Ten Books that Have Gone to the Dogs

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 cover

Flush: 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.

Phantomtollbooth

The 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 dog

Timbuktu 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 cover

Carmen 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.

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