It already feels like the dog days of summer here in New York, which has gotten me thinking about great books about dogs. I’m going to skip the obvious titles like Old Yeller, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and The Call of the Wild, and instead list ten books you might not know about featuring man’s best friend. These books range from mysteries and memoirs to poetry collections and science fiction satires, but all feature some prominent pooches.

Bulgakov cover

Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov 

Bulgakov had a thing for humanoid pets. His most famous novel, The Master and Margarita, features a vodka-swilling demon cat named Behemoth. His great short novel Heart of a Dog, on the other hand, tells the tale of a dog named Sharik who becomes a nasty Soviet bureaucrat after a professor implants human testicles and a pituitary gland. A highly recommended biting (pun intended) satire. 

Woolf book coverFlush: A Biography by Virginia Woolf 

One of Woolf’s most overlooked books, this “biography” is a fictionalized account of poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s cocker spaniel Flush. It contains Woolf’s characteristic style, stream of consciousness writing, and social commentary—all from the perspective of a dog.

city dog cover

City by Clifford D. Simak

This 1952 science fiction novel is really a collection of interlinked short stories told from a future where man is extinct and the planet is run by dogs and robots. The dogs sit around and tell tales about the legendary and perhaps mythological creature known as “man.”

Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie

The titular dumb witness in this Agatha Christie mystery is a fox terrier named Bob. A wealthy spinster writes to the famous detective Hercule Poirot after she trips over Bob’s tennis ball. She believes she didn’t trip over her dog’s abandoned ball, but was actually the victim of attempted murder.

PhantomtollboothThe Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

This beloved and pun-filled kids adventure book has a lot of wacky characters, but perhaps none is as memorable as Tock. Tock, a “watchdog” with an actual clock inside his body, accompanies the protagonist, Milo, on his adventures.

paul auster dogTimbuktu by Paul Auster

Auster’s moving 1999 novella is told from the point of view of a dog named Mr. Bones. Mr. Bones’s master is a dying homeless man—Willy G. Christmas—and the canine protagonist struggles to understand what is happening to his owner and human behavior in general.

Carmen Dog coverCarmen Dog by Carol Emshwiller

“The beast changes to a woman or the woman changes to a beast,” the doctor says. This is the first line of Emshwiller’s feminist SF satire about a future where the women of the world are turning into various animals while animals, such as the heroine Pooch, are turning humanoid. Carmen Dog (1988) was Emshwiller’s first novel, and was republished by Small Beer Press in 2004.

The Dog of the Marriage: Stories by Amy Hempel

Amy Hempel is one of America’s sharpest sentence writers as well as a lover of dogs. While this story collection is not entirely centered on dogs, dogs do appear again and again, and one is central to the collection’s titular story.

unleashed poems

Unleashed: Poems by Writers’ Dogs edited by Amy Hempel and Jim Sphepard

The title of this book is pretty self-explanatory: poems about dogs by famous writers. The collection has a pretty darn impressive list of names, and offers canine-centric poems from Lynda Barry, Denis Johnson, Anne Lamott, Rick Bass, Edward Albee, Lily Tuck, Mark Doty, and many more.

Travels with Charley

Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck

The only straight non-fiction book on this list, Steinbeck’s travelogue seems like a good place to end. The book recounts Steinbeck’s time traveling around the United States in 1960 with his French poodle, Charley.

9 Responses

  1. Steve Himmer

    Some other favorites: THE BOSS DOG by MFK Fischer, WE THINK THE WORLD OF YOU by JR Ackerley, and THREE MEN IN A BOAT (TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG) by Jerome K. Jerome

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  2. Edward Vilga

    I love all these books and I am madly, embarrassingly in love with my dog, a chocolate lab named “Belle.” She’s transformed my life completely. In fact, I wrote a book about her (my seventh one published) that everyone from the founder of PETA to meditation guru Sharon Salzberg seems to appreciate. I love what Belle’s taught me so much, I give the PDF away for free. Dog Lovers Unite!

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  3. Marilynn Byerly

    I love Spencer Quinn’s “Chet and Bernie” humorous PI mystery series that is primarily narrated by Chet the dog who helps his human solve crimes.  A great voice and a great concept.

    A DOG’S PURPOSE: A NOVEL FOR HUMANS, W. Bruce Cameron. Mainstream fiction. Bailey the dog lives through four lifetimes to discover his purpose which proves very close to a human’s purpose. Some funny moments like Bailey’s interactions and reactions to cats, and some scary moments with a neighborhood sociopath. Most of the book is about Bailey and his boy Ethan’s love and life together. Some parts of the novel drag, but the end is incredibly touching. Most animal lovers would enjoy it.

    HOUNDED, Kevin Hearne.  “The Iron Druid” series, Book 1.  Urban fantasy.  Atticus O’Sullivan is a 2000-year-old Druid who runs a bookstore and herb shop in Tempe, Arizona.  He’s kept a low enough profile for hundreds of years to avoid various mythic baddies, especially Celtic god Aenghus Óg, but, courtesy of the Internet, he’s now been found and a circle of gods, witches, and monsters, some friendly, some kinda friendly when it suits them, and others seriously nasty are after him and a powerful mythic sword he owns.  Hearne writes very much in the style of Jim Butcher, and Atticus is as likable as Harry Dresden with honor and courage.  The action is fast and furious, and his relationship and mental conversations with his dog Oberon are more than worth the price of the book.  

    A TASTE FUR MURDER, Dixie Lyle. Book 1 of series. Paranormal mystery. As executive assistant to eccentric billionaire Zelda Zoransky, Foxtrot Lancaster is used to dealing with unusual situations, but having her beloved childhood kitty Tango show up reincarnated and talking to her telepathically and then a shapeshifting telepathic ghost dog named Tiny arriving proves more than a little weird. They tell her that someone wants to kill her employer and destroy the estate’s pet cemetery which is nexus between human Heaven and animal Heaven which allows pets to rejoin their beloved humans. She has been chosen as the new guardian of the cemetery. Before long, they are trying to solve the murder of one of Zelda’s maids and trying to prevent Zelda’s murder. A well-written mystery with the added humor and interest of different animal characters, alive and death. The subtext about the relationship between humans and their beloved animals is quite touching, as well. In many ways, this reminds me of Mary Stanton’s “Beaufort & Company” series.

    BED-BUGGED, “Susan J. Kroupa. “Doodlebugged Mystery 1” Cozy mystery. Doodle, a labradoodle who is the dog narrator, sniffs out bed bugs for his new owner’s business. He’s good at his job, and one of its perks is his owner’s sweet young daughter Molly. When two men break into their house and steal Molly’s camera, Doodle’s nose tells him they were near a recent job, and he fears for Molly’s safety, but his human boss just doesn’t get his hints. Somehow, he must protect Molly and figure out why bed bugs in weird places are such an important clue. A dog as a narrator is always fun, and Doodle doesn’t wander off the point too much. A decent well-written mystery.

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