Instant Guide

This dog's life: The rise of the pet memoir

Our furry friends are dominating the publishing industry. Why are "dogoirs" doing so well?

"The entire book industry has gone to the dogs," says Diane Herbst in Newsweek, noting that an unusual number of books penned by dog-owners (or even purportedly by the animals themselves) have made bestseller lists this year and that at least three-dozen "first person dog narratives" (or "dogoirs") were published in 2010. But pooches aren't the only animals with a story to tell. Here, a brief guide to the rise of the pet memoir:

How did the trend start?
Commentators name John Steinbeck's 1962 dog travelogue, Travels With Charley, as an early example, but most agree that the current trend started with John Grogan's 2005 dogoir Marley & Me. It sold a "staggering" 6 million copies and was made into a hit film starring Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston. Before Marley, "dog books didn't get on national bestseller lists," says Dick Donahue, senior editor at Publishers Weekly. Marley's success, says Susan Canavan, an editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, "made editors, writers, and publishers think they can cash in...."

What other pet memoirs have connected?
Vicki Myron's 2008 book Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World became a No. 1 bestseller; a sequel was recently released, and a movie, reportedly starring Meryl Streep, is in development. Bruce Cameron's A Dog's Purpose is also slated to become a movie after a 12-week run on the New York Times bestseller list. And Julie Klam's You Had Me at Woof: How Dogs Taught Me the Secrets of Happiness, published late last month, is already a bestseller.

But it's not just cats and dogs, right?
Indeed. Some more exotic examples include Jenny Gardiner' Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who's Determined To Kill Me, Sy Montgomery's The Good Good Pig: The Extraordinary Life of Christopher Hogwood, and Stacey O’Brien's Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl. "All are worth your time to read, particularly if you need a pick-me-up, laugh a little, weep a little, feel good about the world kind of read," says Maria Christensen at Culture Mob.

Why are these books so hot?
There's a large audience for them. According to Newsweek, Americans have some 77.5 million dogs, and, a 2007 survey found that 63 percent of American households have a pet. And despite the bad economy, most pet owners have not cut back on animal-related expenditures, according to a recent survey from the Pet Products Manufacturers Association. Perhaps because of tough economic times, "people are starved for these stories," says Canavan. "Pets offer this comfort that they're not getting elsewhere."

Sources: Newsweek, Culture Mob, Publishers Weekly (2), The Independent

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