Friday, October 8, 2010

So Many Dog Books, So Little Time

Before anyone jumps all over me (no pun intended) I just want to say that I love dogs.  Most dogs, anyway.  Although not currently a dog owner, I have been in the past - a dirty, white mutt named Margo when I was growing up and a short, overweight doberman pinscher (Jade) when I was in my 20's - and I loved them dearly as faithful friends.  Well, if I'm being honest, they were more "faithful animal companions" rather than "friends."  Actually, I think that distinction may be at the heart of my ensuing rant: I think we have a serious problem of overpopulation in this country...of dog books. 

I don't know if this problem is simply indicative of current trends in the book industry or reflective of our society as a whole, but the over-abundance of dog-related nonfiction titles clogging up the stacks of the nation's bookstores has reached a level of insanity that I am, frankly, uncomfortable with.

This is in no way a criticism of the buying habits of the book buyers in our nation's bookstores, of course, since I am to be counted among their number.  Who's fault could it be if half of every publisher's catalogue is dog books?  Nor can I really blame those readers who genuinely want to read tales of inspiring canines. Who am I to judge, right?  Currently, the following titles are available as new hardcover books & are all displayed on just one of the non-fiction tables at Warwick's.  None of these are available in the actual Dog section at the store, mind you - all are mixed into General Nonfiction.  You tell me if this is too many dog books:

Out of control.
  • The Dog Who Couldn't Stop Loving: How Dogs Have Captured Our Hearts for Thousands of Years by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson
  • Oogy: The Dog Only a Family Could Love by Larry Levin
  • Katie Up and Down the Hall: The True Story of How One Dog Turned Five Neighbors Into a Family by Glenn Plaskin
  • Huck: The Remarkable True Story of How One Lost Puppy Taught a Family - and a Whole Town - About Hope and Happy Endings by Janet Elder
  • Last Dog on the Hill: The Extraordinary Life of Lou by Steve Duno
  • One Dog at a Time: Saving the Strays of Afghanistan by Pen Farthing
  • A Small Furry Prayer by Steven Kotler
  • Scent of the Missing: Love and Partnership with a Search-and-Rescue Dog by Susannah Charleson
  • The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick's Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption by Jim Gorant
  • Life with Maxie by Diane Rehm
  • Fixing Freddie: A True Story About a Boy, a Mom, and a Very, Very Bad Beagle by Paula Munier
  • Cesar's Rules: Your Way to Train a Well-Behaved Dog by Cesar Millan (Cesar is a renowned dog trainer, but since it's new, I had to put it on the list.)
  • Through a Dog's Eyes: Understanding Our Dogs By Understanding How They See the World by Jennifer Arnold
  • The Divine Life of Animals: One Man's Quest to Discover Whether the Souls of Animals Live On by Ptolemy Tompkins
  • Rose in a Storm (A Novel) by Jon Katz
(I'd like to apologize to Steven Kotler and Steve Duno, who either have appeared at the store in the recent past or will someday soon - I have to include everyone if this rant is going to have any weight.)

Almost all of these books seem to be attempts at tugging at our heartstrings: Don't you want to see how dogs see the world?  Don't you want to know if your dog's going to heaven with you?  See how this dog changed the lives of __ number of people/families/towns/cities/libraries?  Look at this dog who loves this family even though he used to fight in dog fights!  Save the dogs of Iraq/Afghanistan/New Jersey!

I also can't help but get exasperated at the lengthy subtitles, all of which bear a similar message: "This particular dog - our dog - is the most incredible, life-changing dog, EVER!!"  C'mon, if I lacked any soul, I could write an inspiring story focused on one of my dogs too - but it doesn't mean that I should.

Jade, in her Mardi Gras attire.
Even worse, these are just the current stock of books with dog-themes.  We've had several best-selling novels with dog protagonists & plenty of memoirs concerning rescued dogs from war-torn countries, yet I blame the current overload almost solely on John Grogan and Marley.  C'mon, you know who I'm talkin' about.  Marley and Me: Life and Love With the World's Worst Dog was the publishing phenomenon of 2005 (and beyond - we've sold over 400 copies of the hardcover edition) and is currently still available as an illustrated edition, a mass market paperback, a regular trade paperback, a movie tie-in edition trade paperback (from the 2008 film with Owen Wilson & Jennifer Aniston), two kids' spin-off easy-reader editions, large print, and in Spanish, Korean, Chinese, and Japanese translations.  None of these are to be confused with Don Taylor's 1995 memoir, Marley and Me: The Real Bob Marley Story, by the way.

