This weekend I went to my favorite local bookstore (Arcadia Books in Spring Green, WI) and spent a bundle on books as Christmas presents. Of course, I ended up buying a bunch for me too, because I love books almost as much as I love dogs. (Okay, I don’t really love books as much as I do dogs, but but you get the idea.) I thought it was a good time of year for us to have a conversation about great books, either to read for yourself or to buy as gifts for others. Here’s a list of some of the things I’ve loved reading this year (including my favorite magazines) and some books that are on my list to read sometime soon.
Beware the Straw Man: The Science Dog Explores Dog Training Fact and Fiction, by Linda P. Case. I love Linda’s thoughtful and educated approach to commonly held beliefs about dog behavior and training. Ex: Dogs couldn’t be subject to the placebo effect–0r could they? (Or their owners.) Can tryptophan calm excitable dogs (or make you sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner)? You might be surprised at the answer. I haven’t read every chapter yet, but I’ll read a chapter a day and savor every one of them. Another great book by Linda Case is…
Dog Food Logic: Making Smart Decisions for Your Dog in the Age of Too Many Choices, also by Linda P. Case. This is one of my favorite dog books of 2014–thorough but engaging, practical and theoretically interesting. It should be in the library of everyone who feeds a dog.
Domestic Dog Cognition and Behavior: The Scientific Study of Canis Familiaris, edited by Alexandra Horowitz. Here’s the blurb from Dogwise about it: This book highlights the state of the field in the new, provocative line of research into the cognition and behavior of the domestic dog. Eleven chapters from leading researchers describe innovative methods from comparative psychology, ethology, and behavioral biology…”
The good news is that this book has enough meat in it to keep us thinking throughout all of 2015. The bad news is that the cost of the hardcover book is $149.99 (and that is substantially reduced by Dogwise from the publisher’s price). But Julie Hecht alerted me (thank you Julie!) to the fact that you can buy single chapters, or even go online to download individual chapters thanks to the author him or herself, as Monique Udell has done for her chapter, a Dog’s-Eye View of Canine Cognition.
Canine Play Behavior: The Science of Dogs at Play by Mechtild Käufer. Don’t you love how the word “science” is showing up on so many new books about dog behavior? Picture me breathing a great sigh of relief. I picked this book up at Dogwise, and love its combination of photographs and references to solid studies on canine behavior. A must on the shelf of anyone serious about canine behavior.
Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs, by David Grimm. The sub-title pretty much says it all. I haven’t read this book yet, but it looks interesting. Anyone out there read it yet and care to give us a review?
Breath to Breath by Carrie Maloney. Here’s another book I haven’t read yet. That’s not surprising, since it just arrived on my desk this morning. It is a novel about a veterinarian who is healing from her husband’s death through her work with animals (and through her talk show on public radio–you can see why I’m especially interested given the radio context…). Here’s the blurb on the back of the book: “Veterinarian Anna Dunlop can recite all the 230 bones in a cat’s body. She can listen to a dog’s chest and know instantly how to save its life. What she can’t seem to do is work her way through her own personal pain.”
Low Stress Handling, Restraint and Behavior Modification of Dog & Cats: Techniques for Developing Patients Who Love Their Visits by Sophia Yin. This book came out in 2009, but I consider it the gold standard on humane handling. If you haven’t seen it, be prepared to be awed; that’s how I felt when I first saw it. If you have any reason to handle animals (who would rather not be handled), you need this book. Your vet clinic needs this book. Yes, it is expensive, but it is nothing compared to other medical equipment and possibly the best book that any vet clinic could have. If your clinic doesn’t have it and you are feeling especially grateful to them, buying them this book is a wonderful way to show your appreciation. I might not have thought to include this book, but the untimely and tragic death of Sophia Yin has recently brought all of her work to mind. Mark Twain said that stories are like genes, they live on after us when we ourselves are gone. Looking at this book reminds me that Dr. Yin will never be far from our hearts, and always be there, on the side of the animals she loved.
Do As I Do: Using Social Learning to Train Dogs by Claudia Fugazza. I haven’t seen this book yet, but the folks at Dogwise highly recommend it, and I take their suggestions seriously. Looks intriguing, anyone read it?
For more ideas about good dog books, see my Spring Book Review blog from this year. And last, in this category anyway, forgive me for mentioning my own books, The Other End of the Leash and For the Love of a Dog. They have both been out for several years, but I am gratified that people still find them useful. I get emails every week from readers saying wonderful things about them. (Which are especially welcome, given that I am working on finishing a draft of my next big book. I’ll just say that writing is not always an easy task, and leave it at that.)
