This isn’t as traumatic as it sounds. Much of my collection is available in electronic form, and my iPad makes reading books in that form quite enjoyable. So I’ve been gradually selling some of the comics that I can get some money for and swapping (well, giving away really) the books via Paperbackswap.com.
There are a few books that will not be sold or given away under any condition. One of them is “Beautiful Joe”, by Margaret Saunders. I came to this book relatively recently, thanks to a comment from Pat Miller in her Peaceable Paws discussion group. I was lucky enough to find a copy published in the 1960′s, so in addition to being a sentimental favorite it’s a bit of a collector’s item too.
“Beautiful Joe” is an “autobiography” about a dog in the late 1800s (the book was published in 1893) told in his own words. The words, while obviously not realistic, come across as somehow believable: if dogs were to think (or if they think) they just might in Joe’s innocent and simple terms.
I immediately thought of “Beautiful Joe” when I started reading “A Dog’s Purpose” (amazon affiliate link) by W. Bruce Cameron. The book opens with the thoughts of a new born puppy, and the similarities are undeniable. This is not a bad thing — not by any stretch of the imagination. If you have me “inside a dogs’ head” and you make me think of “Beautiful Joe”, you’re doing a good job.
I was offered a review copy by Forge Books and jumped on the chance. I hadn’t heard of the book before and the description was very compelling. I’ll let the “book trailer” do the talking. (Yeah, the music is a little sappy. Sorry.)
But, to be perfectly honest, the trailer doesn’t do the book justice. This book is fantastic. It’s a keeper.
As the trailer tells you, in “A Dog’s Purpose” dogs never really die or if you prefer, they are reincarnated each time as dogs. This is a pretty cool concept, but the part of the book that made me rip through it in a day and a half was our hero’s internal dialogue.
When I discovered that the snow had drifted in a huge pile against the fence, I was delighted to climb right up to the top of mound and drop over the other side. It was a perfect night for an adventure. I went over to Chelsea’s house to see if Duchess was available, but there was no sign other than a fairly recent patch of urine-soaked snow. I thoughtfully lifted my leg on the area so she’d know I was thinking of her.
And of course, there is the notion of a “purpose” that the title foreshadows. I’m not going to ruin it — I’ll just say that this idea really tied the book together in a very special way.
“Beautiful Joe” helped wake up a generation to animal cruelty by highlighting the rather cavalier attitude toward animal welfare that was common in the late 1800s. While this does not seem to be a primary goal of “A Dog’s Purpose,” our hero does experience some of today’s animal welfare issues, such as a high kill shelter, a puppy mill, and a future psychopath that seems to be getting his “sea legs” by abusing animals.
There were a few things that kind of made me wince, like Dalmatian puppies born with spots and a little bit of pack theory stuff that I know will bother some people more than others, but in order to deliver it’s message “A Dog’s Purpose,” like “Beautiful Joe,” needs to be a little anthropomorphic, and taking advice from reality TV’s leading purveyor of anthropomorphic claptrap (he’s named in the acknowledgements) kind of makes sense.
The story and the delightful monologue/dialogue completely overwhelms any faults in this book, though. “A Dog’s Purpose” has a place on every dog lover’s shelf, right next to “Beautiful Joe.” That’s where it sits on mine, and it will be there in the new house (if we ever get there) too.