Monday, January 17, 2011

How Much is that Memoir in the Window (The One with the Waggley Tale)?

Over the past couple of months, while researching literary agents to query, I’ve come across a bunch of agencies that represent a current subgenre of memoirs that I thought had long gone out of fashion.

These memoirs had such titles as:

You Had Me at Woof
Oogy: The Dog Only a Family Could Love and
What a Difference a Dog Makes

And I thought, really? Dog memoirs are hot again?

Apparently so, because these books all had one thing in common: the word SOLD. They’d all been recently published by major houses.

And when I read a TIME article last week about dog memoirs, I knew it was official: dog memoirs are again in vogue.

But there’s something different about the current crop of doggie tails—er, tales. Back in 2005, John Grogan’s memoir Marley & Me hit the shelves, and the book was wildly successful because it was a sweet, simple story about a young family dealing with a rascally, untrainable Labrador retriever. Now, a brief six years later, dog memoirs are popular again—but this time, the stories are less about bad behavior and cute tricks, and more of an exploration of the deeply personal human/canine connection.

The latest memoirs, for example, detail how canines have: helped people cope with infertility; taught them to slow down and enjoy life; and helped them through long and painful recoveries from cancer. Not exactly the type of stuff Mr. Grogan was dealing with when he brought Marley home from the pound.

But it goes to show—with these memoirs as evidence--that our relationships with our dogs has changed over the years, from one of pet/master, to one of student/teacher.

Our dogs are no longer simply our best friend. Now we want them to be our guidance counselor and confidant and shrink, too. (And perhaps even our soul mate.)

Which is okay, I guess, as long as you realize that for all the cool abilities canines possess, it hasn’t yet been proven that dogs know that they need to be more than just our Frisbee buddy—or even that they understand what us humans are thinking, for that matter. So while dogs have this awesome ability to comfort us in time of need and love their fallible owners unconditionally, it’s not because they understand us or want to lead us down the path of self-discovery; it’s because they’re cute, and because they’re hardwired do what we tell them to do (for the most part), and because, well, they’re always there. Shouldn’t that be enough?

Memoirists think not—and neither, apparently, does the publishing industry, which will be pushing out more dog memoirs in 2011. And I can understand why. I had a dog growing up. Best damn dog anyone could ever have. He listened to all our secrets and waited patiently to be taken out for walks and never complained when one of us accidentally stepped on his tail. He was the center of our family and I think I cried for weeks when he died, peacefully, from old age. I won’t be writing a memoir about Pong, but if I did, I’d fill it with the type of uplifting stories dog memoirs are made of. Like the time I fell and skinned my knee and Pong saw it happen, and he stayed with me and licked my wound until helped arrived.

But here are two memoirs that were written: Bad Dog: A Love Story, and Finding Harmony: The Dog That Taught a Young Woman to Live Again. Get ready--they’re coming soon to a bookstore near you.

1 comment:

  1. Nicely written piece about dogs. Their unconditional love to their masters is simply awesome. Is it any wonder why we spoil our canine friends? Their use in the health care field is something to behold. The fact that a nursing home resident can pet a dog and have their blood pressure drop ten points is proof that we humans have a connection to our canine friends. Thanks for that nice piece Katie.