Dog Stories: Dean Koontz’s Five Favorite Canine Books

The famous author and dog lover recommends top inspirational stories to read now.

Courtesy Jerry BauerHaving written several novels in which dogs play leading roles and many more in which they are supporting players, having written five books from the point of view of my golden retriever, Trixie, and having written a memoir of Trixie after her death, I am rather widely known—so far as I am known at all—as a dog lover. Some even think I am dog-obsessed. Guilty. I happen to feel that if people were always as humble, dutiful, giving, and straightforward as dogs, the world would be a better place. Here, in no particular order, are five books about dogs, fiction and nonfiction, that have charmed me over the years.

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
From what I’d heard about this novel, I didn’t want to like it. For one thing, reincarnation plays a role in the endgame, which I was pretty sure would be hokey as hell. For another thing, I suspected the dog’s voice would strike me as unbelievably wise. I was wrong. This is a fine story full of honest emotion, which dares to say two things that are rarely said in modern fiction, which is generally nihilistic or too hip to believe in anything beyond the material. Those two things are: We have souls, and the world is a mysterious place. This is a moving story about love, tragedy, commitment, humility, and redemption. It embraces the idea that life has dimensions we cannot see but that if we are honest with ourselves, we intuit every day of our lives.

City by Clifford D. Simak
Often science fiction is little concerned with characterization, favoring story and/or intriguing scientific speculations instead. Simak always wove complex and believable characters. In these eight tales, written in the 1940s and collected into a novel in 1952, Simak creates many strong characters, but especially an endearing robot named Jenkins and, beginning in the third of the eight, a series of wonderful dogs, who by the end of the novel have inherited a world in which humankind no longer exists and is a legend on the way to becoming a myth.

Merle’s Door by Ted Kerasote
This is a wonderful, wonderful book about the love of a man for a dog and a dog for a man. It is rich with sentiment but never falls into sentimentality. I am known to have no patience for books about dogs who are portrayed as goofy screwups and agents of chaos, as these always strike me as exploitative nonsense written by clueless people who were themselves the causes of their dogs’ neuroses. Mr. Kerasote understands his dog, Merle, the depth of canine intelligence, and the beauty of the canine heart. He is also not afraid to write of his own feelings with a tenderness that is at once masculine and universal. Perhaps the best memoir of a dog ever written.

Dogs & Devotion by The Monks of New Skete
The monks breed and train German shepherds and have written several bestselling books about them. This excellent little book takes such qualities of a dog as playfulness, humility, and fidelity and, with a picture matched with fewer than 100 words per topic, invites the reader to meditate on the virtues of dogs and what we can learn from them. Not heavy intellectual stuff but simple, true, touching.

Pukka: The Pup After Merle by Ted Kerasote
Revelation: I don’t know Ted Kerasote, but he did give a favorable review of my memoir of Trixie, A Big Little Life, which delighted me because I so like the two books of his I have listed here. I assure you, I can’t be bought for a good review. I can’t even be rented. Pukka was published in 2010, and for a beautifully produced book rich in color and photography, its $18.95 price is an unbelievable bargain. The photographs are some of the most charming dog shots and most arresting nature photos I’ve ever seen, and by the time you’ve paged through it over and over (which you will do), you have come to know Pukka and to have glimpsed Kerasote’s life as well. It’s a window into another life that looks highly appealing, but it also captures the adventure of puppyhood and the joy in life that dogs know and can teach us. Dog owners, keep your pet warm this winter.

Dean Koontz’s books, published in 38 languages, have sold over 450 million copies worldwide. He and his wife, Gerda, are major contributors to Canine Companions for Independence, a charity that provides highly trained assistance dogs for children and adults with disabilities, free of charge.

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