Magazine article The Spectator

Not Just for Christmas

Magazine article The Spectator

Not Just for Christmas

Article excerpt

The Big New Yorker Book of Dogs with a foreword by Malcolm Gladwell Heinemann, £30, pp. 304, ISBN 9780679644750 New York is a strange place for dogs. As I walked back from an early morning art-world breakfast - black coffee and untouched fruit, untouched granola - the apartment buildings of the Upper East Side were disgorging perfectly groomed hounds and their staff for their walks in Central Park. I'm used to south London dogwalking, the shuffling between apology for our puppy, the avoidance of Staffies and the odd five-minute conversations with other park-goers.

It is shambolic. I think of the Pont cartoon of 'the British love for dogs' - the total displacement of human life by a motley, shaggy array of dogs - and see a great cultural difference. This anthology confirms the difference. These New Yorker dogs make jokes about Frank Gehry, psychoanalysis, politics, self-identity and blogging. Many of the dogs are on couches. Not sagging Home County Chesterfields but good Park Avenue Woody Allen couches.

'And only you can hear this whistle?' asks the shrink of the dog.

The Big New Yorker Book of Dogs is large and heavy and comes with a lugubrious Thurber bloodhound on its crimson cover.

This makes sense as Thurber is essential to the whole enterprise. The editors have been wise and the book is charged with his writings and cartoons. He is the Godfather, the man who understood what the dangerous addition of a dog to a household might mean.

I tried his advice column on dog behaviour out on some random children and they were enchanted. It was first published in 1930, and it endures.

There is a slightly patrician air about some of the inclusions. Arthur Miller, John Updike, Charles Simic and John Cheever appear in the contents list and we're not even trying.

Because we are the New Yorker. And then there are the inclusions that are so bizarre that they make you suck your teeth. Anne Sexton, the formidable, self-eviscerating poet, the other Plath, on dogs? But the poem isn't really about dogs, of course, but about intimacy and peril. That is part of the healthy astringency here. A very short story, 'Chablis' by Donald Barthelme, anatomises a relationship through the acquisition of a puppy:

'My wife wants a dog. …

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