Good Pup

Staff PicksShepherd Park/Juanita E. Thornton Library

Good Pup

The cover series: part 2

People say you can't judge a book by its cover. We are about to embark on a cover series on OverDrive for e-audiobooks to discover why. Today's entry: dogs.

Dogs appear in various artistic forms on covers spanning a wide number of genres. This is great for people who love reading about pups but could these rover reads have anything else in common? Who are these covers being marketed to? This sampling of random canine covered audio books will help us find out.

Lily and the Octopus by Stephen Rowley
Ted is a Los Angeles urbanite who lives with his dachshund Lily. Lily is all he really needs. He hasn't been one for relationships after breaking up with his long term boyfriend and life is going just fine until he realizes that Lily has what only he can recognize as an octopus attached to her head. A quirky and beautiful exploration of grief, Rowley's novel dabbles with magical realism, while providing readers a poignant reminder of the wonder of loving another being. The cover does the book justice, but mostly because the title is right on track with the book's charming surrealism. It's just over the line into "able-to-be-judged" category.

Outfoxed by David Rosenfelt
Do you like noir detective films, Sam Waterston Law & Order episodes, and dogs? If you answered yes to all three, this is the book for you. Andy Carpenter is a New Jersey defense attorney, who also happens to work as a partner in a dog rescue. When a client of his escapes from jail and kidnaps one of the dogs who participates in a program for incarcerated people, things are looking grim. When the client's wife turns up dead shortly after and the blame is pinned on Carpenter's otherwise peaceful client, the thoughtful defense attorney can't help but think that something more nefarious is afoot. This is the 14th book in the Andy Carpenter series, so if you enjoy it, there's plenty more. Sadly, the cover doesn't provide much in terms of understanding the plot, and there's no way anyone could guess this was a procedural novel with the autumn picture of a foxhound. The dog focused on in the book doesn't even have a breed mentioned.

The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz
Amy runs a golden retriever rescue and picks up a new golden named Nikki from a rough living situation. Simultaneously, mysterious people are looking into Amy's past for unknown threatening purposes. With this mix between a story for dog lovers and a mid-grade suspense novel, Dean Koontz strays slightly from his usual horror and thriller content. Although the book is decently written and would likely appeal to people who loved reading the Shiloh series as a child, the cover is not convincingly representative of either aspect of the story. The silhouette of a golden retriever in a copse of trees against a sunset only reveals that the book has a focus on a dog and does nothing to portray the low level suspense. This is possibly a disservice to both segments of readers: dog lovers who might not appreciate suspense and violence, and suspense lovers who might be otherwise disinterested in a canine centered read. 

Mr. Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt
A fascinating fictionalized account of Winston Churchill's battle with depression, this novel follows the troublesome antics of a large anthropomorphized shaggy labrador. In life, Churchill often referred to his depression with the Victorian era expression of having a black dog on his back, a metaphor revived in 2017 with Kaye Blegvad's widely lauded (and subsequently published in book format) illustrated article on depression in BuzzFeed. Hunt leans into the idea, providing a thorough examination of how depression can impact the day to day operations and long term choices of those living with it. As this is by nature a difficult idea to sum up in an illustration, the cover actually does a fairly good job, as Churchill's iconic hat is present and is held by the shadow of a dog. An individual who knew of Churchill's depression would understand the reference fairly quickly. For those who do not, the setting of the cover is an adequate representation of the feel of the story.

True Prep by Lisa Birnbach
With this followup to her 1980 bestseller The Preppy Handbook, Birnbach is back with a collection of tongue-in-cheek short stories and essays about how preppy people have adapted to changes of the 2000s. While certainly not based around dogs, canines do come up with regularity, particularly when they can be used as an icon of preppy culture. The book also features guest essays from a variety of writers. The cover does a good job of portraying the feel of the book, with its vertical pastel stripes and bubblegum pink crest-like dogs.

Radiance by Alyson Noel
Any fiction list for adults should be careful not to discount YA (young adult) reads. This one is a great one. A surreal tale of the afterlife, the book follows Riley and her dog as she navigates what her purpose is as a teen if she never got to grow up on Earth. Assigned the task of helping lost souls reach the afterlife, Riley discovers her strengths and weaknesses. This book is the first in a series of four. The cover is completely on point and clearly displays the story at hand.

So for a random sampling of OverDrive's pup covered reads, can you judge them with a glance? Let's take a look at our numbers.
Yes: 4
No: 2
Darkest Evening and Outfoxed do poorly with this, but overall, I have to say I'm fairly impressed by the cover reliability for man's best friend. Considering how poorly fruit manifests a plot line on a cover, I was expecting that dogs would be just as unpredictable. So what's different here?

My initial assessment is that because humans tend to have such a long history with dogs, there's a clearer understanding of what they can represent in different contexts. Certain types of dogs are often associated with specific feelings or character traits. Dachshunds tend to be viewed as comical or absurd due to their proportions, labradors are known for their companionship, and different dog breeds are associated with specific economic classes. There's also a deep amount of mythology and legend surrounding dogs that provides fertile ground for plots and imagery. All these factors might make it easier to visually depict a dog on a cover in a way that accurately reveals something about a book. It would be interesting to see how this is scaled in the larger publishing industry, and would be fairly straightforward to explore.