Wednesday, February 1, 2012

GRG Recap - Stories Narrated by Animals

The Genre Reading Group met last night to discuss fiction novels with animal narrators.  That is, animals of the four-legged variety!

It was an interesting topic and really got us thinking about the issue of perspective.  I put forth the argument that when an author may want to explore a topic from a fresh view, or without the inherent biases and prejudgments that normally accompany (fictional or otherwise) the adult human perspective, he/she may use an unusual narrative perspective to achieve that distance while still cultivating some emotional investment in the turn of events.

Books like Emma Donoghue's Room, narrated by a five-year-old, lend a child's perspective to grown up topics.  Little Jack, a victim of kidnapping who has known only the confines of an eleven by eleven room his entire life, is suddenly confronted with the utter strangeness of a world which we all take for granted, allowing us to see our environment through brand new eyes.  Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce mysteries (the first in the series is The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie) are light and funny.  Flavia is an enchanting eleven-year-old amateur chemist/detective whose insights are laser sharp, cutting through all the bureaucratic red tape that comes with adulthood.

The Collector Collector by Tibor Fischer is narrated by an ancient ceramic bowl.  Don't laugh, this is no passive container.  This bowl has been witness to some of "history's major convulsions--revolutions, famines, massacres, wars--and has survived more than four hundred breakages and three thousand thefts."  The bowl is there, a eye witness, without having any real hindering from emotional investments in what is going on.

Another great perspective from an unusual narrator is Markus Zusak's The Book Thief.  The story is about a young German girl named Liesel fostering with a family outside Munich during World War II.  While much of the story revolves around Liesel, her family, and the Jewish man they are hiding in their basement, Death is the one telling the story and he gives readers glimpses of his life and heartbreaking work during World War II.

The other perspective is, of course, that of animals.  This is the perspective the Genre Reading Group read and discussed last night and here is the list of books brought to the meeting.

A Dog's Life by Peter Mayle
The bestselling author of A Year in Provence and Hotel Pastis now surveys his territory from a different vantage point: the all-fours perspective of his dog, Boy--"a dog whose personality is made up of equal parts Boswell and Dr. Johnson, Mencken and A. A. Milne" (Chicago Sun-Times). Enhanced by 59 splendidly whimsical drawings by Edward Koren.

A GRG member shared a favorite quote from A Dog's Life, "To err is human.  To forgive, canine."

Walking in Circles Before Lying Down by Merrill Markoe
Dawn Tarnauer’s life isn’t exactly a success story. Already twice divorced, the young Californian is too busy job-hopping to start a career, her current boyfriend insists on living “off the grid,” her Life Coach sister perpetually interferes with incomprehensible affirmations, her eccentric mother is busy promoting the culmination of her life’s work: The Every Holiday Tree, and her father is ending his brief third marriage while scheduling two dates for the same night.

Dawn’s only source of security and comfort, it seems, is Chuck, a pit-bull mix from the pound. So, when her boyfriend announces that he’s leaving her for another woman, a despairing Dawn turns to Chuck for solace. “I should have said something sooner,” Chuck confides, as he tries to console her. “Couldn’t you smell her on his pants?”

Dawn is stunned. It’s one thing to talk to your pets, but what do you do when they start talking back? It’s not just Chuck, either; she can hear all dogs–and man’s best friend has a lot to say. The ever-enthusiastic Chuck offers his tried-and-true advice on the merits of knocking over garbage and strewing it everywhere, auxiliary competitive peeing etiquette, and the curative powers of tossing a ball. Doubtful of her own sanity, Dawn considers that, in the ways of life and love, it might be better to trust Chuck’s doggie instincts instead of her own.

Filled with sharp wit, biting humor, and canine conversation that would make Doctor Dolittle’s jaw drop, Merrill Markoe’s engaging, cleverly written novel is about the confusing search for love and the divine acts of dog.

The Labrador Pact by Matt Haig
The Hunters are your typical family, with typical concerns—work, money, love, the trials of adolescence—with one difference: they are protected by a highly atypical dog, their black Labrador, Prince. Prince views it as his sacred duty to protect his family and guard its integrity. But what is he to do when the family's worst enemies are themselves?

Wry, perceptive and heartbreaking, The Labrador Pact is a cunning and original take on domestic life in all its joy and disillusionment. Matt Haig has created an improbably poignant narrator in Prince, offering a truly unique perspective on the foibles of family relationships. As Prince uses his heart and soul (and wags and barks) to keep the Hunter clan together, he finds himself confounded by the odd behavior of the humans he loves. To save his family, Prince must betray the ancient Pact of the Labradors—a decision that may cost him everything.

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by watching television extensively, and by listening very closely to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver.

Through Denny, Enzo has gained tremendous insight into the human condition, and he sees that life, like racing, isn't simply about going fast. Using the techniques needed on the race track, one can successfully navigate all of life's ordeals.

On the eve of his death, Enzo takes stock of his life, recalling all that he and his family have been through: the sacrifices Denny has made to succeed professionally; the unexpected loss of Eve, Denny's wife; the three-year battle over their daughter, ZoË, whose maternal grandparents pulled every string to gain custody. In the end, despite what he sees as his own limitations, Enzo comes through heroically to preserve the Swift family, holding in his heart the dream that Denny will become a racing champion with ZoË at his side. Having learned what it takes to be a compassionate and successful person, the wise canine can barely wait until his next lifetime, when he is sure he will return as a man.

A heart-wrenching but deeply funny and ultimately uplifting story of family, love, loyalty, and hope, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a beautifully crafted and captivating look at the wonders and absurdities of human life . . . as only a dog could tell it.

This book is not part of our genre, but came highly recommended by one GRG-er, Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog, and the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero by Michael Hingson with Susy Flory
A blind man and his guide dog show the power of trust and courage in the midst of devastating terror.
It was 12:30 a.m. on 9/11 and Roselle whimpered at Michael's bedside. A thunderstorm was headed east, and she could sense the distant rumbles while her owners slept. As a trained guide dog, when she was "on the clock" nothing could faze her. But that morning, without her harness, she was free to be scared, and she nudged Michael's hand with her wet nose as it draped over the bedside toward the floor. She needed him to wake up.

With a busy day of meetings and an important presentation ahead, Michael slumped out of bed, headed to his home office, and started chipping away at his daunting workload. Roselle, shivering, took her normal spot at his feet and rode out the storm while he typed. By all indications it was going to be a normal day. A busy day, but normal nonetheless. Until they went into the office.

In Thunder Dog, follow Michael and his guide dog, Roselle, as their lives are changed forever by two explosions and 1,463 stairs. When the first plane struck Tower One, an enormous boom, frightening sounds, and muffled voices swept through Michael's office while shards of glass and burning scraps of paper fell outside the windows.

But in this harrowing story of trust and courage, discover how blindness and a bond between dog and man saved lives and brought hope during one of America's darkest days.

Flush by Virginia Woolf
This story of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s cocker spaniel, Flush, enchants right from the opening pages. Although Flush has adventures of his own with bullying dogs, horrid maids, and robbers, he also provides the reader with a glimpse into Browning’s life.

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo (published for children in grades 5 and up)
In 1914, Joey, a beautiful bay-red foal with a distinctive cross on his nose, is sold to the army and thrust into the midst of the war on the Western Front. With his officer, he charges toward the enemy, witnessing the horror of the battles in France. But even in the desolation of the trenches, Joey's courage touches the soldiers around him and he is able to find warmth and hope. But his heart aches for Albert, the farmer's son he left behind. Will he ever see his true master again?

What are YOU reading?

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