The first book I ever read by myself was about a dog—in fact, if you were a child in the last 40 years, this may have been your first book, too. Reading Where’s Spot? by Eric Hill from front to back is the first time I remember being proud of myself. And since then, my imagination has been captured by countless dog stories throughout history and across genres. You see, dogs have been with us since the early days of humankind. To share a life with a dog is one of the oldest qualities of being human.
“Despite how much human society has changed, our love for dogs have remained the same.”
Just ask Odysseus from Homer’s the Odyssey. When he went off to fight in the Trojan War, he left behind his puppy, Argos (one of the namesakes of our brand). Argos waits 20 years for Odysseus to finally return home. And in disguise after two decades on the road, Odysseus is unrecognizable to his family and friends. But Argos, his faithful pup, recognizes him immediately. He drops his ears and wags his tail—but is too weak to get up. Odysseus cannot greet him either, for he cannot betray his disguise. But Odysseus sheds a tear as he walks past Argos, and Argos dies immediately, content upon finally having seen his master return home safely from war.
This is a 3,000-year-old story that still resonates with us today. Like you, I don’t really know how the world is going to look in 10 years. Or 50 years. Or even next year, to be honest. But I do know that humankind’s love for dogs will continue. I take comfort in that, and I hope you do, too.
Artemis and I have a habit of reading together before bed. Yes, I know she doesn’t understand the story, though I like to think she enjoys the sound of my voice when I’m reading out loud to her. But most nights, it’s just me and her, curled up in bed, while she snores loudly as I read through the latest book club pick. I’m far too old for bedtime stories and nursery rhymes, and yet, this evening ritual has become sacred to me. I’ve been reading dog literature for years—and not just dog memoirs, though dog memoirs are a robust genre in themselves. Not everyone is a reader, of course, and that’s okay. But if you’ve been trying to find simple comforts at home, might I suggest curling up with one of these books and your dog? There aren’t just stories about dogs. These are critically acclaimed books by some of the best writers and poets of our time. These are good books in the literary canon that even non-dog parents should and can read. You can escape into another person’s words. Like having a dog, this is another way to connect with humankind.
Dog Songs by Mary Oliver
Why we love it: This compact book of poetry about dogs, written by Pulitzer Prize winner Mary Oliver, is a celebration of the impermanent relationship we share with our dogs. We love reading one poem every day—like a daily mantra, it’s a great day to start (or end) your day.
Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean
Why we love it: Rin Tin Tin was one of the most iconic stars of Old Hollywood—who happened to be a German Shepherd. He starred in 27 films and became a household name worldwide. This riveting biography was brilliantly written by New Yorker staff writer Susan Orlean; it is as much of a story of reinvention as much as it is the story of a very good dog.
Afterglow: A Dog Memoir by Eileen Myles
Why we love it: Eileen Myles, known as the poet muse of Amazon’s Transparent, won a Guggenheim Fellowship to write this elegy to their Pit Bull, Rosie. The inventive narrative switches from chapter to chapter, lending a glimpse into Eileen’s brilliant mind as they come to terms with their grief.
Cujo by Stephen King
Why we love it: Stephen King writes horror literature for the masses, but he’s also an extremely talented and prolific wordsmith. It’s not fair. This horror novel is about a Saint Bernard named Cujo who gets infected with rabies and becomes murderous.
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
Why we love it: This 2008 Oprah’s Book Club pick is a retelling of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, set in rural Wisconsin, about a mute boy named Edgar who comes from a long line of dog breeders who breed a fictional breed of dogs called Sawtelles. The dogs function like the chorus in Greek tragedies; read the novel and pay attention to what the dogs are doing.
Flush: A Biography by Virginia Woolf
Why we love it: After the modernist writer Virginia Woolf wrote The Waves, her most experimental work, she let loose by writing a fictionalized biography of Flush, the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s beloved Cocker Spaniel. It is not just a thrilling read, but also a piece of social criticism.
My Dog Tulip by J.R. Ackerley
Why we love it: J. R. Ackerley was a leading literary figure and editor in Great Britain, and was one of the very few openly gay men at the time. J. R. never thought considered himself a dog person until he got a German Shepherd named Tulip in his middle age. This memoir is a celebration of their 16-year companionship as best friends.
The Friend by Sigrid Nunez
Why we love it: This 2018 National Book Award winner is about a woman who is forced to take care of her deceased best friend and mentor’s Great Dane. Sigrid Nunez has written one of the best canine-human love stories of all time, because this is a story about a dog and a human who are both coping with the loss of the great love of their lives.
E.B. White on Dogs edited by Martha White
Why we love it: E.B. White is known for his children’s books like Charlotte’s Web, but he also wrote a body of essays, poems, letters, and sketches about dogs. This beloved collection was compiled and edited by his daughter, Martha, and includes unpublished photographs. It’s a wonderful way to celebrate your favorite children’s book author in a new manner.
The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion by Meghan Daum
Why we love it: Meghan Daum was one of the late Nora Ephron’s last mentees, and this celebrated essay collection is worth it just for the one dog essay in the book, “The Dog Exception.” In this long essay, she writes about her love for big dogs and why loving animals is what makes us human, all in her trademark self-deprecating tone.
Unleashed: Poems by Writers’ Dogs edited by Amy Hempel and Jim Shepard
Why we love it: Amy Hempel, one of the best short story writers of all time and a founding board member of the rescue dog non-profit Deja Foundation, worked with novelist Jim Shepard to compile and edit this brilliant anthology of poetry about dogs from some of the most iconic literary and artistic figures of the ’90s, from the artist William Wegman (known for his Weimaraner photographs) to Cynthia Heimel, a sex columnist who wrote for Village Voice, Playboy, and Vogue.
Photography by Lauren Marsh
Illustration courtesy of Marona’s Fantastic Tale