HOROWITZ, ALEXANDRA. Inside of a Dog. New York: Scribner, 2010. ISBN: 978-1-4165-8343-1. Pp. 352. $16.00.
Hats off to Alexandra Horowitz for bumping Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love out of the number one seat. It's about time. Perhaps it goes without saying that Inside of a Dog probably will not be where it is today six months from now, but it provides a welcome change, seeing that people are losing interest in rich divorcées in favor of the dog.
You might have noticed that I own cats. Do not be fooled. I was born a dog-person and while growing up, my parents compensated my lack of dog by giving me dog books for Christmas. Thus, for someone who has never had her own dog, I know a hell of a lot about them. I feel the need to say all this to hopefully convince the untrained reader that I can appreciate a good doggy book. Which is what Inside of a Dog is. A damn good doggy book. Reading it re-awoke my childhood dream of one day being a dog owner. This is how lovingly Horowitz reconstructs for us the inner workings of her subject.
Horowitz is a psychology professor at Barnard College, with a concentration in animal psychology, which in turn is with a concentration in dog psychology. She has also written for the New Yorker. She is clearly a talented science writer, absorbing dry scientific papers and producing snappy, interesting synopses for the layman's benefit. Even her bibliography, which is impressively extensive, is interesting to read. As far as bibliographies go, of course.
Still, Horowitz is a scientist first, a writer second. More often than not I found her sentences overly convoluted, requiring a re-reading to figure out what was the object, the subject, the verb. For example, "Monkeys can make use of nearby birds' warning calls of a nearby predator to themselves take protective action". Huh? Elsewhere, Horowitz employs the repetition of certain words to get a point across, but reading the word "attention" five or six times in as many sentences can get tiresome. I also noticed in the last third of the book her growing fondness for using colons: where a comma would have done.
Nevertheless, Inside of a Dog was written with a purpose, and Horowitz realizes that purpose beautifully. I am sure that many of the people who will buy and read this book are the same people I see putting booties on their dogs and forcing them to heel a quarter of an inch away from their owner's right calf. This book lovingly explains why you should not do these things. It serves instead as a reminder of the dog-ness most of us appreciate and love, and as a plea to let the dog-ness be. I should mention that Horowitz is not anti-dog training or anything of the sort, and even provides useful tips at the end of the book. But Inside of a Dog is a celebration of dogs for what they are and what we should let them be.