This week we'll be getting a little anthropomorphic on you, which seems appropriate in a year when Garth Stein's The Art of Racing in the Rain--narrated by Enzo the lab/terrier mix--showed up on so many indie bookseller staff recommend lists (and was a Shelf Awareness favorite several times over, too).
My own honor role of witty novels includes the brilliant tale of a rat evolving from gastronomic to intellectual consumer of books--Sam Savage's Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife. Here's a . . . taste: "My friend, given the chasm that separates all your experiences from all of mine, I can bring you no closer to that singular savor than by saying that books, in an average sort of way, taste the way coffee smells."
Richard Goldman and Mary Alice Gorman of Mystery Lovers Bookshop, Oakmont, Pa., confess that their choice "has to be Three Bags Full: A Sheep Detective Story by Leonie Swann. Here's our review: A sparkling and original debut in which a flock of sheep investigate the murder of their beloved shepherd George. Yep, you're going to have to buy into talking sheep but after all, George did read to them every night. Unfortunately, he read them mostly romance novels so the sheep have a somewhat unbalanced view of human life in which women mostly named Pamela are constantly fighting off the advances of mustachioed men named Rodney. Once you make that leap you're in for a treat as each, led by Miss Maple--the wisest of them--makes their own contribution to solving the puzzle. Swann's cleverness in translating the nature of sheep into their behavior as sleuths is a marvel and I was truly sorry to come to the end of this totally captivating book."
My Shelf Awareness colleague Marilyn Dahl recommends Lucky Dog by Mark Barrowcliffe: "I know, talking dogs, enough already. But take it from a cat-lover, this one works. It's the kind of book you read and then give as a gift, saying, 'Trust me.'"
Fiction can also meet fauna for bookstore sidelines buyers.
"That's some catch, that Catch-22," says Yossarian in Joseph Heller's classic novel (and another book on my list). But if you think that's some catch, consider Rubberbone Press, which makes "Literachew for the Pupulation." Owner Tracey Ciciora responded to my call for fun titles by asking, "How about fun fiction for you and your pup? Catch-22 and the new 'fun' little sideline--Fetch-22! Curl up with your dog and toss a good book!"
A couple of years ago, Tracey "was attempting to write a children's book--well, long story short, I had this new puppy by my side, and the Tale turned on its Tail: rubber squeaky toy books for dogs! Even though it unfolded into a product line rather than a book, my intentions have always been about literacy, children's self-esteem building through learning, and being in support of the entrepreneurial dream. My hope is that the product serves as a means to not only offer an exclusive product to independents with a nice return, but to be involved and support the different communities as well."
Gliding away from the anthropomorphic, while giving due notice to our feathered friends, Laura Hansen of Bookin' It bookstore, Little Falls, Minn., wonders, "Did no one recommend Nicholas Drayson's A Guide to the Birds of East Africa? A men's club version of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series filled with miscalculations, mishaps, misnomers, missteps, misgivings, birds, betting men, and--sigh!--a happy ending."
Finally, in the spirit of an election year, equal time should be given to animating inanimate objects. Gavin Grant of Small Beer Press suggests one from the home team: "Couch by Benjamin Parzybok, which we are publishing in November. The tag line is 'Three guys carry a couch, save the world' (or as someone said at the Brooklyn Book Fest, 'Tolkein with a couch')." Or, as notes on the back cover warn, "The couch--huge and orange--won't let them put it down."
Since we'll be separating fun fiction from nonfiction in the final installment--and revealing the complete list--perhaps we should preview all that with some thoughts from our bibliophilic rodent, Firmin, who observed, "I had read a great many of the books under FICTION before I halfway understood what the sign meant and why certain books had been placed under it. I had thought I was reading the history of the world. Even today I must constantly remind myself, sometimes by means of a rap on the head, that Eisenhower is real while Oliver Twist is not."--Robert Gray (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)