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Best Dog Books Uncover Vick’s Survivors, Marilyn Monroe’s Maf

The cover jacket of
The cover jacket of "I Thought You Were Dead: A Love Story" by Pete Nelson. Source: Algonquin via Bloomberg

Dec. 18 (Bloomberg) -- “The first thing you see when you get to heaven is all your old pets, running to greet you.”

I can’t wait! That’s from the enjoyably offbeat “I Thought You Were Dead: A Love Story” by Pete Nelson (Algonquin), one of many writers inspired by canine companions to publish quite a number of books.

The narrator, down on his luck, spends a lot of time talking to Stella, a sleek mongrel with an upbeat view of life’s dramas. “If he goes, it means more food for you,” she says cheerfully, hearing his father had a stroke.

Saving the Farm

“Rose in a Storm” by Jon Katz (Villard). Rose, a small herding dog, goes into overdrive as winter ices in her farm. She digs out the farmer, scares off coyotes, impresses a large wolf and flies a rescue helicopter. No wait, a human does that. But this is one smart, feeling dog, whose interior world is wonderfully suggested by Katz.

Vick’s Dogs

“The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick’s Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption” by Jim Gorant (Gotham). Former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Vick got a second chance and so, amazingly, did most of the dogs he tortured with his Neanderthal betting pals. Gorant follows their story as the pit bulls leave the Bad Newz (!) Kennels and meet up with worthy humans, including the investigators, one of whom lost his job for making too much of a fuss.

Classic Tales

“Dog Stories” edited by Diana Secker Tesdell (Everyman’s Library/Knopf). This attractive volume includes an appealing story by Patricia Highsmith in which an aging dog murders his unpleasant master and gets a new life with the woman he loves. India’s landscape comes to life in a spooky Rudyard Kipling tale and Jonathan Lethem takes us inside a hotel for dogs to meet Ava, a three-legged pit bull who “thinks with her mouth.”

Otto the Boston Terrier

“You Had Me at Woof: How Dogs Taught Me the Secrets of Happiness” by Julie Klam (Riverhead). It’s hard to resist a memoir that starts “One night I dreamed I had a dog.” No, not a guy, and not the mansion of Manderley. A dog. Klam writes amusingly, lightly, about her struggle to perfect herself and various canines, especially Otto, a bug-eyed Boston terrier who acquired a colorful wardrobe.

Marilyn and Frank

“The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe” by Andrew O’Hagan (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). A gift from Frank Sinatra, Maf, short for Mafia, was definitely more appreciative of the star than all those singers, politicians, presidents and playwrights who blighted her life. Did Arthur Miller ever lick those Champagne-flavored toes with such pleasure? O’Hagan, a very funny writer, reaches inspirational heights when Marilyn and Maf head to Mexico to divorce the bore and have a few drinks.

Canine Psychology

“The Dog Who Couldn’t Stop Loving: How Dogs Have Captured Our Hearts for Thousands of Years” by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson (Harper). The brilliant Masson, who was abused himself for his refreshing views on Freud, now lives in New Zealand and writes about animals. No one is more insightful on the special bond we form with our dogs.

Dog Photos

“Dogs” by Tim Flach (Abrams). Flach’s terrific photographs include a nameless snarling wolf -- the vilified urvater of my beagles -- and his domesticated progeny through the ages. Sadie, for instance, the bomb-sniffing heroine of Kabul. Flach photographed her like a soldier, staring unwaveringly into the distance, a medal on her chest.

“Photobooth Dogs” by Cameron Woo (Chronicle). This modest book features very affecting photos of pets whose humans dragged them into those cheap curtained booths to document their adoration.

(Manuela Hoelterhoff is executive editor of Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)

To contact the writer of this review: Manuela Hoelterhoff in New York at Mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Beech at mbeech@bloomberg.net.

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