Tuesday, November 22, 2016

New Book Review: The Book of Barkley

Title: The Book of Barkley

Author: L.B. Johnson

Date: 2014

Publisher: Outskirts Press

Publisher’s web site: http://www.outskirtspress.com

ISBN: 978-1-4787-3434-5
Length: 246 pages
Quote: “Why is it a breed that loves the water and will cannon ball into any available pool or pond, hates getting baths?”

By now all regular readers of this web site should have discovered L.B. Johnson. If you like my blog, which is about a Southern Lady who lives with cats, you probably also like hers, which is about a jet pilot who lives with dogs.

The mix of serious faith and whimsy is similar. The first paragraph of The Book of Barkley begins with Johnson reading “the Old Testament, dipping my finger in a glass of whiskey,” while “in the distance, a snowplow scrapes the day’s history from the streets,” and reminiscing about “the one that taught me to love even as he occasionally barfed on my carpet.”

The mix of grief and fundamental cheerfulness is also similar. Considered from the human point of view The Book of Barkley ends happily; Barkley’s human survives all her adventures, recovers (with scars) from her injuries, and marries a nice guy. Even from the canine point of view it’s not a terribly sad story; Barkley never was the healthiest of dogs, and he ages faster than some dogs, but he dies old, without a lot of pain. The mournful beginning simply recognizes that humans live longer than dogs.

Most dog lovers love and lose and lament half a dozen “best friends” before they even feel too old to write another book-length dog memoir. Cleveland Amory wrote a trilogy: bonding with the first cat, adding a second cat, surviving the first cat with the second cat for company. This method of easing the almost inevitable feelings of bereavement is recommended to all pet owners. However, in writing, the human mind tends to find it convenient to write one book about one animal, and when we do that, the story usually ends when the animal dies.

In philosophical terms it’s “good grief” that we feel when a baby animal we’ve “mothered” becomes an old animal and dies. Animals teach us to live mindfully and mourn reasonably. Often the human godparent is the one who decides the animal needs to be put down before its condition becomes more painful. The animal itself may have been brought up ten full generations of its kind, or may have accepted the celibate life humans chose for it. The human is aware that the animal was old, wasn’t meant to live longer than it did, may have lived much longer than it could have done without the human’s help. We just miss our pets. Our grief is entirely selfish. So, if we face up to it, is most of the grief we feel for the humans of whom we’ve been bereaved.

One way to cope with this selfish grief is of course to remember the ones we’ve lost. Memories allowed to permeate our consciousness become part of us. The world has in fact lost something when anyone that is missed, in any way, goes out of it. If we’re mindful about our memories we can preserve a little of what has been lost, can carry on a little of what our loved ones did. For pet owners, a good starting point is to preserve that interspecies bond the departed animal taught us about. There will never be another Barkley (or Old Yeller or Polar Bear or Flicka, or most particularly Black Magic, the Founding Queen of the Cat Sanctuary from which I blog). There will, however, be other animals that need human godparents, that can do some of the practical things your lost pet did for you, that can even be loved in their own way. The web site The Book of Barkley spawned is largely about Barkley’s heir, Abby.

Barkley is a typical Lab, friendly, trainable, big enough to serve as a guard dog, gentle enough to be a house pet, not especially brilliant or heroic, not even mischievous and puppyish enough to compete with Marley for the title of “world’s worst dog.” Several of his adventures involve being sick, sometimes as a consequence of eating things he ought to know better than to eat. Retrievers are big strong dogs, but not always very healthy, not always even very intelligent; Barkley seems brighter than many retrievers, about average in terms of digestive problems and bizarre food cravings. He is partly responsible for one of his human’s more permanent scars…but he nurtures and amuses her through the surgery.

One of the ways other animals are good for humans, as companions, is that they give us things to laugh about. Barkley does this part of his duty quite well.

