Canines rule in books and in life

Canines rule in books and in life

There are a lot of stereotypes about librarians out there, and while I have never worn my hair in a bun, I must admit that I do fit the description in some ways. I've always been rather quiet and serious, I like comfortable shoes and my house is overflowing with stacks of books.

I will, however, never fully fit the stereotype because I lack the requisite fondness for cats. Dogs, however, are an entirely different story. I am categorically a "dog person," and at this point in my life, I can't imagine ever not having a dog.

Luckily for me and other dog lovers, there seems to be no shortage of writers that are inspired by the dogs in their lives. Several recent additions to the canine canon will engage the minds and warm (and sometimes break) the hearts of dog-loving readers:

— John Homans takes a broad look at dogs and their place in modern life in "What's a Dog For? The Surprising History, Science, Philosophy, and Politics of Man's Best Friend." Homans uses his experiences with his own rescue dog, Stella, as a framework to delve into how dogs came to occupy the place in our lives and culture that they do today.

Homans walks readers through the newest research on how dogs evolved to live in the human world and explores old theories about dog pack behavior and dominance that have been replaced by new ideas of cooperation. He also interviews experts in dog cognition and behavior and discusses the history of dogs in human life.

In the final part of the book, Homans discusses the moral and philosophical issues that have emerged with the changing role of dogs in our society and our families. This book presents a fascinating and thoughtful overview of both the history and current research about all things dog.

— "The Big New Yorker Book of Dogs" is a treasure trove of writing about dogs from the pages of The New Yorker magazine. The collection encompasses short fiction, personal essays, nonfiction reporting and poetry from the 1920s to the present.

Dog-themed cartoons and past New Yorker covers add visual interest to this impressive volume. Many pieces are by well-known literary figures, such as E.B. White, James Thurber, Anne Sexton and John Updike. From humorous stories about misbehaving dogs to heart-wrenching tales of loss, from poems about childhood pets to informative pieces about police dogs, these selections offer a wide variety of reading material.

Perhaps my favorite entry is "Snapshot of a Dog" by James Thurber from 1935. Thurber reminisces about Rex, a bull terrier his family owned when he was a young man. Thurber's moving recollection depicts a different era of dog ownership, with Rex given free rein of the neighborhood for his antics, but the heartfelt bond between human and dog will touch any modern dog owner.

— While I love dogs in general, I admit that I do have a special affinity for certain types, and pit bulls are one of my favorites. So it is no surprise that "I'm a Good Dog: Pit Bulls, America's Most Beautiful (and Misunderstood) Pet" by Ken Foster caught my eye.

In this slim volume, packed with gorgeous photographs, Foster sets out to enlighten readers as to the true history and personality of the breed and to eradicate the pervasive myths about their temperament. Foster explains that what we generally think of as a "pit bull" is actually a group of dogs that encompass several different breeds and mixes of those breeds.

Historically, these dogs were family dogs that were known to be great with children. It is only in the past couple of decades that they have gotten such a bad reputation.

However, as Foster demonstrates, pit bulls can be devoted, loyal, gentle and goofy animals that make wonderful pets for many people.

They are even being used more and more as service animals and therapy dogs due to their intelligence and loyalty.

So it seems that while I will escape becoming the cliched cat lady librarian, crazy dog lady librarian with a house full of both dogs and books is a distinct possibility.

For now, though, I am content to curl up with my one dog and a book (or three) like the titles above, in which writers explore the bonds between humans and inspire me to think about my relationship with my dog, and his place in the world, in new ways.

Kasia Hopkins is an adult services librarian at the Urbana Free Library. She can be reached at