If you want to write a good dog book, it helps to have a bad dog. So noted John Grogan, author of “Marley & Me,” and it’s hard to argue with the results. Take James Thurber’s “The Dog That Bit People” — a classic of the genre. Those cursed with obedience-school stars who have never chewed through a pair of prescription glasses or leapt from a second-story window to greet a passing Rottweiler, take heart: You always have your own neuroses and foibles to mine. For everyone else, here are four titles about how dogs, especially the ornery ones, can transform a life.
1 Jill Abramson didn’t want a new dog. The executive editor of the New York Times was still mourning the loss of her stubborn, beloved Westie, but her husband fell in love with a friend’s British standard retriever, and soon a puppy named Scout joined the empty nesters. Based on her popular blog, The Puppy Diaries (Times, $22) is “part memoir, part manual, part investigative report.” When Scout pees on their bed, it’s a Swedish Duxiana mattress; and the boots she chews are Lucchese. Abramson was recovering from depression and injuries suffered when a truck ran over her, so it’s impossible to begrudge her the luxuries, but the Occupy Wall Street crowd is unlikely to embrace this memoir. She fusses over Scout like a helicopter parent, ruefully noting, “Henry and I used [training] books the same way our parents had turned to Dr. Spock to help raise us.” When books fail, she contacts experts such as Temple Grandin and Cesar Millan.
2 Pushcart Press founder Bill Henderson had the sound idea of chronicling his life through the dogs who shared it, and All My Dogs (Godine, $19.95) handily wins Best in Show. From Trixie, who taught him “to play without ceasing,” to tragic Ellen and Rocky, Henderson honors each one. Sophie, an adopted Labrador, saved his second marriage and watched his daughter grow up. “Opie was a rescue beagle — rescuing not him but rather his elderly owners.” Patient Lulu helped Henderson when he had cancer diagnosed. Accompanied by lovely drawings by Leslie Moore, memoirs like this don’t happen along very often.
3 Julie Klam’s Love at First Bark (Riverhead, $22.95) is a witty memoir about how Klam’s plunge into the world of dog rescue helped transform her life. An abandoned pit bull ends up serving as a therapist for Klam and her husband at a low point in their marriage. Klam loses her heart to a Boston terrier with numerous medical issues. And in the final section, she finds herself running through New Orleans swamps with other volunteers trying to help a stray with a jar stuck on its head. “Dog rescue in Manhattan is a little different,” she admits.
4 “If you live a good life, you get to come back as a gay couple’s dog,” writes Alec Mapa in I’m Not the Biggest Bitch in This Relationship (New American Library; paperback, $14), edited by Wade Rouse. These pieces eschew sentiment for snark, with contributors including memoirist Jen Lancaster, mystery writer Rita Mae Brown and “Avenue Q” co-creator Jeff Marx. Other entries are more thoughtful, such as comedian Bob Smith’s description of deciding to count his life in dog years after having ALS diagnosed. Rouse, who includes a very funny essay about his own mutt, is donating 50 percent of the book’s royalties to the Humane Society.
Zipp reviews books regularly for the Christian Science Monitor and The Post.