As the Year of the Dog winds down, we celebrate what has been a banner year for canine-centric publishing with our first-ever “Best Books” awards. The quality and quantity of books about dogs has been steadily increasing, which made singling out two titles—one fiction, one nonfiction—in a field dense with excellent options a both difficult and gratifying challenge. Nonetheless, in our opinion, two stood out from the rest.
In The Friend, a remarkable novel, Sigrid Nunez explores her narrator’s love for a recently deceased friend and the burgeoning love she feels for that friend’s Great Dane, bequeathed to her at his death. This is a poignant story of loss and grief transcended by the intimacy and redemptive nature of the relationship between a woman and a dog. Its storyline, while akin to J.R. Ackerley’s classic My Dog Tulip in its level of intensity, stands alone as its own genre. The Friend is an elegant, erudite and fully charming, life-affirming book that well deserves our 2018 “Best Fiction” award.
On November 14, the National Book Foundation announced that The Friend was awarded the 2018 National Book Award for fiction. In accepting the award, Nunez noted that she didn’t seek community when she became a writer, but unexpectedly found it. “I thought it was something I could do alone and hidden, in the privacy of my own room,” she said. “How lucky to have discovered that writing books made the miraculous possible, to be removed from the world and be part of the world at the same time.
In Rory Kress’s The Doggie in the Window, a meticulously researched, page-turner of a book, the author sheds new light on how damaging puppy mills are to the dogs they sell to unwitting people (including the author herself). We learn how many ways governmental agencies and breed registries prop up these mill breeders, literally giving them license to inflict harm on the dogs in their kennels as well as on the puppies they sell to pet stores or online. The Doggie in the Window informs and inspires us to effect changes in this inhumane system, making it eminently worthy of our 2018 “Best Nonfiction” award.