By Sarah A. Ferrell
If you run out of conversation topics with a dog lover, I suggest you ask, “What are your favorite dog books?”
There are of course the wonderful classic dog stories that are familiar to many, including Lassie Come Home, by Eric Knight; Lad: A Dog, by Albert Payson Terhune; The Call of the Wild, by Jack London; Old Yeller, by Frank Gipson; Sounder, by William H. Armstrong; and Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls. These and other time-honored stories portraying the depth of the canine-human bond will always rank among the favorites in dog lovers' libraries.
The list of good books featuring a canine focus doesn’t stop with these, however. Following are some more recent releases recommended for—and by—dog lovers.
Two recent novels recommended by many who love “doggy books” are The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein, and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, by David Wroblewski. The first is a page-turner written from a wise dog’s point of view.
In a review of the latter, the writer Stephen King says, “I flat-out loved The Story of Edgar Sawtelle … [the book is] wonderful, mysterious, long, and satisfying. I don’t re-read many books, because life is too short. I will be re-reading this one.”
Another well-loved novel is A Dog’s Purpose, by W. Bruce Cameron, the story of a canine soul who searches for life’s meaning as he is reborn as several different dogs in succession. It is by turns hilarious, heartbreaking, and thought provoking.
Intended for young adults but a beautiful read for anyone is Because of Winn-Dixie, by Kate DiCamillo. It tells the funny and heartfelt story of a young girl who has just moved to a Florida trailer park and rescues a stray dog she finds outside the local grocery store.
Doggy Humor and Memoirs
For everyone who has loved a dog who lives on in our thoughts, there are many dog memoirs to enjoy. Of course there is the huge bestseller Marley and Me, by John Grogan, the poignant autobiographical story of a man and his dog. Pack of Two, by Caroline Knapp, explores the deep insights of one woman’s profound bond with her dog. Washington Post Book World called it “a rare, wise book that takes a real stab at understanding why we humans need dogs.”
Dog Years, by Mark Doty, is a magnificent account of two dogs whose steadfast love, solace, and companionship support a dog owner through a journey of grief and darkness. Scent of the Missing: Love and Partnership With a Search-and-Rescue Dog, by Susannah Charleson, is “the story of Susannah and Puzzle’s adventures as they search for the missing—a lost teen, an Alzheimer’s patient wandering in the cold, signs of the crew amid the debris of the space shuttle Columbia disaster—and unravel the mystery of the bond between humans and dogs” (from the Barnes and Noble review).
Driven by a desire to do everything an owner can do to have a healthy dog live longer, Pukka’s Promise: The Quest for Longer-Lived Dogs, by Ted Kerasote, is an exploration of canine health and welfare discussions. Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship, by Tom Ryan, allows us to join an entertaining odyssey of a non-athletic man and his small-bodied, big-hearted dog while we consider many physical and spiritual aspects of being human and being loved by a dog.
You Had Me At Woof, by Julie Klam, relates the author’s journey from being a first-time Boston Terrier owner to becoming a wildly passionate rescue volunteer and is brimming with entertainment, laughter, and compassion.
Lovers of canine humor must not miss the hilarious stories by Merrill Markoe. Known for her career as a comedy writer, she is author of Walking In Circles Before Lying Down, What the Dogs Have Taught Me, and Nose Down, Eyes Up.
Dogs in Genre Fiction: Mystery and Romance
Brilliant dogs lending a helping paw to solve mysteries abound. From seriously dark deeds uncovered to light romance where pups help to lure in the love object, every reading taste can be satisfied.
Leading the favorites list with light, funny, and dog-filled stories are the works of author Elaine Fox. Guys and Dogs begins her romantic romp series. Other dog-assisted romances include Beware of Do(u)g and Bedtime for Bonsai.
Dog sidekicks in mystery are a genre unto themselves. A brief list of readers’ favorite series with these include Donna Ball’s dog trainer/part-time park ranger series, Carol Lea Benjamin’s Rachael Alexander and Dash whodunits, and Laurien Berenson’s Melanie Travis mysteries.
Also recommended for dog-mystery lovers are Ann Campbell’s Annie O’Hara and Claudius series, Susan Conant’s Dog Lover’s Mystery series, Patricia Guiver’s Delilah Doolittle novels, Gerald Hammond’s John Cunningham series, Sue Henry’s Maxie and Stretch stories, Lee Charles Kelley’s Jack Fields books, Virginia Lanier’s Bloodhound series, Judi McCoy’s Dog Walkers books, Spencer Quinn’s Chet and Bernie detective series, David Rosenfelt’s Andy Carpenter books, Peggy Webb’s Elvis series, and Sue Owens Wright’s Beanie and Cruiser series.
Nonfiction and Poetry
Rin Tin Tin, by Susan Orlean, recounts the fascinating story of the legendary German Shepherd, following him from his humble beginnings on a WWI battlefield to his international stardom.
Dog Heaven, written and illustrated by Cynthia Rylant, presents a lyrical vision of dog heaven, a place where no dog will ever go hungry or lack a soft bed or children to play with.
Dog-loving readers of poetry will enjoy Dog Songs, by Mary Oliver, and Doggerel, an excellent anthology from Everyman’s Library Pocket Poetry.
May a canine-friendly book be with you on your leisure time with your dogs, whether in the form of a beach read, an audio book to listen to while traveling, or to enjoy at home as you are lulled by the comforting snores of your canine companions.
If you have a good book and a great dog, you really have all you need.
Thank you to participants in several English Springer Spaniel chat-groups for sharing their most beloved dog-centric books for this column.
—Sarah A. Ferrell, English Springer Spaniel Field Trial Association (adapted from column in the July 2013 AKC Gazette)
Would you like to learn about good dog books for younger readers? Check out on Woofipedia: Back to School: The Best Children’s Books About Dogs
Read more articles from the AKC Gazette here.