Okay, not really, at least not in the sense of taking it easy, slacking off. I’m working on several things at once: getting my non-fiction pitches out, rewriting The Swan Harp, and reading. Some of the reading is books I’m being paid to review, and some of it is research or pleasure, or both combined.
Falling into that latter group is Alexandra Horowitz’s Inside of a Dog. The title comes from the joke attributed to Groucho Marx. “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend,” he is said to have said, “Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”
I’m very interested in dogs, not just because I love them myself, and have hardly been without one for most of the last twenty years, but also because I have a book in the works in which one of the main characters is a dog, sometimes. Some years ago, before I wrote the first draft of that story, I was given Raymond and Lorna Coppinger’s excellent book Dogs. I can’t recommend it highly enough for the insight it gave me into dogs, their origins, evolution, physiology and psychology.
Horowitz’s book contains things I already knew from reading the Coppingers’ work, but she goes into a lot more detail about the sensory perceptions of dogs, and a lot about their adaptations to relate to humans. For example, most animals don’t look people in the eye for more than a few seconds. A stare is generally aggressive. Dogs, however, hold a gaze with humans. They look at our faces and into our eyes constantly.
I was happy to find this book, thanks to David, who pointed it out to me, and I enjoyed reading it, even if it seemed at times a little lightweight, and at times like a remembrance of Horowitz’s own dog, Pumpernickel. But I have to say that since reading it, I’ve paid a different kind of attention to Sky. It’s also definitely going to be helpful to me as a resource when I get back to Under the Skin, the novel I plan to work on after The Swan Harp.
I suppose this is why I’m probably most likely to be successful writing about animals and animal-related subjects. Even if I weren’t engaged in this dog-related novel, I’d still find reading about dogs interesting. As has been pointed out to me by several friends, I write an awful lot about animals. The psychology of swans has a bearing on The Swan Harp, and the physiology of Komodo dragons plays into another novel idea.
I suppose it’s no surprise to my family, either. I don’t believe I have a single doll that I owned when I was a child, but I have quite a few of my stuffed animals. I was always more interested in them than in my more human looking “babies”. My mother once observed that Aquarians (of which I’m one) are supposed to be humanitarians.
“For a humanitarian, Elizabeth,” she said to me, “you’re awfully fond of animals.”