Dogs of Our Lives

Artist Bill Wegman and authors Lisa Birnbach, Stefan Merrill Block, and Susan Orlean speak candidly about the dogs in their lives and in literature. The reading assignment for this episode was J.R. Ackerley’s My Dog Tulip, a polarizing dog memoir that sparked a cult following. While Merrill Block praises what he perceives as Ackerley’s restraint from projecting on the dog a human psychology, Birnbach finds the story to be anthropomorphic to an obscene degree. At turns awed and repulsed by Ackerley’s style and focus, the speakers try to make sense of their own canine love stories.

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Stefan Merill Block is the author of The Story of Forgetting and The Storm at the Door. Dogs haven’t featured prominently in his work — yet. He describes his Chachi as a very loving and very needy roommate.

Susan Orlean‘s most recent book is a biography of Rin Tin Tin. She is a staff writer at The New Yorker, where she wrote about her own dog.

Artist William Wegman began photographing his dog Man Ray in 1970.  He was devastated that he wasn’t with Man Ray when he died. He dreamt about him coming back to life, and still does.

Lisa Birnbach is the author of True Prep. A few years ago, she adopted a dog on a whim from a shelter. She had no affinity for the animal whatsoever. In fact, she was scared of him.

The host of this episode of AT is The New York Review of Books, a fortnightly publication covering literature, culture and current events. Read the latest issue here or browse the classics they publish, including My Dog Tulip.

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footnotes

1. Here are the anal glands. And this is how dogs tend to them.

2. See shelf.

3. Read a review of Ackerley’s memoir, We Think the World of You.

4. Odd character indeed.