Friday, July 31, 2009

Book Review ~ Roy MacGregor's The Dog and I

John Mutford's The Real Canadian Book Challenge on his The Book Mine Set blog motivated me to set a goal: read 13 Canadian books about dogs within the next year, and review them here at Gabe n Arch.

At first I wondered if that was an achievable goal - are there really that many Canadian books about dogs worth reading? A quick scan of and suggestions from John himself quickly assured me that yes, indeed, there should be an ample selection to choose from.

I started with Roy MacGregor's The Dog and I, which was first published in 2006. It is a physically small book - about 5-1/2 x 7", with 182 pages including the acknowledgements.

MacGregor is a well-known columnist (The Globe and Mail) and author, having written about things central to the Canadian psyche: hockey, canoes, cottage life, cold weather, and that ever-elusive "Canadian identity." Oh, yes, and dogs. MacGregor has been the proud guardian of five mutts throughout his life - and he does stress that these dogs are mutts, no pedigrees, no papers, most hawked out of little red wagons pulled around by different generations of neighbourhood children.

The Dog and I is a collection of previously written columns and new material, all drawing on MacGregor's own experiences with his dogs. Dog owners will chuckle or nod with recognition over many of the stories. I had to smile over MacGregor's description of his dog Willow's fetch obsession. Yep, been there, done that. But, be prepared for some sadness. Personally, I have not yet run across a dog "memoir" that doesn't include the death of a beloved dog. If you are like me, keep tissues nearby when reading this. A wad may be sufficient; or you may need a box.

I thoroughly enjoyed MacGregor's discussion of the differences in how dogs live now, compared with 50ish years ago. This is something I often ponder myself. I wonder what my parents - born and raised in rural Saskatchewan at a time when electricity on farms was still a novelty - would think about Gabe's weekly swim at the canine pool, Archie's regular acupuncture treatments, and the homecooked food (with added natural supplements) both enjoy. Even more interesting is - how did we arrive at this point? What cultural shift precipitated this change in doggie lifestyles? I'm not sure MacGregor has the answer, but he is not above poking fun of his own forays into big box pet stores to pick up some salmon sushi dog treats.

The Dog and I is a great little book. Even though each chapter is essentially a short story, there is flow and continuity throughout (which is great, because I am generally not a fan of short stories). However, this format does work well if you are the kind of reader that goes in fits and starts - if you only have time for a few pages as you take public transit, wait in line, or squeeze in a few minutes of reading time before bed. If you take it to the beach or cottage, make sure you take a backup - this one will only take a couple of hours to get through. But, they're hours enjoyably spent.