A list of books in honor of our K9 companions and the writers they’ve inspired.
Whatever a writer loves deeply, whatever mystifies and delights them, often becomes a muse. Lovers, nature, God, children, animals…dogs. Dogs do not talk, in words. They do not judge. They love and give and receive and reflect us back on ourselves, where the answers were all along. Are there any better qualities in a muse?
We’re wagging our tails with excitement for our May 13 webinar with author Jennifer Finney Boylan about her new memoir Good Boy: My Life in Seven Dogs. Boylan, the first bestselling transgender American writer, explores her growing understanding of friendship, relationships, and gender identity across seven stages of her life, as reflected in the dogs who were there each step of the way. And that got us thinking about some of our favorite dogs in American literature.
Here are six widely-varied books featuring dogs that come personally recommended by AWM staff. This list is also available on Bookshop.org, where proceeds go toward independent, local bookstores. So find your four-legged friend, give them a back or belly scratch (whatever they prefer) and curl up with one of these books.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
Toto is the loyal and friendly little black dog of Dorothy, illustrated as a terrier in the first book. He is devoted to Dorothy, and the only one in the great gray prairie who makes her laugh. When the cyclone hits, Toto jumps out of her arms to hide under the bed. This action leads them to getting swept away to the land of Oz. It’s not the only time he gets them into trouble. But he is a curious fellow, and reveals truths that others would not have discovered. All through their journey, he remains Dorothy’s uplifting and caring companion.
—Cristina, Facilities Supervisor
The Call of the Wild by Jack London
The story of Buck, a 140-pound St. Bernard-Scotch Collie mix, reflects the early American pioneer spirit as Buck forges through the brutal and frozen Yukon trail as a sled dog in the late 19th century. Through Buck’s eyes, ears and nose, we travel with him through different human masters, relationships with other dogs, abuse, extreme challenges, adventure, love, longing, and transformation. Buck was inspired by one of the dogs Jack London knew when he spent a year in Alaska, an experience that also provides the story’s vivid descriptions of the setting and the lives of prospectors and dogs.
Apart from the inspiration of Buck’s story, and the parallels to our own journeys, The Call of the Wild reminds you that your dog is spoiled with a really cushy life!
Jack London’s actual typewriter (pictured here) from 1902 is on view in our Tools of the Trade exhibit — read more about it here. Don’t worry, he did not make any poor dogs pull this on a sled. He wrote The Call of the Wild after returning to San Francisco.
—Linda, Director of Development
Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck
I first read this book in high school and have since returned to it a few times. Written in 1962, the great John Steinbeck was getting old and his health was beginning to decline so he set out to see the country he wrote about so often for one last time, with his trusty poodle Charley by his side. As they make their way around the country in Rocinante, the custom camper-truck Steinbeck had built, they come across different people with different sensibilities. It’s a classic journey tale.
Much has been written about whether Steinbeck actually took this trip and if he did how much he embellished the retelling, but I’m not concerned with that. I’m here for Charley, a very fine companion, and in a way the heart and soul of the book. Steinbeck is a human traveling around the country meeting other humans in an attempt to understand humanity. But it is Charley, a dog, who teaches Steinbeck more about humans than any human does. Specifically, Charley reveals the myth of human superiority. As Steinbeck writes, Charley “can’t read, can’t drive a car, and has no grasp of mathematics. But in his own field of endeavor, which he was now practicing, the slow, imperial smelling over and anointing of an area, he has no peer. Of course his horizons are limited, but how wide are mine?”
And towards the end of the book, Steinbeck sums it up well. He’s lying in his camper trying to fall asleep and keeps stirring as his mind grapples with the injustices of human civilization he’s seen in his life. Eventually, as he writes, “Charley grew angry with me and told me ‘Ftt’ several times. But Charley doesn’t have our problems. He doesn’t belong to a species clever enough to split the atom but not clever enough to live in peace with itself…I’ve seen a look in dogs’ eyes, a quickly vanishing look of amazed contempt, and I am convinced that basically dogs think humans are nuts.”
I think they might be right.
—Nate, Content & Communications Coordinator
Doggies (a counting and barking book) by Sandra Boynton
If you don’t know Sandra Boynton from her children’s books (and adult books) you would recognize her illustrations from greeting cards. If you have kids, I don’t have to explain. Doggies is a board book, designed so the pages can be safely inserted into babies’ mouths, and last until it’s time to give them away, with a nostalgic sigh, along with the plastic toys that take up needed space in your house. Doggies is among the first books you read to your baby, in that chapter of life when time seems to move so slowly.
Kids love this book because they love hearing their parents imitate all the different barks of all the different dogs, which Sandra illustrates to capture each dog’s personality. Parents are liberated by having their loving and nonverbal child as their only, non-judging audience. We can let loose with our most theatrical dog sounds. This is one of the first books I read to my son, when he fit comfortably on my lap and shook with laughter. He is 17 now, and his loud, raucous laugh remains.
—Linda, Director of Development
Hank the Cowdog Series by John R. Erickson
Hank the Cowdog is a great series that follows the Head of Ranch Security (Hank) on various adventures and mysteries. This is a great way to introduce kids to the detective genre, or just a fun read if you want something silly and lighthearted. With 73 (!) books in the series, there is definitely more than enough material to keep people of all ages occupied.
In addition, the official Hank the Cowdog website has games, audio-book excerpts, recipes, and even classroom activities. You can also watch author John R. Erickson talk about the real life Australian Shepherd who inspired the fictional Hank.
—Ari, Data Operations Coordinator
Dog Songs by Mary Oliver
If poetry and dogs are two things that make your heart swell, then you are home when you have Dog Songs in your hands. Mary Oliver is one of America’s most beloved and best-selling poets. She wrote in straightforward language about nature, life, the universe, happiness, despair, herself, you, me…and she wrote about dogs. Mary had several dogs throughout her life. Here’s Mary reading a poem about Percy (named after the poet Percy Shelley).
She wrote about Bear, “…he leaps, he spins/until the white snow is written upon/in large, exuberant letters/a long sentence, expressing/the pleasure of the body in this world.”
And Luke, who loves flowers “not in the serious/careful way/that we choose/this blossom or that blossom — the way we praise or don’t praise — the way we love/or don’t love — but the way/we long to be — that happy/in the heaven of earth — that wild, that loving.”
Dog Songs is a book of 35 poems. You can gobble it up all at once, and go find it again when there is a line or an image that comes back to you at some unexpected time, and the whole poem, the whole book, awaits your return. Mary ends the book with a short essay, which concludes:
“Because of a dog’s joyfulness, our own is increased. It is no small gift. It is not the least reason why we should honor as well as love the dog of our own life, and the dog down the street, and all the dogs not yet born. What would the world be like without music or rivers or the green and tender grass? What would the world be like without dogs?“
—Linda, Director of Development
And just because we’ve spent a lot of time with them recently, we wanted to share photos of some of the AWM family’s dogs. Some of these good boys and girls are no longer with us, but their memories live on in our love for them. Cheers to all the dogs!