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Book Review: Fifteen Dogs

Given its title, André Alexis’s new book Fifteen Dogs was bound to pique my interest. Luckily, the humans at Coach House Books lent the Lady a digital advanced reading copy so that we could review it.

This modern apologue surprised and delighted us. The story opens when the gods Hermes and Apollo, bored and looking for amusement, place a wager on whether animals, granted human intelligence, would be happier or unhappier than humans. The fifteen eponymous dogs, a mix of mutts and purebreds being held in the kennel of a veterinary clinic, are chosen as their test subjects. If even one of them dies happy, Hermes wins the bet. In an instant, Apollo transforms the unsuspecting dogs.

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Book Review: Faithful Ruslan

A note to my regular readers: Today’s post is weightier than my usual offerings, as the book being reviewed is serious and rather sad. If you usually come here for adorable pictures of my handsome face and lighthearted shopping reviews and don’t want to wade into more somber subjects, you may prefer to skip today’s post and come back tomorrow. 

 


I lead a pampered life. Not that anyone is carrying me around in an Hermès handbag, but I have a warm apartment to live in, a comfy bed of my own, plenty of high-quality food (not that I wouldn’t be happy to get more), and a lot of walks and play time. My duties are confined to lap-warming, walking, greeting, and performing occasional tricks. Sure, I keep an ear cocked for intruders, but in our very safe building, most suspicious activity in the hallway can be chalked up to visiting guests, or at worst, that weird guy downstairs who comes up to our floor to throw out his paper towels.

Albert the Dog with BookSo I have little in common with Ruslan, the eponymous hero of Georgi Vladimov’s short novel. Ruslan is a guard dog at a Soviet prison somewhere in the remote reaches of Siberia during the Khrushchev years. But he is not just any guard dog, he is the model guard dog, the one most loyal to his master and the rules of the camp, most fervent and strict in carrying out his duties, the truest of true believers.  Thus, it is he who has the greatest struggle adapting to a changed world after the prison is abruptly closed, the prisoners freed, and the dogs released and left to fend for themselves in a world in which they no longer serve any purpose.

Some reviews of the book identify Ruslan as a German or Alsatian Shepherd, but in his foreword, the translator Michael Glenny writes that Ruslan would be a Kavkaskaya ovcharka, or Caucasian Shepherd, the only breed that was used in Soviet prison camps post-World War II. [1] You can see from the photo at the top of the page that this is an imposing and impressive animal: powerful, strong, and with a coat well-suited to harsh Siberian winters. He is beautiful, but intimidating. Imagine yourself the prisoner being watched by such a sentry.

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Review: bookbook

TREATS:  3 out of 4

BELLY-RUB POTENTIAL:  3 out of 4

As a dog, my feelings about books are mixed. As I see it, they have the potential to distract humans from things they should be doing: paying attention to me, playing with me, or giving me treats. But the other day I realized that reading, as long as the book is small and lightweight, still leaves my People a hand free to scratch my ears. Thus, I have decided that book-reading trumps other human pastimes such as playing video games, knitting, or going to spinning classes.

Moreover, when my People need to get a book, they tend to go to an actual bookstore, which gives me the opportunity to accompany them, explore the city, and, if I’m lucky, sample some treats. Although I am told New York does not have as many bookstores as it once had, the ones that remain by and large tend to welcome well-mannered dogs.

treattreat

treattreat

Last weekend, the Lady and I ducked out of the rain to browse the shelves at bookbook, an independent bookstore in Greenwich Village.

The store used to be called Biography Books and was located further west on Bleecker Street, but the owners had to move after 26 years due to rising rents. That all happened before I came to New York, so I never had the chance to smell the store in its Biography days. Personally, I can’t imagine a better location than their current address, where the air is perfumed with the delicious scents of the neighboring Murray’s Cheese, Faicco’s Italian Specialties, and Amy’s Bread.

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Albert’s Holiday Gift Guide

Albert the Dog with Gifts

I am here to guide you.

