Reading for the Dog Days of Summer

good housekeeping

It’s hot. Hot hot hot everywhere. Too hot to do anything but sit by a pool with your favorite canine companion and read a book. Might as well read about a dog! or two!

Some of my favorite novels star dogs. And speaking of star dogs:

dog starsThe Dog Stars, by Peter Heller haunts me to this day. It’s not actually about a dog, but about a post-apocalyptic world where most everyone has died of an influenza.  It’s gorgeously written, stirring, and truly deeply madly sad.

daeandwrite featured The Dog Stars in September, 2014. Here’s the link for a menu and music and more information: https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2014/09/04/the-dog-stars-by-peter-heller/

The Tale of Edgar Sawtelle, by David Wroblewski, is another absolutely heartbreakingly edgar sawtelle coverbeautiful book of prose. Edgar Sawtelle is a child born mute; Almondine is his constant companion, interpreter, guide. She’s the best friend everyone wants. I love this book, though it is again, very very sad.

In the dog days of August, 2015, daeandwrite featured The Tale of Edgar Sawtelle, with menu, music and a movie cast: https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2015/08/26/a-dogs-tail-the-story-of-edgar-sawtelle-by-david-wroblewski/

art of racing.jpgThe Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein. Oh wow. The dog is the narrator. And what a narrative voice. Brilliant, this book is. Enzo, the dog, is coach, grief counselor, and above all, extra human.

Since March of 2014, when daeandwrite first posted a review of The Art of Racing in the Rain, noting that Patrick Dempsey had signed on to play the human race car driver in Enzo’s life, Disney has bought the rights to make the movie and Dempsey is no longer involved according to the Hollywood Reporter: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/disney-picks-up-canine-best-858374. Here’s my original post, with menu and music choices for your book club: https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2014/03/24/vacation-my-dogs-life/

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A Dog’s Purpose, by Bruce Cameron, is another weeper. They all are! Yikes and yet I love
them all! Again narrated from the dog’s point of view, A Dog’s Purpose features one special dog whose soul mate is his human. One of my book club’s favorite reads ever.

An update to my original post regarding the movie — it’s expected out in 2017 with Bradley Cooper voicing the dog and Lasse Hallstrom directing. Here’s the original post: https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2015/02/18/a-dogs-purpose-is-apparently-to-make-me-cry/

A few other ideas, books I haven’t reviewed but fit our theme:

Marley & Me, John Grogan (If there is anyone on planet Earth who hasn’t read it yet)

Cujo, Stephen King

The Hound of the Baskervilles, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Happy Reading & Stay Cool!  IMG_0115

 

 

 

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A Dog’s Tail: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

edgar sawtelle coverSeveral years ago, I read a beautiful, haunting, mesmerizing book about a boy and his dogs. I have recommended it to friends, loaned it to my fiancé’s son and give it a place of honor on my book shelf. The fact that Oprah chose it for one of her book club recommendations didn’t stir me to buy it; in fact, I didn’t even know Oprah had chosen it for her book club until I began writing this blog post. But since today, August 26, is “National Dog Day,” I thought it would be a good time to revisit The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, David Wroblewski’s debut novel, was published in 2008 and became an international bestseller. (Thank you Oprah!) And for good reason. It’s a wonderful tale. To date, it’s the only book Wroblewski has published.

Trudy and Gar Sawtelle live in Wisconsin. They have developed and sell to approved buyers a very special breed of dog, a type of dog very nearly human in terms of communication ability. After a series of miscarriages, Trudy gives birth to Edgar.

Wroblewski never specifically defines what the Sawtelle breed looks like, so my dog Maggie will stand in.

“This will be his earliest memory. Red light, morning light. High ceiling canted overhead. Lazy click of toenails on wood. Between the honey-colored slats of the crib a whiskery muzzle slides forward until its cheeks pull back and a row of dainty front teeth bare themselves in a ridiculous grin.”

Born mute, Edgar nevertheless communicates with great effectiveness with his parents and with the dogs, particularly one named Almondine. And in the Sawtelles’ world, all is well until Gar’s brother, Claude, comes to stay on the farm.

