As most writers do, I have books all over my apartment, my garage and in storage. But some books I just can’t tuck away to gather dust. These I keep in a glass-fronted cupboard in my bedroom. It wasn’t designed for books – it has just three shelves in a four-foot vertical span.
The top shelf is filled with books for and about writing that I use on a daily basis – Webster’s New World College Dictionary and The Associated Press Stylebook – and others that I pull down when I need motivation or ideas, such as “Writing Tools” by Roy Peter Clark and “The Writer on Her Work,” edited by Janet Sternburg.
But my favorite shelf, honestly, is the bottom one. That’s my art-, museum- and cartoon-book shelf. You know. Those books that don’t fit on regular-sized bookshelves.
One of the perks of being an editor and writer who specializes in dogs is that I get lots of books for free. Publishers hope for a review or even a mention, so they send books to me, often before the final book is printed. It’s not unusual for me to find two books of the same title in different spots in my ersatz library. One will be an “uncorrected proof” and the other, the finished tome that you might pick up at Barnes & Noble or from Amazon.
Over my 11 years in “dog publishing,” I’ve saved the best and brightest from amongst the chaff. And, as you well know, a heckuva lot of chaff gets published about dogs. Don’t know why. Don’t know how. But it does.
So, on that bottom shelf are the books I like to leaf through just because they’re beautiful, or funny, or touching. As would be expected, a number of them have “dogs” in the title.
Today, I share three of them with you.
I can almost guarantee that if you pick up one of them, you will smile. I do. Every single time.
So, for your consideration:
- • “Impressionist Cats & Dogs” by James H. Rubin, published by Yale University Press in 2003. Though not the thickest or most beautiful volume of dog art, this book limits itself to an era and style of painting that I love. As a matter of fact, it rests quite comfortably in my cupboard next to a museum guide to Paris’ Musee d’Orsay. The museum limits its collection to the stars of that painting style, and Mr. Rubin did a lovely job of identifying some charming examples of works that portray both species, but mostly dogs. Art historians and experts will surely find his book annoying. He did the unthinkable: chopping up some masterpieces and reproducing just portions to enlarge the area where the dog or cat appears. But I love it. Unrelated to this little article, I recently asked my Best In Show Daily colleagues what breed appears on page 126. I’d referred them to copy of Edouard Manet’s painting, “The Railroad: Gare Saint-Lazare,” online. The three who answered all had different ideas as to that little pup’s heritage. We have yet to resolve the question…
- • ”Rescue Tails” by Brian Nice, published by Simon & Schuster in 2009. The title might lead you to think that this book is stuffed with stories about rescued dogs. Wrong and wrong. It’s a beautiful collection of black and white photographs of celebrities and their canine pals. The author’s proceeds go to the Humane Society of New York and Much Love Animal Rescue in Los Angeles, thus the title. What I love is the variety of shots: in a studio, in the family pool, under a tree, in the bathtub – owner and dog together. Just about anywhere you can think of, Nice took photographs. Though I’m not usually interested in celebrity stuff, these photos seem to capture actors and singers and authors in genuine moments of joy and happiness. What could better make them real again than being with their dogs? You’ll find Edie Falco tossing her big white dog into a pond, Brooke Shields helping her baby say hello to her dog Darla and Mickey Rourke nuzzling his Chihuahua. Kevin Smith’s two Labs, Scully and Mulder, take a dip with him, and Jason Biggs tucks his Min Pin in his shirt for the photo shoot. A classic shot shows jockey Joe Bravo on the scale with his Terrier before a race. Every time I pick up this book, I see something new in one of the photos.
- • ”Scotch and Toilet Water?” by Leo Cullum, published by Abrams in 2004. I’m a big fan of The New Yorker. I’ve subscribed for years, just like the many other Californians who outnumber New York subscribers, or so I’ve heard. Some weeks, I flip through it and look at all of the cartoons first. This is something akin to pulling the comics out of the Sunday paper before you even read the front-page headlines. But I don’t subscribe just for the cartoons. Really, I don’t. No, really. This cartoon collection features the work of Leo Cullum, who shared his wit with New Yorker readers for 33 years, until his death in 2010. He cartooned on many subjects, but animals seemed to be his favorite. It should come as no surprise that he was a lifelong dog lover, sharing his home with many over the years. At the time he wrote the book’s introduction, his household boasted two canine residents: Winnie, a yellow Lab who often served as a model for his many dog cartoons, and Lulu, a Cocker Spaniel. It doesn’t matter what page you open this book to, it’ll be funny – and cute.
So, there they are. Three books that aren’t buried or stored or even shelved well. But they are well-loved. Don’t ask to borrow them. I don’t loan them out. Go buy your own. You won’t regret it.