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Dog Years – Mark Doty

March 3, 2008

41l9gi7v8vl_aa240_.jpgIf you’re a dog lover you will love this book. If you’re not, shame on you, but you might enjoy it anyway. If you’re a cat lover…get off my website!

The book is a lyrical memoir of the wonderful pleasures and deep pains of people who love life and their dogs. Doty writes of his life with dogs, particularly Arden, the black retriever and Beau, the golden retriever who joins them during the long, slow decline and eventual death from AIDS of his partner.

From descriptions of the weight of a dog’s head in his hand, to the delightful picture of his dogs ‘performing’ for strangers in their particular fawning way, to the horror of 9/11, he weaves issues of dog ownership, human sexuality, death, depression, violence, religion and introspection. I know it sounds really dark, and at times he is a little maudlin, but the book is frequently a joy. So much so in fact, that I was often compelled to read passages aloud to my wife (a fellow dog-lover).

The book opens in this way:

No dog has ever said a word, but that doesn’t mean they live outside the world of speech. They listen acutely. They wait to hear a term – biscuit, walk – and an inflection they know. What a stream of incomprehensible signs passes over them as they wait, patiently, for one of a few familiar words! Because they do not speak, except in the most limited fashion, we are always trying to figure them out. The expression is telling: ‘to figure out” is to make figures of speech, to invent metaphors to help us understand the world. To choose to live with a dog is to agree to participate in the long process of interpretation – a mutual agreement, though the human being holds most of the cards.

A pleasurable read with the capacity to move you deeply.

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