Top 5 Dog Books Ever (Part I)
Travels with Charley – John Steinbeck (1962)
Travels with Charley is a travelogue depicting a road trip around the United States made by Steinbeck and his poodle, Charley, in 1960. Having made a living writing about the country of his birth, Steinbeck was motivated by a desire to see his country on a more personal level. Before he embarked on writing the novel he wanted to ask several questions, the main one being ‘what are Americans like today?’. However, he discovers throughout the novel that he had more concerns about “New America” than previously thought. Steinbeck writes about his travels through the US in a camper-van named Rocinante after Don Quixote’s horse, starting his journey in Long Island, New York. Steinbeck then follows the outer border of the United States, from Maine to the Pacific North-West, down to his native Salinas Valley in California, across to Texas and through the Deep South before heading back to New York; a trip encompassing a total of 10,000 miles, with Charley the poodle by his side. According to Steinbeck’s eldest son, the real reason for the trip was to see his country one last time as he was fast approaching the end of his life.
Cujo – Stephen King (1981)
One of the least well known novels by Stephen King, Cujo tells the story of a rabid dog in this superb psychological horror novel. Cujo’s name was based on the pseudonym of Willie Wolfe, one of the men responsible for orchestrating Patty Hearst’s kidnapping and subsequent indoctrination into the Symbionese Liberation Army. King discusses Cujo referring to it as a novel he “barely remembers writing at all” having become heavily involved in alcohol at the time. If you read this as an ex or current dog owner, it may prove a rather shocking read to those who consider their dogs to be loyal, loving and obedient pups! King certainly doesn’t hold back, mixed with a claustrophobic in-car siege, marital issues and a sleepless child, this novel is packed with enough punch and thrill to make those palms start sweating. The novel won the British Fantasy Award in 1982 and like many of Kings novels was then made into a film in 1983.
The Hound of the Baskervilles – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1902)
The Hound of the Baskervilles is the third of the crime novels written by Conan Doyle featuring the legendary detective Sherlock Holmes. Set largely in Dartmoor in Devon, the story tells the tale of an attempted murder, inspired by the legendary tale of a fearsome hound of supernatural origin. The book sees the revival of Holmes after his apparent death in ‘The Final Problem’ as he and his companion Dr Watson investigate the case. In 2003 the book was listed 128 of 200 on the BBC’s Big Read poll of the UK’s best loved novel. It’s without doubt Doyle’s best known novel.
Timbuktu – Paul Auster (1999)
This piece of fiction by Paul Auster is about the life of a dog called Mr Bones and his struggle to come to terms with the fact that his homeless master is dying. The novel is set in the early 1990’s and told through the eyes of Mr Bones who despite not being anthropomorphised, has an internal monologue that is reflected by Auster in the text. The focus of the novel centres on his last journey with his ailing master – Willy G Christmas – to Baltimore, whilst details from both of their early lives are told in flashback. The title of the book comes from the concept of the afterlife, as proposed by Christmas who believed it was a beautiful place called Timbuktu. Subsequently, the running theme throughout the novel is Mr Bones’s concern that dogs won’t be accepted into Timbuktu. The book draws upon existentialist ideas to find a purpose to one’s life and offer a meditation on late 20th Century America.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon (2003)
The last of the five novels on this list – and my personal favourite – is this mysterious novel which quotes the fictional detective previously mentioned, in a story that won copious awards upon its release including the Whitbread Book Award. Unusually, the story was published simultaneously in separate editions for adults and children. The novel itself comes in the form of a first-person perspective by a 15-year-old boy called Christopher Boone, an autistic child living in Swindon, Wiltshire. Haddon uses the conditions of autism, Asperger’s and savant syndrome, to depict an outsider who sees the world from a different perspective. The story revolves around the mystery of a murdered dog, a missing mum and the challenging world which encompasses Christopher’s life. This really is a fantastic book and its theatrical adaptation has won numerous awards.