Books About Dogs
Urban Dog’s Dog Book Guide
Inside of a Dog | Alexandra Horowitz
I’ll start with a book I’ve mentioned before, Alexandra Horowitz’ Inside of a Dog. I’ve read it twice, it’s my favorite dog book, and I believe it’s essential reading for any dog owner. Horowitz is a psychology professor at Columbia University here in New York City. Her goal with Inside of a Dog was “to take an informed imaginative leap inside of a dog — to see what it is like to be a dog; what the world is like from a dog’s point of view.”
Her work draws on that of an early-20th-century German biologist, Jakob von Uexküll, who proposed that “anyone who wants to understand the life of an animal must begin by considering what he called their umwelt . . . : their subjective or ‘self-world.’ ” Hard as we may try, a dog’s-eye view is not immediately accessible to us, however, for we reside within our own umwelt, our own self-world bubble, which clouds our vision.”
In addition to being extremely informative, Inside of a Dog is beautifully written. Here are two passages from the book that I like. The first is about how dogs operate in humans’ world.
Dogs are anthropologists among us. They are students of behavior, observing us in the way that the science of anthropology teaches its practitioners to look at humans. As adults, we walk among other humans largely without examining them closely, socially trained to keep to ourselves… Dogs don’t stop looking–at the gimpy walk, at a rush of leaves tumbling down the sidewalk, at our faces. The urban dog may be bereft of natural sights, but he is rich in the odd: the drunken man swerving through crowd; the shouting sidewalk preacher; the lame and destitute. All get long stares from the dogs who pass them. What makes dogs good anthropologists is that they are so attuned to humans: they notice what is typical, and what is different. And, just as crucially, they don’t become inured to us, as we do–nor do they grow up to be us…
The second is about dogs and their noses:
Dogs don’t act on the world by handling objects or by eyeballing them, as people might, or by pointing and asking others to act on the object (as the timid might); instead, they bravely stride right up to a new, unknown object, stretch their magnificent snouts within millimeters of it, and take a nice deep sniff. That dog nose, in most breeds, is anything but subtle. The snout holding the nose projects forth to examine a new person seconds before the dog himself arrives on the scene. And the sniffer is not just an ornament atop the muzzle; it is the leading, moist headliner. What its prominence suggests, and what all science confirms, is that the dog is a creature of the nose.
For more about Horowitz, click here.
Suspect | Robert Crais
A book I read about two years ago really surprised me. It was Suspect by Robert Crais. A good friend, whose opinion about books I truly value, described it to me and I thought: “how stupid.” I couldn’t believe my friend had enjoyed a book like this. Then my dad, with whom I participate in an informal, self-administered “Mystery Novel Book Club,” also suggested it and I thought “Okay, that’s two people I trust who liked this book. I will give a it a try.”
I wasn’t disappointed. Why? Because it features Maggie, one of the best action heroes I’d encountered in a long time. Booklist describes her in its review:
The most multifaceted and appealing new protagonist in crime fiction this year just may turn out to be a German shepherd K-9 dog named Maggie. [Author Robert] Crais takes us inside Maggie’s head—and, even more, her remarkably sensitive nose—but always in the most believable of terms (this is no talking-dog cozy). We become single-mindedly obsessed with the safety of this beautiful, sensitive, and stunningly intelligent animal. Anyone who reads 20 pages of this gripping and heartrending thriller will devoutly pray that SUSPECT is the beginning of a new series.”
The New York Times wrote: “A heart-tugging novel. Maggie holds us captive, enthralled by Crais’ perceptive depiction of her amazing capacities.”
Here’s a passage from the beginning of the novel. I was gripped from the start and finished it in one day.
Maggie released her grip, lunged at the nearest men, caught meat and tore, then took her place over Pete again.
“She thinks we’re gonna hurt him–“
“Push her off! C’mon–“
“Don’t hurt her, goddamnit!”
They pushed her again, and someone threw a jacket over her head. She tried to twist away, but now they bore her down with their weight.
Protect Pete. Pete was pack. Her life was the pack.
“Dude, she’s hurt. Be careful–“
“I got her–“
“Fuckin’ scum shot her–“
Maggie twisted and lurched. She was furious with rage and fear, and tried to bite through the jacket, but felt herself lifted. She felt no pain, and did not know she was bleeding. She only knew she needed to be with Pete. She had to protect him. She was lost without him. Her job was to protect him.
“Put her on the Black Hawk.”
“I got her–“
“Put her on there with Pete.”
“What’s with the dog?”
“This is her handler. You gotta get her to the hospital–“
“She was trying to protect him–“
“Stop talkin’ and fly, motherfucker. You get her to a doctor. This dog’s a Marine.”
Maggie felt a deep vibration through her body as the thick exhaust of the aviation fuel seeped through the jacket that covered her head. She was scared, but Pete’s smell was close. She knew he was only a few feet away, but she also knew he was far away, and growing farther.
She tried to crawl closer to him, but her legs didn’t work, and men held her down, and after a while her fierce growls turned to whines.
Pete was hers.
They were pack.
They were a pack of two, but now Pete was gone, and Maggie had no one.
For more about Crais and to read a little about Suspects’ sequel The Promise, click here.
A Fire Upon the Deep | Vernor Vinge
This next one you’ll probably think is a weird choice. It’s a science fiction novel by Vernor Vinge called A Fire Upon the Deep. It won the Hugo Award in 1993 (for those who don’t know, the Hugo and a competing award, the Nebula, are like the Oscar and the Emmy of the SF world.)
I won’t try to describe this book, largely because it’s so out there and weird at times that if I try to describe it, I’ll sound like an idiot.
The other reason is that I don’t want to give away what I thought was the central, essential, surprising revelation of the novel. I’ve read a lot of science fiction and this book was the first to truly surprise me with its depiction of intelligent life on another planet.
You’ll just have to read it to find out why I include this book in a list of books about dogs.
Suffice it to say, if you like good, “hard” science fiction, I really recommend A Fire Upon the Deep.
Here’s a super geeky review of the book from SF Reviews:
Superficially, A Fire Upon the Deep is a rousing space chase, with an impressively intricate plot that allows for both an epic and intimate scale. Set tens of thousands of years in the future, the tale establishes an interstellar culture comprised of countless sentient species living within a galaxy subdivided into “Zones of Thought.” This is a fascinating concept, the origin and nature of which Vinge never fully spells out, but which nonetheless succeeds in anchoring some of the book’s core themes, involving what defines sentience itself, and whether too much knowledge (never mind a little) is a dangerous thing. The closer one travels to the galactic core, the less technology and even intelligence are able to thrive. The further out you get towards the galaxy’s edge, one advances through the Slow Zone, the Low and High Beyond, and finally into the Transcend, where you’ll find lifeforms that are as close to godlike as you’d care to come. Naturally, the bulk of sentient civilizations are found in the Low and High Beyonds. While the old adage has it that whom the gods would destroy they first make mad, it seems to me you’d have to be pretty mad to begin with to want to be a god at all.
If that review didn’t make your eyes glaze over then you really should give A Fire Upon the Deep a try. If you were like: “Hunh?! WHA’!?!?” I suggest you skip it.
Another thing you can skip: the sequel to A Fire Upon the Deep. It is a bit of a snooze-fest if you ask me.