If this sounds a bit Shakespearean to you, you are correct. Wroblewski borrows gently from Hamlet as you may have

Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamletnoticed. Gertrude, Claudius, etc. And Speaking of HAMLET! What I wouldn’t give to see Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet. He premiered in London’s West End last night. http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2015/aug/25/hamlet-barbican-review-benedict-cumberbatch-imprisoned-prince  

But I digress. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle succeeds in – much as a great production of Hamlet, as the New York Times said,”exert(ing) a strong, seemingly effortless gravitational pull. The reader who has no interest in dogs, boys or Oedipal conflicts of the north woods of Wisconsin will nonetheless find these things irresistible. Pick up this book and expect to feel very, very reluctant to put it down.” http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/13/books/13book.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

The exposition I most love about this book is the times the author translates what the dogs are feeling.  At times, it is truly heart-breaking.

To her, the scent and the memory of him were one. Where it lay strongest, the distant past came to her as if that morning: Taking a dead sparrow from her jaws, before she knew to hide such things. Guiding her to the floor, bending her knee until the arthritis made it stick, his palm hotsided on her ribs to measure her breaths and know where the pain began. And to comfort her. That had been the week before he went away.

He was gone, she knew this, but something of him clung to the baseboards. At times the floor quivered under his footstep. She stood then and nosed into the kitchen and the bathroom and the bedroom-especially the closet-her intention to press her ruff against his hand, run it along his thigh, feel the heat of his body through the fabric.

Places, times, weather-all these drew him up inside her. Rain, especially, falling past the double doors of the kennel, where he’d waited through so many storms, each drop throwing a dozen replicas into the air as it struck the waterlogged earth. And where the rising and falling water met, something like an expectation formed, a place where he might appear and pass in long strides, silent and gestureless. For she was not without her own selfish desires: to hold things motionless, to measure herself against them and find herself present, to know that she was alive precisely because he needn’t acknowledge her in casual passing; that utter constancy might prevail if she attended the world so carefully. And if not constancy, then only those changes she desired, not those that sapped her, undefined her.

And so she searched. She’d watched his casket lowered into the ground, a box, man-made, no more like him than the trees that swayed under the winter wind. To assign him an identity outside the world was not in her thinking. The fence line where he walked and the bed where he slept-that was where he lived, and they remembered him.

 Read The Story of Edgar Sawtelle with your book club. Fair warning: it is a long work, and a dense one. GIve yourself time to savor the thoughts, the words, the emotions. The philosophy.
“I think it’s just as likely that someone could say that this place, right here, is heaven, hell and earth all at the same time. And we still wouldn’t know what to do differently. Everyone just muddles through, trying not to make too many mistakes […] Half the time we walk around in love with the idea of a thing instead of the reality of it. But sometimes things don’t turn out that way. You have to pay attention to what’s real, what’s in the world. Not some imaginary alternative, as if it’s a choice we could make.”
MENU
Since the setting is Wisconsin, I would focus my menu on Wisconsin foods. Cheese, brats, sausage. http://whoonew.com/2015/01/wisconsin-food-traditions/
But I also found in my research something called a Butter Burger that sounds quite good.  Here’s a recipe from Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives:  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/better-butter-burger.html
MUSIC
In a previous blog, I posted a dog music list: https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2014/03/24/vacation-my-dogs-life/. You could definitely go with that. Or if you want to get musical in another direction, you could opt for the music of Wisconsin’s own sons and daughters.
Al Jarreau
Les Paul
Liberace
Steve Miller
Woody Herman
MOVIE CASTING
According to a 2008 press release, Tom Hanks and the Divine O herself acquired the movie rights to The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, but I can’t find any more information about whether a film is actually being made.  It has all the elements of a great movie, so I hope it does come to fruition.
Gar: Jason Bateman
Claude: Robert Downey, Jr.
Trudy: Meg Ryan (I’d love to see her in this role)
Edgar: I don’t know. This might be a casting director’s dream and/or nightmare. A young Josh Hutcherson would have been perfect, but he’s aged out.
jason-bateman75meg ryan
Happy Reading & Eating!

My Dogs’ Life

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It felt like the first day of spring.  Saturday, April 11, 2015.  Eliza, my 11 year old blonde cocker spaniel-golden retriever mix, and Abra, my 5 year old border collie mix, had woken me at 7 a.m. for a quick trip out to the front porch and then all three of us trooped back upstairs to my queen size bed, found a comfortable spot and slept for another two and a half hours.  At about 9:25, Eliza unfurled herself from the crook of my legs and hopped off the bed.  Abra shook her head and poked it out from beneath the covers next to my left side.  She did her little morning Down Dog yoga pose, waited for a bit of a belly scratch and then jumped down, tail wagging, waiting for me to put my slippers on and walk downstairs to let them outside.