The counter-argument is bound to be that publishers only print what there is a demand for, so if you see a preponderance of dog-related titles, it's really because "they" are giving "you" what "you" want.  I realize that there is a certain demand for titles like these, but I think that there are far, far too many being produced - if I can count over a dozen in a 5-foot radius on a single table, then there are far too many out there.  It is sort of a "chicken or the egg" argument - would we want so many dog books if there weren't so many being produced?  Or are the publishers actually reacting to our national dog-love?  Is it all just manufactured demand?  Personally, although I love dogs, I don't necessarily want to read 10 inspiring non-fiction books about them.

If James Patterson writes a dog book, I will be forced to quit the book industry forever.

I guess what bugs me the most is that all of these books are getting published and thousands of other, worthy titles are rejected by publishers and end up never seeing the light of day.  Considering that somewhere in the neighborhood of 200,000 titles get published in the States annually (according to UNESCO) it seems proportionally out of whack that I can count so many new, inspiring dog titles for a single season.

But hey, this is just the opinion of one, single dog-loving bookseller who just can't take it anymore.  Feel free to sic the dogs on me - I can take it.


  1. The recent spate of dog titles simply reflects the explosive growth of the pet product market in general, which has gone from $28.5 billion in 2001 to an estimated $47.4 billion for 2010.

    I would hope that publishers are paying attention to market trends. As a bookseller, shouldn't you too?

  2. Speaking if The Lost Dogs Book... Check out this documentary on what happened with some of Vick's dogs.

  3. Anonymous,

    I'm not sure a growth rate of 5-6% over a nine year period is 'Explosive'. And as far as publishers paying attention to market trends it seems like they are blindly chasing the trend and throwing whatever they can at it to see what sticks, based on some of the titles listed in the post. If Warwicks wasn't paying attention to the market trends they never would have thought to put together this post. Great job! (I love the author Q&A's best!)

  4. Dear Seth:

    Love ya, but you're a poohead.
    With nearly 80 million dogs in the U.S. alone, "dogoir" has got to be a regular staple of the reading public. And it reflects our need for tales of heroism, comaraderie, loyalty... dogoir is the new "hero worship" we no longer get in day-to-day life.

    That said, editors' desks are flooded with the stuff these days... only the best will make it through (can you say LAST DOG ON THE HILL?).

    But really, I love you guys. Warwick's rocks. Poohead.

  5. I suppose that's fair, Steve - perhaps I am a "poohead."

    While I agree with you that dog-related books can & should be a "regular staple" in bookstores, I question whether there really needs to be so many of them. Honestly. The sheer volume of "inspiring" dog titles available right now is just staggering – this was the point I was making. Our shelves are bending under their weight. Perhaps this is an oversimplification, but I would think that having SO many of them available can only diminish the inspiration one can get from any of their stories. How does one pick the right one? Should we be judging them by the cutest or saddest cover photos? Can anyone be genuinely inspired after reading 20 books about dogs who taught a families how to love? C’mon.

    Why can’t we admit that the inspiration lies within ourselves, rather than the actions of our pets? Are there no more inspiring people out there? Of course, some stories – yours, for instance, and I apologize for lumping you and Lou in there – are actually inspiring, but there’s no way that every title on that table is.

    And frankly, we've had a hard time finding the space to display all of these books. Maybe that's our fault, I don't know. As an author of an inspiring "dogoir" title yourself, you should actually be a little peeved at the volume of these other books, since they've relegated your book to a lower shelf on the table! :) There literally isn't enough space available to display them all - this constitutes "too many" in my book.

  6. What? You're not a poohead -- stop apologizing! I've been thinking these exact same thoughts to myself in recent months -- TOO MANY DOG BOOKS. Yes, there are too many. TOO MANY!!! They're all looking for the next Marley.

    There may indeed be inspiring people out there, but since the masses tend to favor books by the Kardashians, "The Hills" and "Housewives" "actors," and the like, no one's printing 'em.

  7. Hi Seth:

    I'm sure your head is squeaky clean. And you are right; there are a lot of them. Due mostly to the insane success of Marley.

    I'm only ever interested in the ones which showcase a dog whose influence has gone beyond it's family- a dog whose life changed the course of events for others, for strangers. My own personal challenge with Last Dog On The Hill has been, honestly, to rise above the other books, despite a Liliputian PR budget, small printings, and a lack of national media coverage (evidently a dead dog, however heroic, does not play well on TV). In any event, here at my local indy store, I see a decent number of pet memoir... a dozen or so. It's doesn't seem an unreasonable number, when compared to other genres.

    I think there is something primal about our relationship with the dog though- a 50,000 year partnership, burned into out DNA. We like to reflect on that, I think. Or are we just lonely?