There are far too many gift guides out there already, so why, pray tell, do I feel the need to offer one here? No good reason, I’m afraid, but I can’t resist sharing my dog and/or New York-related choices with you. I can promise you that my People and I get no financial reward from my recommendations, and I have checked out almost all of these products myself. As such, you’ll see that some of these might be better for small dogs like me than for the big guys. Of course, many of these are for the dog-loving humans you know. Continue reading

Albert reads The New York Dog
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Book Review: The New York Dog

The New York Dog by Rachel Hale McKennaToday I will be looking at The New York Dog by Ms. Rachel Hale McKenna. My People tell me that this book was published last March, so I guess I’m a little tardy in getting around to this, but it’s not my fault I didn’t have a blog back then. Besides, if The New York Review of Books can run reviews eight months late, so can I.

This is a large, handsome book suitable for your coffee table (a/k/a the place I like to sit when my People are out of the apartment even though I pretend to follow their rules about not sitting on it when they are here). The author is a well-known human New Zealander female photographer whose previous books include The French Cat and The French Dog. Perhaps like everyone else in France a few years ago, Ms. Rachel then realized le epicenter of cool was in Brooklyn. In any event, her next project brought her to New York, where, as she describes, our strict leash laws made it a little more difficult for her to capture her subjects on the spur of the moment. Instead, she had to arrange photo shoots with the dogs’ human companions.

There is one major problem with Ms. Rachel’s book:
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On Dogs and Space

When the Soviet scientists rounded up strays, they sought small, feisty dogs who could withstand the punishing preparation and, they hoped, the rigors of spaceflight. Many dogs died, and even those who lived paid a price.

—Dana Jennings, “Strays Leading the Soviets into Space,” The New York Times, Nov. 3, 2014

LaikaThe Lady says she tends to get choked up when she thinks about Laika, the most famous of the Soviet space dogs and one of the first animals launched into orbit. Mainly because she thinks about her lonely, painful death in the confines of Sputnik 2. And also she remembers hearing John Haskell‘s fictionalized version of Laika’s journey on a podcast years ago and being transfixed by its ending.

I am small, and could well be described as feisty, and though I don’t think I was ever a stray, I was a shelter dog. I am always up for adventure, but I don’t like to be confined (I’m still not very happy in a crate). So I probably wouldn’t have made a very good cosmonaut. On the other hand, I am a quick learner and like most of my canine brethren, eager to please. So who knows? Maybe I would have been a likely candidate had I been living on the streets of Moscow in the 1950s. I probably would have learned my duties well (as long as those scientists compensated me with enough treats), and I may very well have been one of those chosen for a lonely mission into the cold, dark unknown. That’s the thing about being eager to please: You will end up working to fulfill someone else’s ambitions. You just have to trust they will do what’s best for both of you.

Laika is in the news again because of a new book by Olesya Turkina called Soviet Space Dogs, which is mentioned in the review quoted above. My People and I haven’t looked at the book yet, so this isn’t a review, but it has me pondering these things. Although these cosmonaut dogs became famous for their contributions to science, for now I’m happy being just a regular old small, feisty dog doing nothing more traumatic than riding in a shopping cart now and then.


 

Dana Jennings’s review: “Strays Leading the Soviets into Space: Soviet Space Dogs Tells the Story of Canine Cosmonauts” 

Studio 360 podcast episode of John Haskell’s “Laika’s Dream”

Becky Ferreira, “Why We Still Want Laika the Space Dog to Come Home” 

 Soviet Space Dogs, published by FUEL Publishing. Text by Olesya Turkina

It is believed that the image of Laika in this post qualifies as fair use. 

Book Review: Shake Puppies

Today, I’m introducing a new feature here on Albert’s New York: book reviews.  Books are objects that distract humans from playing with, giving treats to, or rubbing the bellies of their dogs. So, generally speaking, I’m against them. However, some books are useful:  Those that help humans understand dogs, those that train humans to live with their dogs, and those that contain pictures of dogs. These are the kinds of books that I will occasionally consider here.

Disclosure: I know some humans at HarperCollins, and they sent me a book, Shake Puppies, in the hopes that I would review it.* The fact that they gave me a copy did not influence my opinion of this book.

Herewith, my appraisal:


 

Shake Puppies by Carli Davidson

Not an instruction manual.

The first important thing I have to tell you about Shake Puppies is that the title is NOT a command. Humans, please do not shake any puppies. Like human babies, puppies are fragile and must be handled gently.

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