For those of us who can’t get enough of The Bark…we now have this wonderful collection to savor!
– Sarah Barrett, Bark reade
I’ve never truly been a dog person (I’m a cat and reptile woman myself), but the book “Dog Is My Co-Pilot: Great Writers on the World’s Oldest Friendship,” from Bark magazine editors Claudia Kawczynska and Cameron Woo (Crown, $25), is so immediately irresistible that my particular pet preference doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s the playful title, or the bright, fetching cover drawing of a dog. Maybe it’s the anthology’s pedigree - Bark has been described as The New Yorker of dog magazines, and these reprints are from such literary luminaries as Caroline Knapp, Rick Bass, and Ann Patchett. For whatever reason, this is a book I have to read.
The anthology is separated into sections: “Beginnings,” where human meets dog; “Pack,” where human and dog bond; “Lessons,” where dog teaches human; and “Passages,” where loss rears its head. But the demarcation feels a little arbitrary to me since many of the stories cover the same territory - i.e., how a particular canine takes over a household and changes someone’s life with a variety of furry lessons. I’m not wild about the design of the chapter openers - the opening sentence spans the two columns of type beneath it - which makes for a jarring reading experience. Too, a few sentiments are also a paw or two over the top. In “God Is Dog Spelled Properly,” Lama Surya Das’s otherwise engaging tale, he claims dogs “are holy because they are wholly themselves.” Bonnie Jo Campbell’s story, “My Dog, Roscoe,” while wonderfully written, is a tad heavy on the whimsy as it offers up a woman who believes her dog is the reincarnation of a past lover.
But these are small quibbles when you consider how much I love the ebullient and melancholy “Ten Things My Dog Taught Me That Made It Possible for Me to Get Married,” Pam Houston’s funny and rueful meditation on how “loving unconditionally doesn’t mean you are a self-annihilating fool.” Also magnificent is Lynda Barry’s “One Hundred Demons: Dogs!,” which cartoons the story of how her emotionally abusive upbringing was healed by a compassionate teacher - and how she uses those same lessons to nurture a battered dog. “All she needed was to find the right home,” Barry says. “But that’s true for all of us, isn’t it?”
We all yearn for love without limits, for total acceptance, which is really what this splendid collection is about. And if we get that adoration from four-legged animals more often than we do from two-legged ones, is it any wonder we might elevate our dogs to godliness? “It was our soul’s job to give him a soul,” Tom Junod says about his pet in “Dog Years,” and in reading this anthology, I can truly understand why.
– Caroline Leavitt/The Boston Globe 9/14/03
Claudia Kawczynska and Cameron Woo, cofounders of the award-winning alternative dog magazine the Bark, have gathered writings from past issues and commissioned new material from writers both noted (e.g., Rick Bass, Alice Walker, and Ann Patchett) and lesser known (e.g., Stephen Kuusisto and John Billman). Honoring the bond between humans and dogs, these essays, short stories, and personal reflections are arranged into four broad, thematic sections. In Part 1, “Beginnings,” the first canine-human encounters are explored; here we find Kuusisto’s touching “Blind Date,” about a man meeting his seeing-eye dog for the first time. Dogs celebrated in Part 2, “Pack,” include Erica Jong’s bichon frise and Billman’s humorous cattle dog, which doesn’t work cattle. In Part 3, “Lessons,” pieces like Lama Surya Das’s “God Is Dog Spelled Properly” examine what dogs teach us. The final section, “Passages,” includes Elizabeth Marshall Thomas’s experience in trying to replace a favorite dog and Lee Forgotson’s lovely “Sit. Stay. Heal: One Dog’s Response to 9/11.” Dog lovers will find this anthology a treasure. Purchase for all public and academic libraries where interest in dogs is high and consider adding a subscription to the Bark.-Eva Lautemann, Georgia Perimeter Coll. Lib., Clarkson Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal 08/03
This anthology by the editors of the BARK, a hip, literate dog quarterly, defines the parameters of this genre with sensibility and force. Such writers as Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, Mark Doty, Caroline Knapp, Thom Jones, Mark Derr, Rick Bass, Tom Junod and Erica Jong assure dog lovers that they aren’t crazy or neurotic for having intense feelings for their dogs or for buying a separation anxiety CD for a terrier-beagle mix, as Charles Siebert does with not a little bemusement. Patricia B. McConnell, an animal behaviorist, says, “There’s something much bigger and better than neediness that drives our love of dogs.” For her, that something is silence: her dog Cool Hand Luke’s nonverbal attentiveness teaches that “dogs keep up firmly rooted in the here and now.” For others, like Stephen Kuusisto, freedom comes in the form of a seeing-eye dog named Corky, who proves her worthiness by steering the author through an obstacle course of doughnuts and pizza slices. The dogs written about here all have something to teach, whether it’s about trust, bigotry, loving, morality or spirituality: Lama Surya Das, echoing the playing title of the book, writes, “Scratch a dog and you’ll find God.” The high quality, humor (with a comic by Lynda Barry) and delight here leave the reader wanting more.
– Publishers Weekly, 6/23/03