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The Morning Edition mailboxes are always overflowing with books sent by publishers. And recently, a fair number have fallen into a category you might call "dog memoirs" — books about how dogs transform their owners' lives.
Ever since the success of Marley & Me, it seems publishers are looking for the next big dog — or little dog. We wondered if any of the more recent dog memoirs are any good, so we started to collect them. And then we turned over a whole stack to NPR's own Julie Rovner. You know her for her coverage of health care policy, but what you may not know is that she's a dog lover and proud owner of a champion Corgi named Gromit.
Most recently, Rovner has been working her way through Jill Abramson's The Puppy Diaries: Raising a Dog Named Scout and You Had Me at Woof: How Dogs Taught Me the Secrets of Happiness by Julie Klam. "I actually liked them both," Rovner tells NPR's Linda Wertheimer. Abramson is better known as the executive editor of The New York Times, and Rovner says that reporting background is apparent in her writing. "She clearly went at this when she was training this dog ... and whenever she had a problem, she went out and interviewed an expert."
Rovner says You Had Me at Woof is a lighter read, and one she enjoyed because of the author's interest in Boston terriers and dog rescue operations. "This is something I think that's really not very well understood by a lot of people," Rovner says. "Everybody thinks ... you have a choice when you want a dog. You go to the breeder and you buy a purebred dog, or you go to a shelter and you adopt a mixed-breed dog." But, she adds, there's a third way: breed-specific rescue groups that take in the dogs people can no longer care for. "So if you want a Boston terrier, there'll be a Boston terrier rescue, and that's what this woman is involved with."
Not all of the dog memoirs in Rovner's pile were so lighthearted. Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him is by Luis Carlos Montalvan, a U.S. Army captain wounded in Iraq. Rovner says there has been some dispute about the military actions depicted in the book, but that doesn't detract from the story of a man and his dog. "This is a guy who clearly went through something very difficult, and really opened himself up to write about it, and it's really a beautifully written book."
Show Dog: The Charmed Life and Trying Times of a Near-Perfect Purebred by Josh Dean is not quite a dog memoir; it's about the business of purebred dogs and the shows they compete in. Rovner says she particularly wanted to read this book because she and Gromit compete in obedience and agility shows, which are often held in conjunction with what she calls the "pretty dog" shows.
Dean followed a top show dog for a year to get an idea of how much a show campaign costs. "But he's also just a big fan of dogs, and he writes with an infectious style," Rovner says. She points out one passage in which Dean explores a dog show and decides his new favorite breed is the Norwegian Lundehund, which possesses an unusually jointed neck and can touch its forehead to its back, "which is both functional and a cool party trick," as Dean writes.
Rovner looked at close to a dozen dog books, and she says she was surprised to find herself enjoying all of them. "I should say, I was not a big fan of Marley & Me, so the fact that I liked all these books, I'm kind of a hard sell," she says.
And there was one more book in Rovner's stack: Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die by Jon Katz. "[He's] probably my favorite dog writer, although I will warn people that he's such a lovely writer that he ... tends to make me cry," she says. "I have at least twice ended up in tears on an airplane reading a Jon Katz book." Pets are family members, Rovner says, and many people don't really know how to cope with losing them — but Going Home can help.