Friday, February 19, 2010

Collecting Dog Books: Authors and Titles

Basing a collection on a favorite author is a long-established approach. It's an option as obvious as it is satisfying, so what more can be said about it?

Perhaps an experience of mine will point to what can be done when an author or a book leads the way. In book love, we're not always in control, nor should we be. We may teach our dogs to heel, but aren't we grateful when they take over and lead us to some happy discovery?

It was 1969, just after Labor Day. On my midday break from work, I went for a walk up Fifth Avenue. My goal was Central Park (I probably planned to practice my squirrel vocalizations), but due to my inability to pass certain establishments when they're open (it's that wise dog tugging on the leash that binds us) and the pure chance of my walking north on the east side of the street, I found myself in the Doubleday Book Shop, the branch that closed in 1990, and, yes, I'm still conscious of its absence, and the bitter lack of its former book neighbors in Midtown.

What's still there, as vivid to me as a plaque on that much-remodeled address would be, is the memory. A certain shelf summoned me. A book slid into my hand. A title I had never heard of by an author unknown to me had selected me as if I were what was on offer.

I bought My Dog Tulip by J. R. Ackerley. I continued on to the park, sat, opened the book, and may have been a little late getting back to the office. It was a reading coup de foudre.

The three of us -- Ackerley, Tulip, and me -- created an extended family of books, a clan to which I belonged by sheer affinity, because something new developed in my book life. Having that one copy of My Dog Tulip was not enough. I loved the book beyond its characters, place, and story. Good as it was, and pleasing as the attractively designed Poseidon edition still is (it remains in what my bookseller's soul would call very good condition), it was not enough, but inadequate in an inspiring way.

First, I wanted a copy of My Dog Tulip in every edition in which it had appeared, and would be issued in future. Many Tulips make a fine bouquet, and these never wilt.

I discovered We Think the World of You, Ackerley's fictionalized version of the story. I had to know more about the author, too, and over the years collected everything he wrote, and everything written about him. I'm still looking for more.

If you collect based on what an author has to say about dogs, why not learn more about the author's life? Biographies, memoirs, correspondence, book reviews, and published interviews are just a few of your potential sources.

And don't assume that a book you love is all there is to the story. Has it been illustrated by a variety of artists over its publishing life? Are there sequels, prequels, annotated editions, parodies, comics, or other versions you might enjoy?

Eric Knight's Lassie Come-Home, Ouida's A Dog of Flanders, and Beautiful Joe by Marshall Saunders are among the classics that can be found in numerous editions and formats.

What book means to you what Tulip means to me?


  1. Wow, great question! I discovered Bob the Spaniel through an antiquarian book dealer. It's the story of a springer spaniel who traveled to New York on an ocean liner. When his mistress took him into the St. Regis looking for a room, the desk clerk said, "dogs aren't permitted." The author replied, "he's not a dog, he's my traveling companion." I've always wanted to bring a springer back from the UK on an ocean liner. I have 3 copies of the book. One is signed, and one has a dj. Love it!
    Laurel, celebrating the love of dogs at

  2. One of my favorite writers is James Thurber, who frequently wrote about dogs and also drew a lot of charming dog cartoons for the New Yorker.

    Mark Doty's book Dog Years is lovely.

    A good children's book is Love That Dog by Sharon Creech.

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