Archives for posts with tag: New York Review Books

My Dog Tulip Book cover, JR Ackerley

Admittedly I don’t read a lot of books about dogs, loving them, caring for them, grooming and breeding and healing and so on. But then again, My Dog Tulip is not a book about dogs;  it’s a portrait of one in particular, Tulip, and how her distinctly canine personality is all her own.

I had a wonderful dog growing up, a big black lab named Sheba. I loved her as a pet, but now that I’ve read about the intimacies and intricacies of Ackerley and Tulip, I’m not so sure that we did the best we could by each other. Ackerley chronicles Tulip’s adventures with a gentle curiosity, and manages to somehow never speak on her behalf, only having  her loving and protective and occasionally beastly self shine through.

Together these lovers try to come to some sort of understanding of each other, though their differing natures dispose them to continual miscommunication and anxiety. All they have are gestures, and Ackerliy is moved often by Tulip’s choosing appropriate places to defecate, which he interprets as her canine means of showing loving consideration. He is also shamed by his occasional inability to understand her needs, even when she’s doing her best to straight up tell the guy. This to me seems to approximately characterize almost all relationships, especially where love is involved.

The crazy thing about this book is that Ackerley never seems gushy, sentimental, he never breaks down into ‘puppy talk.’ Rather he catalogs Tulip’s moods with respect to her internal dignity. While he claims to acknowledge the effect of anthropomorphism–the danger in collapsing animal emotions into human ones–he frequently falls into contradiction: Tulip is given many humanizing characteristics, but only because ‘love’ is a written word, and canines aren’t much for reading.

That said, it seems like one could learn a lot about the meaning of love from the way that Ackerley and Tulip care for each other, from the ways they devote themselves to one another while always respecting each others liberty.

I never thought I’d say this, but I want to learn how to love like a dog.

Pinochio Book Cover, New York Review of Books


What an absolute joy!

I’d never read the original, which is to say Carlo Collodi’s, version of  Pinocchio before, and though I was looking forward to it I was expecting something completely different. Rather than flowery ‘Olde Thyme-y’ language, I was delighted to be wrapped up completely in Collodi’s clear and playful prose, beautifully translated by Geoffery Brock.*

He’s like the Grampa you’ve always wanted.

I honestly never really liked the Disney movie, even as a kid, because I was more into elephants, as a matter of principle. I remember it, though, with the Jiminy Cricket character and his gentle Yankee ways. And the terrifying (and, as Rebecca West notes, uncomfortably racist) puppet master. And the drunken bubbles scene. Oh wait, that was Dumbo. I really did like elephants. Anyhow.

The Pinocchio that traipses around Collodi’s story is a real brat. Not only does he lie and skip school and take things that aren’t his, but he’s finicky and whiny and a picky eater to boot. He’s basically already a real boy, before some kind of scary fairy makes it so. And it’s not like I was officially rooting for him throughout the story. Well, not for all of it anyway.

The point is that even though he’s a horrible little bugger, there’s something sweet about him, even before he ‘turns good.’ He’s a kid, and he’s gross and sticky and does dumb things, and even if he doesn’t make long term commitments, even if he doesn’t consider love a responsibility to care, when I overhear him thinking about his in the moment love for Geppetto or for the girl with the blue hair,  yeah, I’m rooting for him.

I really liked how cold the blue haired fairy was, and the way that Geppetto was so deeply poor that his character was coarsened by the continual friction of need. The first half of Pinocchio is dark, and in the end of the first book Pinocchio is hanged to death. In the second half he is resuscitated by the girl with the blue hair, and she becomes some strange sort of regulatory sister/mother/lover who simultaneously nurtures and tortures the wooden puppet.

The story was magical in the good way, where the prose was simple and I could choose to either read it flat, like a kid, or read it deep in light of what little I know about the extremely poor living conditions of day to day Tuscany in the 1800s.  Not to get too  off base, but in parts I was reminded of the knobby kneed child villain in Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, which happens, by the by, to be one of my all time faves. There’s something about kids being these Hobbesian creatures, these selfish little savages that rings true to life, or at least true to the way I pleasantly recall my own wild childhood. Collodi’s little wooden puppet is a beautiful example of this wilderness, and in reading the tale also offers both a moral and emotional redemption from the savageness of childhood; even before he is good, he is lovable. And like an adult, Pinocchio comes to understand that to love and be loved is to agree, implicitly and always, to be good.


*This sentence was edited from it’s original published form, which did not name Geoffrey Brock as the translator.