, Bob, Bo’sun, Bristol, Brownie, Buller, Bummer, Caruso, Chips, Dismal, Elliott, Fluff, Gruss, Hackenschmidt, Hercules, Jamie, Jasper, Jerry, Judge, Luke, Lupoid, Mack, Martin, Mercury, Noel, Paddy, Peter, Rodger, Roy, Rufus, Rugby, Sadie, Sailor, Saint, Sally, Sammy, Samson, Sandy, Satan, Shakespeare, Side Lights, Simian, Slippery Neck, Slobbers, Snowball, Soldier, Songster, Sooty, Spider, Split Up, Spotty, Steamer, Steward, Stumps, Sub, Sue, Surly, Swankers, Sweep, Tim, Upton, Wallaaby, Wolf