Two years ago, when my daughter and son-in-law brought home a mischievous, roly-poly yellow Labrador puppy named Stanley, I posted a list of 10 Dog Books That Won’t Make You Cry. Now that my husband and I have a new puppy, Frosty, dogs are on my mind again. I’ve recently read several wonderful new books about dogs. Here’s the 2014 post, updated with a few more great books for dog lovers.
Such short little lives our pets have to spend with us, and they spend most of it waiting for us to come home each day. It is amazing how much love and laughter they bring into our lives and even how much closer we become with each other because of them.
John Grogan, Marley and Me: Life and Love With the World’s Worst Dog
Marley and Me, like so many dog books, ends with the dog’s death. Even children’s books about dogs — Where the Red Fern Grows, Old Yeller, Sounder — need to be read with a box of tissues nearby. And anyone who doesn’t get choked up at the end of The Art of Racing in the Rain must have a cold heart.
So here are some terrific books about dogs that probably won’t make you cry:
The Underdogs: Children, Dogs, and the Power of Unconditional Love by Melissa Fay Greene
Melissa Fay Greene ( author of Praying for Sheetrock and There Is No Me Without You, among others) is one of my favorite nonfiction writers. The Underdogs tells the story of Karen Shirk, founder of the service dog academy 4 Paws for Ability. Karen trained her own service dog after she became profoundly disabled and was rejected by every service dog agency she approached. I was riveted by Karen’s story, and the stories of the amazing dogs she trains who are able to help people in ways that humans cannot. (The publication date is 5/17/16.)
Following Atticus: Forty-eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship by Tom Ryan
I bought this book at a little bookstore while on vacation in New Hampshire last summer, even though I had brought plenty of reading material with me. I ended up reading the entire book the next day, ignoring the other books vying for my attention. Tom Ryan is a Massachusetts newspaper editor who, despite being out of shape and inexperienced at climbing, decides to climb all 48 of New Hampshire’s 4,000 foot mountains twice in one winter, with his miniature schnauzer, Atticus.
Good Dog: True Stories of Love, Loss, and Loyalty by David DiBenedetto and the editors of Garden & Gun
Until I read this book last year, I had never heard of Garden & Gun magazine — not surprising, since I’m not much of a gardener and I don’t own a gun. The magazine runs a monthly column called “Good Dog” — beautifully written essays by well-known authors about the kinship between humans and their canine companions. The best of these essays are collected in this book, which is a real treat for any dog lover. Contributors include Jon Meacham, Dominique Browning, and Roy Blount, Jr.
Off the Leash: A Year at the Dog Park by Matthew Gilbert
Matthew Gilbert, TV critic for the Boston Globe, didn’t think he was a dog lover — and he knew he was an introvert. But after he brought home an exuberant, sociable puppy, he began spending time at his neighborhood dog park with a quirky cast of characters, human and canine. I enjoyed every page of this humorous and insightful “dog-oir”(a term coined by the Los Angeles Times.)
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
Wroblewski’s debut novel (and to date, only novel) is unlike anything I’ve ever read. Edgar Sawtelle, who is mute, helps his family raise and train a fictional breed of very intelligent and intuitive dogs on their farm on Wisconsin. When a family tragedy occurs, Edgar embarks on an odyssey with three loyal dogs. Shakespeare aficionados will enjoy the many parallels to Hamlet. (My mother — and a few others — said this book did make them cry.)
The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst
I’ve never forgotten this quirky novel, which came out about 12 years ago. After his wife dies in a fall from a tree — witnessed only by the family dog, Lorelei — a linguistics professor attempts to teach his dog to talk so he can find out if her death was a suicide.
James Herriot’s Dog Stories: Warm and Wonderful Stories About the Animals Herriot Loves Best by James Herriot
There was no “YA” when I was a teenager. So I read all James Herriot’s books, starting with All Creatures Great and Small. (That’s when I wasn’t reading Flowers in the Attic , The Thorn Birds, or The Flame and the Flower — remember those?) His very best dog stories are all now compiled in one book.
Dog Songs by Mary Oliver
This lovely little book, according to the New York Times, “transcends its dogginess. It’s also about love, impermanence, and the tears in things . . . Her poems, with their charity and lyric clarity, can provide the kind of solace that dogs give”.
Pack of Two: The Intricate Bond Between People and Dogs by Caroline Knapp
Knapp’s memoir explores both her relationship with her own rescue dog, who helped her through grief and recovery from addiction, and animal-human relationships in general.
A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas
One evening, Thomas’s husband, Richard, took their dog, Harry, out for a walk — and Harry returned alone. Richard had been hit by a car and was permanently brain-damaged. Thomas reinvents her life and her marriage — with the help of Harry and two more dogs.
The Good Boy by Theresa Schwegel
The “good boy” of the title refers not only to 11-year-old Joel Murphy (son of Chicago K9 police officer Pete Murphy), but to Butchie, Pete’s police dog. The New York Times says, “For all the dog books currently in vogue, it’s hard to beat this one for canine verisimilitude or talent. Butchie is a fully credible character . . . The dog elevates a fairly conventional detective story into something much more lovable”.
Sweetwater Creek by Anne River Siddons
What a great combination — a “beach book” about dogs! It’s the coming-of-age story about a young girl whose family breeds Boykin spaniels on their plantation in South Carolina. After reading this novel, I thought (briefly) about adopting a Boykin, the state dog of South Carolina. (Does Illinois have a state dog?)