It was a beautiful day.  Clear blue sky, warm sun.  I would get dressed and we would go for a long morning walk, maybe the farmers market.  The girls loved Saturdays because it meant three or four long walks.  One through Sayre School and around Central Christian Church to Esplanade and then Main Street and back up Limestone.  One down Second Street hoping to see and chase Abra’s friend Sassy before going to Georgetown Street and back down Short.  One around the campus of Transylvania and their home turf of Gratz Park where squirrels are most plentiful.

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Abra, left, and Eliza: winter in Gratz Park

As I’ve done a thousand times, I let them into the back yard.  I got a glass of water, a protein bar, the newspaper from the front porch.  I called for them at the back door and they didn’t come so I gave them another minute.  When they didn’t come the second time, I went into the driveway, calling for them in my nightgown.  That was when the unthinkable occurred.

Four people stood in my driveway.

“Are you looking for a couple of dogs?”  The woman asked me.  She was someone I’d never seen before.

“Yes.”

“We hit them.”

“You hit them?”  I asked.  I heard her, I don’t know why I repeated it.  My brain wanted to reject the information.

“Yes.  They were chasing a cat.”

A slim woman in black pushing a baby carriage came closer.  Her face showed great sadness.  I looked from her to the first woman.  The two men hung back.

Please.

“Please tell me they’re not dead.”

The first woman nodded.  “We saw the cat.  The cat got away.  We stopped for the cat.  But we didn’t see the dogs.”

“They’re dead?”  My voice rose in a quiver.  “They’re dead?”

The woman with the baby carriage approached me.  She whispered, “Can I give you a hug?”  I clung to her.  I didn’t know her, but she was my mother and my sister and my best friend in that moment.  “They are dead?  They can’t be dead.  They are all I have in the world.  Please tell me they’re not dead.”

Her husband, young, tall, capable.  “We saw it happen.  I — ”  He checked his wife’s eyes.  “I picked them up off the street and carried them to the sidewalk.  I checked their pulses first thing.  They were both killed instantly.  They didn’t suffer.”

“They are dead?  Dead?  My babies.  My poor babies.”  I cried.  I wailed.  I have heard the word keen but never knew what the sound was until I heard it coming from my own chest.  I needed to see.  I released myself from the bounds of this woman’s arms and walked toward the street and saw a swath of blood and gore several feet wide.  “Oh my God.  My babies.”  From where I stood, I could see the familiar curve of Abra’s soft, black fur covering her curled back, her tail tucked habitually between her front paws.  I couldn’t see her face or her distinctive ears or her bright, curious, loving cinnamon eyes.  I couldn’t see any of Eliza at all:  not her kind, devoted deep brown eyes, or her Grinch-feathered toes or her soft, floppy ears.

Abra, the Doodle, Abra Doodle, the Poodle, the Poo-Poo, Doodle Fus.  Eliza, Eliza Jane, Liza Jane, Smushy-Face, Grinchy Toes.

“I have to call someone.”  I stumbled into the house.  I called my mother, no answer.  My father.  No answer.  On the second ring, my sister answered and within three words, my brother in law was on the way to help.  Within ten minutes, my mother and best friend had arrived.  Then my sister.  Then more friends.  Shock, sorrow, sadness.

Throughout the week, I’ve had cards and letters and flowers and words of comfort from friends and neighbors and even people I barely know but who know me from seeing me walking with the neighborhood with Abra and Eliza.

“Where are the girls today?”

I’ve explained several times and without exception, have been met with real, compassionate tears.

My neighbor across the street called me on Sunday.  “I barely knew them and they always barked at me when they saw me as if they’d never seen me before,” he said, his voice muddy with tears, “but I loved those dogs.  They were the sweetest things.  I miss them already.  I know I’m supposed to strong for you and I’m failing in that.  I’m so sorry.”

One of my neighbors around the corner dropped off a card last night that brought me to tears again.  “I’ve been thinking of you and your pals.  I’m so sorry.  If they could talk, they would thank you for the years of love and for taking such good care of them.”

But you see, it was the other way around.  They took such good care of me.

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