NON-FICTION ABOUT ANIMALS
Animal Madness: How Anxious Dogs, Compulsive Parrots, and Elephants in Recovery Help Us Understand Ourselves by Laurel Braitman. I wasn’t sure that I was going to like this book, but I ended up loving it. I highly recommend it. Laurel began with the life-threatening phobia of her own beloved dog, and expands into an educated and wide-ranging discussion about the shared mental states of people and other mammals. A great book for those interested in comparative cognition and emotional states in animals.
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. This is another book sitting on my bookshelf. Here’s a description: “A major book about the future of the world, blending intellectual and natural history and field reporting into a powerful account of the mass extinction unfolding before our eyes.” This is an important book for me to read before I teach my class at the University of Wisconsin, and in some ways I am looking forward to it. Of course, in other ways I’m not, because this kind of knowledge can be depressing. But it won’t help us to hide our heads under the covers.
Amazing Rare Things: The Art of Natural History in the Age of Discovery, by David Attenborough. I bought this book this weekend, and if you need an antidote to books about extinction, this has got to be it. “In Amazing Rare Things, renowned naturalist and documentary-maker David Attenborough joins with expert colleagues to explore how artists portrayed the natural world during this era of burgeoning scientific interest.” I haven’t read it all yet, but the art inside is gorgeous.
FICTION (Truth be known, I love reading good fiction. Here are my favorite novels that I read this year.)
Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler. An exquisite book, one of my favorite of all time. From Booklist: “The hearty Midwest, which thrums and beats through tiny Little Wing, Wisconsin—an Anytown, USA, if there ever was one—assumes the whole soul of Butler’s fetching debut, if only to end up proving how unassuming it is… In bars and under stars, through this small group of those who’ve never left, those who regret leaving, and those who wish they had the town in their rearview mirror, Butler examines just what it means to be from a place—and if sharing that from-some-place is more a reason to stay in touch, or a reason not to. Readers can feel the winter cold on the other side of the neon sign and hear the peanut shells crunching underfoot.”–Annie Bostrom
Jewelweed and Driftless by David Rhodes. Another author who is brilliant at establishing place. One reviewer said it better than I could: “Encompassing and incisive, comedic and profound, Driftless is a radiant novel of community and courage.” –Donna Seaman. Courage is something that David Rhodes knows well. He was lauded as one of the country’s most promising young authors 30 years ago, until a motorcycle accident left him paralyzed. But he is back writing, and if his writing doesn’t take you away to another place, I can’t imagine what would.
I couldn’t resist adding in my two favorite magazines, one dog-related, one a literary magazine. (I guess that pretty well sums up my primary interests in life… oh wait, I should add a magazine on gardening and one on cooking. The cooking one is easy: I love Cook’s Illustrated, read it cover to cover every time it comes.)
The Sun: I read this ad-free magazine on all things without stopping, and love it so much that this weekend I found myself reading the small print about subscriptions just because I didn’t want to put it down. The best way I can describe it is that it is uplifting. Not in a made-for-TV-Christmas movie kind of way, but in a way that connects me to the human condition in a expansive and beautiful way. The day it arrives in the mailbox is always a good day.
The Bark: How could I not mention this wonderful magazine? Of course, I’m not exactly objective, having written for it for so many years, but there is no question that it raised the bar on dog-related magazines so high that the others, frankly, can’t begin to compare. Another magazine that deserves to be read cover to cover.
YOUR TURN! What about you? I’d love to hear what you’ve been reading…
MEANWHILE, down on the farm: A sad day last week when we had to have our co-0wned ram, King Charles, put down by the vet. He was only four years old and we have no idea why he died. He lived most of the year at friend and co-owner’s Donna, who also has a goat buck to keep him company. King Charles came here three weeks ago to breed the ewes we selected for lambing next year. He promptly got pneumonia, but we pulled him out of it and it seemed that he’d be fine. But then a week ago Sunday night he only nibbled on his hay, and by Monday morning he wouldn’t eat a thing. By the time the vet came out he was in rough shape, and his temperature was plummeting. I agreed it would be a kindness to put him down.
That began a somewhat desperate search for a new ram, it being the worst possible time of year to buy a ram. You want to buy a ram in August or September, in order to get the best choice and be ready for when you want to breed the ewes. Luckily, the Double Ewe farm not only breeds for the traits we are looking for (hardy, good mothers, parasite resistance, thrives on grass with little grain supplementation) but is close by. The next day Jim and I returned home with a very young man, just barely old enough to breed the ewes.
The lead ewe, Lady Godiva, greeted him by attempting to smash him into oblivion. We split her out and he then proceeded to chase the rest of the ewes in circles until they were panting like dogs on a July day in Texas. I’m happy to say that after four days of that, things have finally calmed down. However, Lady G can’t resist still getting in a few head butts just to show him who is in charge. Wish him luck, I think he needs it!