Long shot dog on tree stump
Long shot wolf
Long shot prairie
Long shot dog runs and exits
Long shot deer
Long shot dog
Medium shot girl
Close-up shot little monkey.
– extract from shot list for The Man from Hell’s River (1922) in ‘The Dog Star’ by Susan Orlean
I found myself with some book vouchers recently, so I went and bought this book for myself as a special treat. It’s a collection of essays, short stories, poems, and cartoons about dogs, all from the New Yorker. It was eighty dollars. Eighty dollars! But look at it. Look at it.
There are other things I should be reading. But this is better than any of them. This is better than any other book. Here are the reasons.
1. It’s about the evolution of dogs, police dogs, running dogs, dogs in parks, dogs that chase people, disturbed dogs, bulldogs, loved dogs and unloved dogs, dog language, New York’s poop scoop law, barking dogs, a dog that was found ‘asleep on the job’ and threatened with arrest, obedience training, dogs on film, dog DNA, lost dogs, dog field trials, dogs bequeathed millions of dollars by their owners, and many, many other dog subjects.
2. The hugeness of the book reminds me of reading books as a kid. Those big collections of fairytales, or books with titles like ‘Fantastic Tales for Seven-Year-Olds’. There is something very comforting and satisfying about the sheer heft and variety and beauty of the book. It hits all the good old spots.
3. There are not as many sad stories about dogs dying as you might think.
4. It’s not all dogs. There are people. For example, there is a wonderful story by Callum Wink that opens: ‘Sid was a nude sleeper. Had been even since he was a little kid. To him, wearing clothes to bed seemed strangely redundant, like wearing underwear inside your underwear or something.’
5. Some of the cartoons are really funny.
6. Delayed gratification: you have to get through Malcolm Gladwell’s foreword before you get to the good stuff. The foreword is not particularly bad; it’s just a bit annoying, in that particular Gladwellian way. It’s the way that everything is so tidily narrativised. Also, when he tells us that when he hears his neighbour’s dog whining, his ‘heart breaks’, I don’t believe him.
7. I think about how much fun it must have been to make a book like this. Imagine the meetings, imagine the decision-making. ‘What can we put in this space?’ ‘How about that picture of the dog asking for forty thousand dollars?’ ‘I was hoping you’d say the one of the dog catching the martini glass.’ ‘Oh, my dog does that trick all the time!’ Etc. etc. I bet they were allowed dogs in the office as well.
Maybe there is something unhealthy about how much I am enjoying this book. I don’t even own a dog, though I did as a kid (a dachshund, which was, cruelly, called a rat by kids who ever saw me out walking it), and I don’t know when I’ll ever be in a good position to own one again. Landlords are non-dog-friendly, and the future’s too uncertain. In the meantime, I’m a guess I’d describe myself as a dog watcher. It’s not something I actively do – more a reflex. If there’s a dog nearby, I’ll be watching it.
I’m happy to see that a few Wellington pubs are becoming dog friendly, like the Rogue and Vagabond, and Goldings. Pubs are infinitely better with dogs in them, or standing at their peripheries.
The best time to go dog watching is late morning on a Sunday at the farmer’s market near the waterfront. The place trots and skitters with them: whippets, labs, Alsatians, Dalmatians, pugs, those scraggly things that I call sea dogs because they look like they’ve spent a lot of time running around in salty wind. Half sea-foam, half dog.
So, I guess that’s all I wanted to talk about today. There are no complex truths to be revealed here. If you get a chance, take a look at The Big New Yorker Book of Dogs.