Perhaps it’s the provenance of the solitary professions, but dogs and bookish types just seem to go together. Sure, the bookstore cat curled in a cozy space created by a gap on a shelf may be picturesque, but it is the dog curled under the desk who truly captures this editor’s heart. The love of dogs is especially true among the Girls Friday—where we disproportionately represent dog-loving America. Most of us have dogs—several of us have two (and on occasion, even three)—and all of us with dogs structure our days far too much around our canine companions. It is not uncommon to see a Girl Friday rushing out the door to let out a puppy or check on a pooch with a destructive streak, or to pick up a dog from his weekly outing with his (human) grandmother.
I found myself reflecting on our love of dogs especially this past year, when the fates were not kind to the Dogs Friday. From last summer to this, we saw four Dogs Friday snuffle off this mortal coil, and being a dog-loving kind of workplace, we all mourned their passing together. When my own Dog Friday, Muddy, died suddenly a few months ago, I was greeted on my return to the office by a vase of sympathy lilies.
It got me wondering whether our love of dogs came not by accident but rather was fated by the same forces that led us to our profession in the first place: our love of books and reading.
Of course, we are all of the type to have spent much of our childhoods poring over anything with words and sneaking everything from Wuthering Heights to Archie comics into our beds long past our bedtime. But how many of those books were about dogs?
I know for myself that my love of books, reading, dogs, and Yorkshiremen (I married into a family from South Yorkshire) comes directly from the pen of James Herriot. I loved everything about his rural veterinary practice, but especially the stories of the dogs he encountered—Twicki Woo, the spoiled Pekingese; Jock, the car-chasing sheepdog; and Cedric, the flatulent bulldog, who found his forever home with an anosmatic client.
So I polled the rest of the Girls Friday about their love of dogs and literature, and, not surprisingly, I found each had their favorite dog books.
The universal favorite must be Where the Red Fern Grows, described best by Lam, who even now has two hounds because of the book. “I have a black and tan coonhound and a bloodhound, both featured and described in the big hunt Billy does with his grandfather . . . so I guess that shows the impact a book can have. . . . I used to read it over and over again to make myself cry.” It’s the crying that I remember best about the book, but Lam adds: “The night-time hunting was thrilling—the freedom of it, the incredible way the dogs know innately what to do and the way they worked in sync with Billy, and, of course, there is the sacrifice.”
Call of the Wild and White Fang also figured prominently in the memories of the Girls Friday, because “They’re heroic and part wolf, and how bad ass is that?!” and, I imagine, also for the same reason we loved Billy’s dogs in Where the Red Fern Grows—they provide a link to a wildness that we otherwise cannot access (as Lam emailed: “We might want to be friends with a bear, but this is as close as we get”).
Others that figure prominently in our reading memories: the literal watchdog, Tock, in The Phantom Tollbooth and Harry the Dirty Dog. But our love of literary dogs didn’t stop when we turned thirteen. Turns out, we still like reading about dogs. There are more recent dogs in YA literature: Hagrid’s Fang from the Harry Potter series and Mrs. O’Leary, the hellhound in Rick Riordan’s books, which most of us have read either to our children or on our own.
Although Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley is a classic road-trip story that all readers, dog lovers, and travelers should read, it was truly Marley & Me that made the dog memoir a genre of its own. As Jenna wrote, the book resonated with so many of us because “it hit on the point that dogs mark the seasons of our life”—an observation that makes me a little weepy just to think about.
Other recent literary dogs and dog books we love: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, Popper from The Goldfinch, Flawed Dogs: The Novel, and The Art of Racing in the Rain.
I also have to give a nod to Ken Foster, with whom I had the pleasure of working on I’m a Good Dog: Pit bulls, America's Most Beautiful (and Misunderstood) Pet. Ken has written several dog memoirs, and he writes beautifully about animals without falling into the trap of being cloying (he describes pit bulls as “looking like the overly pancaked face of Judy Garland in decline”—my all-time favorite line ever written about a dog).Working on I’m a Good Dog gave me the opportunity to bring my love of dogs and books full circle with a truly literary book about dogs.
So, there you have it—the secret world of the Dogs Friday. Those are our favorite literary canines—who are yours?