Every once in a while, and not as often as I should, I read a book for pleasure outside the mystery genre. Not for research, not for knowledge, but for the pure fun of it. I usually buy the book because I read a review, heard an interview, or God forbid, the cover and blurbs attracted me to it.
One such book is A Dog Year (Random House), by Jon Katz. I heard an interview with Katz on The Diane Rehm Show one day, and bought the book the next day. So much for the idea that radio doesn’t sell books. I didn’t know Jon Katz had written mysteries, and at some point I might check them out, but something tells they are out of print since Katz lost his mystery contract several years ago and started writing books about dogs instead. I missed out on the rush to buy Marley and Me, and the other Dog Story Bestsellers, by not paying much attention to the creative canine nonfiction rage of the day. Typically, if I buy a “dog” book, it’s a training manual, or a book about Rhodesian ridgebacks, the breed I own.
Anyway, since I have 2 dogs, and I had just bought a puppy, Katz’s interview struck a chord with me. A Dog Year chronicles Katz’s tenuous relationship with a rescued border collie named Orson. What I liked about this book, and what Katz has taken some heat for, is his honesty. He doesn’t sugarcoat his anger and downright fear when Orson runs off, dashes in front of a bus, then jumps on the roof of a passing mini-van—the very first night he owns him. He screams, he yells, he’s damn near in tears. Some days, Orson is so disobedient he just pisses Katz off. Now…I’m not advocating yelling at your dog, or throwing a choker chain at them to get their attention, or standing in the front yard half naked calling your dog every name in the Swear Book. These are Katz’s actions—I have my own stories of frustration (ask me about our puppy being banned from the kennel we’ve going to for ten years some time).
Like I said, Katz has taken a lot of heat from a certain segment of pet owners who disapprove of raising your voice to a dog. I didn’t buy the book to pass judgment, I bought it to be entertained. So I’m taking a quick left turn away from the training debate as quickly as I can. But remember why I said I liked this book: Katz told the truth, even when it didn’t present him in the best light. Honest writing trumps the day for me anytime over passing judgment.
There are a lot of tender moments in this book, and I recommend if you want to read A Dog Year, read the book that came out before it, Running to the Mountain. You’ll need the information in Mountain to really understand the heart of A Dog Year. Writing a mystery series obviously served Katz well.
In the end, Orson and Jon Katz survive. They come to an understanding. They become a unit, master and his dog, and dependent on each other. Better yet, they become best friends…but it’s not an easy journey. I liked Katz’s writing style, and he’s a good storyteller. It’s a shame the mystery world let him go, but even he admits that his signing lines are ten times longer now than they were when he was writing mysteries. I say good for him…and I’m glad to have found A Dog Year. It made me feel as if I wasn’t the only person in the world whose patience was tried by a dog. I wasn’t alone in my effort to train, what seemed at the time, a dog that refused to be trained. Isn’t that what all good books do? Remind us that we are not alone? Mystery or not?