After overindulgence in sausage, “about four a.m. when Barkley stuck his nose in my face…with the doggie alert of ‘I gotta go! I gotta go!’…He made a beeline for the corner of the property…I’m standing out there in a tiny Victoria’s Secret polka dot number covered with a Day-Glo yellow first responders coat. Somewhere there’s probably a calendar composed of women in outfits like that.”

After a bit of bacon, “he carefully moved the towel out of the way first before he tagged my floor…I can see the doggy thought process—‘Mom gets upset if I grab her clean towels off the counter so I will protect her clean towel even in my indisposition—I’m a good dog!’”(This is one of the differences that create that bizarre belief that dogs are more intelligent than cats. When cats are sick they want to show their human godparents exactly what’s wrong, so they tend to look for the place where it will be hardest for the human to miss seeing or stepping in the mess…ideally the human’s shoes, while the human is wearing them. Cats are capable of reactions like “I will protect my human,” but not as an immediate alternative to “My human might be able to help me with this; I must make sure s/he sees it.”)

On a happier occasion (for Barkley) “He had somehow gotten out, run to the neighbor with no fence and through their yard to the water, where he was swimming laps.”

On a long drive, “Barkley…was trying to stretch every last inch out of his restraint system and get his head up front…Saying ‘no’ to him did not work, he’d just scoot closer. What I found that worked was singing. I inherited the family vocal abilities (all volume, no tone)…Barkley gives me a look that says, ‘Mom,t he engine is making a horrible noise!’ and retreats in his harness to the back seat.”

When he’s taken to a professional groomer and picked up at the time agreed upon, the groomer “was there, with another girl I did not recognize. ‘I had to call for help,’ she said. Both of them were drenched…their tools had been flung across the floor, and the picture on the wall was all askew…As we left, she…said, ‘Miss, I appreciate the business…But please do not bring him back’.”

Such is life with a retriever. Barkley, who inadvertently destroys his human’s knee, might be considered more trouble than the average retriever. So why do we love them so? Johnson agrees with Jeffrey Masson that Dogs Never Lie About Love. “Dogs don’t know the word ‘love’…Yet…they show it, as though nothing else had ever been.”

In cities, dogs often allow humans who have not been Properly Introduced to speak to each other without being considered rude. In The Book of Barkley, Barkley’s role in human social interaction goes beyond that. The scene on pages 188-189, in which we know that two humans are going to stay together for a good long time, is gross-out funny enough to violate this site’s contract, so I won’t quote it here. I can only say that it’s not suitable for reading on public transportation, because you will laugh and you probably won’t want to share what you’re laughing at with fellow commuters.

Generally, if there’s a thing some readers don’t love about The Book of Barkley it’s a thing other readers do love, but this book does show cutting-edge, high-tech editing…I mean, if I’d been its copy editor, I would’ve caught things like “dearth-like moan” and “He had done…and went...” I don’t always catch these things in blog posts, either. Nobody wants to look at a blinking box carefully enough to spot them. When words are printed out on paper, and readers have time to enjoy them, then we notice them. To cannonball, the dive, means something different from a cannon ball or cannonball, the object; that space calls attention to itself and looks “wrong” on paper. The space is there because the computer can’t catch it—“cannon,” “ball,” and “cannonball” all being words in the spell-checker list—and because, on a computer screen, the space may not even be visible, depending on the type font. For readers of a certain age such by-products of the electronic publishing process may look annoying. Those readers need to spend a little more time online, and then they will understand.

I bought this book with some trepidation, myself. (Yes, I sometimes accept payment in Amazon giftcards, although I prefer Paypal or postal money orders.) Barkley’s human had already sent a generous gift to Inky. Some cosmic law seems to dictate that when nice people who have done nice things for you have written books, they’ve written dreadful books. I was blessed. The Book of Barkley is a first book, but it’s a good read. It has actually become an Amazon bestseller, and it deserves to be one.

It is not a Fair Trade Book, because you can still buy it new, and because a portion of the proceeds from new book sales will be sent to animal rescuers around the world. So use that Amazon link and buy it new.

And what about a Petfinder link?

Jenny from Atlanta: https://www.petfinder.com/petdetail/36423874