| Georgia Erwin |
I’ll come right out and say it: I hate books about dogs. Hate them with a passion so intense it gets my ulcers all in a tizzy. Hate them with so much vim, so much vigor, so much single-minded hating hatred that I would roast in hell for the sake of humanity if it meant no more books about dogs (yes, that means you, Virginia Woolf.)
But now, dog books are being usurped by cat books (GrumpyCat, that meme phenomenon, has not only a bestselling advice book but a movie deal. Behold the golden era of pet-lit.) Logically speaking, I should be revving up my ulcers and juicing the spite straight out. Books about cats should be just as gruesomely grotesque as books about dogs.
But…I can’t say I hate it. When I think about unsolicited life advice from a bitter, judgmental cat I feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside. And I know I’m not alone. What gives?
This conundrum begs a number of crucial questions, most of them of the moral persuasion. I mean, does this make me a dirty rotten speciesist? Am I an instrument of the devil? Do my feline proclivities guarantee me a warm spot in hell, where there are no dogs (because all dogs go to heaven)? And does that mean hell is full of cats and people who don’t like dogs?
In order to bolster my failing confidence in a comfortable eternity, I did what any normal person would do. I made a list.
People In Heaven:
–Virginia Woolf, author of ‘Flush’, a novella narrated from the perspective of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s talking dog. (Of course, new forays into the afterlife of Woolf reveal that this work was composed posthumously in order to escape from hell.)
–All former University of Georgia athletes
–Inventor of hotdogs
–John Grogan, insipid author of the ralphed-up kibble known as ‘Marley & Me’
–maybe Mary Magdalene, but only if she liked dogs
People In Hell:
–most of the people I know, and their cats
–Angela Carter, author of the remarkable ‘Puss in Boots’, being the tale of a magic talking cat
Clearly, the latter party is the one I’d rather attend.
But in making this list I uncovered a truth–it’s not books about dogs that irritate, it’s novels about dogs. What is it about dogs as central anecdotal figures (outside of, say, fables or legends or other stories where there’s this thing called magic, because let’s face it, a dog is really only interesting on paper if it’s a magic dog) that gets my goat? Why does an earnest book, POV: My Dog, make me feel like I’ve walked into a 345-page Hallmark card? Am I the problem? (Much like in relationships and friendships, the problem generally lies within.) Are my neighbors’ dogs actually magic, and I just failed to notice?
Let’s look at the observational lens an animal can provide. It’s a pretty neat trick, because dogs don’t talk. An author can assign a dog all kinds of emotions and thoughts and opinions that dogs are completely incapable of manufacturing and/or logically supporting themselves. Dogs are neutral, and yet a writer can use them to corroborate their own most galvanizing ideas. Dogs will never call you a wimp, never tell you to diet. They’ll always agree that your boss is a pustule, you are a genius, your hair is not disappearing but under temporary duress. A dog knows in the deepest crevice of his soul that you are a shining example of a humanity ultimately beyond their grasp. Dogs are sycophantic yes-men, and who doesn’t want to read a full-length novel about one of those?
Maybe we’ve reached the root of the issue here–the only interesting thing about dogs (outside of their fashion sense) are the people who house them. (Tip of the hat to V. Woolf, who notably chose not herself but Mrs. Browning as a dog’s interesting other half, despite having her own potential narrator, Hans, wreaking adorable havoc amongst the Hogarth presses, mostly by cutely relieving himself or making sweet sick on the carpet.) Basically, there might be a slight problem inherent in the assumption that your dog can carry an entire novel about you. I mean, it’s like going to a cocktail party and having a stranger begin, « Well, I’m super interesting, but let me tell you what my dog thinks about me… » Except you have to pay for a book. At least cocktail parties are free.
What I’m aiming at is that anyone who thinks their dog is universally interesting probably has no business starring in a novel narrated by their dog. Of course, according to the NYT Bestseller list, it appears that this view is almost universally opposed.
Which finally brings me back to cats. Why the sudden renaissance? Cats, well, they think you’re overly opinionated. Frankly, they don’t appreciate your lip. Occasionally while under extreme duress, they’ll admit you’re kind of all right. When you apologize for your lack of emotional understanding, they might warm up a little, if only in a frenetic and rather cryptic fashion. And just when you, the ever-doubtful second half of this narrative, think your cat will remain forever cold, they confess their true feelings and sit on you for days in a row. (See?? ‘Pride and Prejudice’ in a nutshell! Cat-human narratives mimic the grandest literature ever writ!)
I guess, in the end, I’m just a die-hard member of team GrumpyCat. I’ll see you in hell.