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March 3, 2010

Dogs and Waynes: My literary prejudices

As a reader, I must say that item seven of Lynn Coady’s fiction writing tips was spot on: “Actually, never write about dogs.” Or at least don’t, if you ever want me to read your book. I’ve written before about some of my literary prejudices (many of which lie behind my refusal to ever read The Secret River), and dogs are another. Books I’ve never read because of canine content include Where the Red Fern Grows, that book that came out last year called Apologize, Apologize!, Cujo, Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, anything by Jack London (because my prejudice extends to wolves), and many more I’m not even aware I’ve missed. (Oddly enough, I was able to handle The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, but that was probably only because the dog was dead.)

I’m not crazy about dogs in real life, but I don’t think that’s the reason I shy from them in fiction. The prejudice probably finds its root in the fact that dogs on book covers screamed BOY’S BOOK whenI was a young reader. Because the dog always dies, and then I end up feeling like I’ve been toyed with. And also because I hate when a female dog is fake-casually referred to as “the bitch”, as though this expression has no other connotations. And then the bitch is always grossly birthing puppies, and one of those always dies too…

And speaking of literary prejudices, I must mention another, which is that I refuse to read anything written by anyone called Wayne. Really, this is completely irrational, but it’s deep seated, because I don’t know if there’s a more unliterary name out there (as opposed to, say, Judith, which pretty much guarantees you’ll write a book at some point). Wayne Booth notwithstanding, by the way, only because the notion of a literary theorist called Wayne is so absurd to me that it scarcely registers as being true.

10 thoughts on “Dogs and Waynes: My literary prejudices”

  1. melanie says:

    So telling you that I someday plan on writing about the crazy freaking Dalmatian I grew up with probably isn’t a good idea is it? As a dog lover I love dog stories. I have probably read 101 Dalmatians a dozen times since I was a child (the Disney version annoys the heck out of me because of how much they changed it – I’m such a snob). One of my favourites is Timbuktu by Paul Auster – the narrator is a dog whose crazy homeless owner dies and he has to navigate on his own based on the crazy stories his owner told him.

  2. oreneta says:

    My kids won’t read books with any animals at all on the cover. Their opinion is that something dire always happens to the animals and they just don’t like to read about it. I have to confess that Paul Auster’s Timbukto sounds fascinating

  3. Andrew S says:

    Lynn Coady’s tip on dogs neatly writes off as “ridiculous” the entire output of Thomas McGuane and most of Jim Harrison.

    Richard Ford, in Rock Springs, has also made this terribly silly mistake, as has Joseph Boyden (Born with a Tooth), and Malcolm Lowry in Under the Volcano.

    That’s just off the top of my head.

  4. Kerry says:

    First, lately I’ve been inspired to read One Hundred and One Dalmatians.

    And aren’t dogs devisive! Almost like children are…

    Finally, Andrew– Thomas McGuane, Jim Harrison, Richard Ford and Joseph Boyden. I’ve never read any of them! (And surely now they’ll consider dogless rewrites in order to remedy this problem?)

  5. Kerry says:

    Oh, and I also want to read Flush by Virginia Woolf. So don’t worry, I remain as troublingly inconsistent as ever.

  6. Mr. B says:

    Leon Rooke’s Shakespeare’s Dog has a canine narrator.

    As a boy, I loved where the Red Fern Grows. When my son was seven or eight, of attempted to read it to him but was horrified by the causal violence and cruelty toward wildlife (raccoons in particular). It would be interesting to study the literary treatment of dogs through the ages.

  7. Kerry says:

    I just remembered that Terry Griggs’ Quickening has a dog on its cover. But I only read the galleys, so that probably explains why I didn’t mind.

  8. Erica says:

    I love, love, love “Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight”. For a while, it was my favourite book. I can’t remember there actually being any dogs in it — it’s more about a young woman coming of age during a period of political and social upheaval. Her family is as crazy as the world around her and she tries to make sense of it all and find her place in the world. Growing up white in Africa, your culture holds power, but not majority is a central issue that she approaches with real honesty. I understand literary prejudices as I have many of my own, but I just wanted to put in a good word for this one because I loved it so much.

  9. patricia says:

    Ditto what Erica said – ‘Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight’ is an amazing book. And I might add, I only discovered it by watching TVO’s now no-longer Imprint. (Stifling a big sob…)

  10. Mr. B says:

    Driving home on Friday, I suddenly remembered Becasue of Winn Dixie. No there is a young person’s book about a dog that is certainly more directed to girls than to boys. I loved it emphasis on story telling . . . that and the bear reference reminded my of John Irving. Awesome.

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