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Book Review: Howl – A Collection of the Best Contemporary Dog Wit by Editors of The Bark

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As a follow-up to the New York Times bestseller, Dog is My Co-Pilot, the Editors of The Bark assembled over 70 pieces — ranging from personal essays and parodies, to satires and aphorisms — highlighting the hilarity of life with dogs. The end result: Howl.

Three shorts emerged as the cream of the crop. Pam Houston's "All the Bags and Dante and Me" is, in a roundabout way, about Houston packing her car for a road trip with her dog, Dante. I found it particularly moving after having read (and loved) her work of fiction, Sight Hound. Houston has the ability to "speak" for a dog while not entering into schtick territory.

Who among us can't relate to Laurie Notaro's short, "Dog of the Day"? It’s about doggie daycare, where the end-all be-all is to have your pooch recognized as, yep, "dog of the day."

Dave Barry's "A Gentleman's Ideal Companion" proves there are definite "dog" people (and not dog people), and how hard it is to be married to one when you're the other. I can totally relate to this, having had to convince my husband we need a dog. It's taken him about a year to warm up to her, but luckily, she doesn't hold a grudge.

Among the other truly funny, original works that offer a glimmer of insight wrapped in witty delivery are “Two Pooch or Not to Pooch?” (Jon Bowen), “Home on the Mange” (Neal Pollack), “Dog Whores” (Margaret Cho), “Why I Write About Dogs” (Susan Conant), “Strange Bedfellows” (Kinky Friedman), “Joni Mitchell Never Lies” (Marc Spitz), and “Seven Protective Popeyes” (George Singleton).

There were a few huge misses, too, including Bonnie Thomas Abbott’s “Here’s the Beef”, about a doggie stand-up routine, which was neither funny nor insightful. There are lots of not-so-funny jokes in her short (including how people always leave Animal Planet on TV to keep their canines company), followed by "audience participation" in the form of yips and howls in agreement. This piece might have worked had it been buried somewhere toward the end of the book, but, unfortunately, it opened the book. Really? That’s the story you want to lead with?

Another piece, Alice Elliott Dark's “A Second Act,” attempted satire in the wake of the James Frey “scandal,” but fell short of even getting a chuckle out of me. Author Raw Bones (get it?) has written A Million Little Reeses, which was chosen by Orpah Doxie (get it?) as a book club selection. Then scandal broke out when it was revealed that Bones exaggerated a bit in his story. This short is his "interview" with Mea Culpa magazine, and the topic simply doesn't translate well to canine humor (kicking a chocolate addiction and eating grass to help stay "clean"), to say the least.

Susan Miller’s story, “13 Questions,” about “interviewing” dogs, was weak as well (the punch line is that all dogs think about are squirrels, and it's repeated ad naseum). David Smilow’s “Part Pooch, or: More Than an Act,” which was a rather boring account of "being" a dog, professionally (in a play), only elicited a yawn out of me.

While this anthology fell short of the high bar set with Dog Is My Co-Pilot, the inclusion of some of my favorite writers, including Houston, Notaro, and Barry, as well as a few others, redeemed it somewhat.

The great thing about a short story collection such as this is that if you encounter a story you don’t care for, you can simply skip on to the next – no harm no foul. After Howl, I'm well practiced in page skipping.

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