By Maira Kalman
Penguin Press 160 pp. $29.95
By Jessica Reaves
There are an awful lot of dog books. We’ve been inundated, in the last few years, by books dedicated to the various delights and agonies of living with the rascally dogs, the lazy dogs, the life-saving dogs, the rescued dogs, the scraggly dogs, the purebred dogs, the dogs-gone-wrong and the dogs-made-good.
So, yes: there are a lot of dog books. It’s enough to make even the most devoted dog lover wonder, “Do we really need another book about dogs? Or might it be worth, instead, focusing our collective creative energies on a similarly deserving, less lauded pet? Like, say, hamsters – or giant pythons?”
As one such devoted dog lover, I will confess to raising my eyes to the heavens when I first spotted Maira Kalman’s latest, Beloved Dog.
And then I opened the book.
If ever an inanimate object radiated pure love, Beloved Dog is that item. This is not a typical book in any sense. Dominated by Kalman’s instantly recognizable illustrations, and threaded with loose, joyful narratives about dogs (both real and imagined), this is a book to be savored, pored over, read and re-read. It’s a book to be shared with children, with adults, and, depending on their attention span, with dogs. (My dog feigned vague interest for about 90 seconds before he was distracted by a leaf that fell from a nearby houseplant).
Whimsical, unendingly clever (but never snide), generous and profoundly lovely, Kalman has written a love letter at once very specific – the book was inspired by her (yes, beloved) dog Pete – and entirely universal.
If you have ever loved a dog, or been loved by one, you will absolutely adore this book. But that’s an easy mark, a given.
If you have neutral to mixed feelings about dogs, you will still be charmed by Kalman’s vision. For those on the fence, it might help to consider this book the literary equivalent of an extremely well behaved but scruffy mutt (stay with me, people).
Upon meeting this friendly, unabashedly gorgeous but slightly unusual dog, your initial reaction may be lack of interest or even low-grade alarm (“What am I doing? Is this really something I need in my life?”) Thirty minutes later, you’ll be absent-mindedly petting the dog’s blocky head as he rests happily at your feet. Three hours later you’ll happily invite this animal into your car, then your home, and later that night, your bedroom.
After 24 hours, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without this ball of love in your life. This book is very much like that – only with much less fur and less of a propensity to ruin area rugs. In other words: It’s perfect.
Jessica Reaves is a writer and editor who lives (and loves dogs) in Chicago