Leesfragment: The Big New Yorker Book of Dogs

27 november 2015 , door Malcolm Gladwell
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Deze week verschijnt The Big New Yorker Book of Dogs, met beeld en woord uit The New Yorker rond man's best friend. Met werk van John Cheever, T.C. Boyle, Jonathan Lethem, en een voorwoord van Malcolm Gladwell, dat we vandaag mogen voorpubliceren. 'From the courtroom, I drove to Taro’s bleak, high-security dog run, and listened as his anguished howl rolled across the surrounding countryside: whoof, whoof, whoof, whoof, whoof.'

Only The New Yorker could fetch such an unbelievable roster of talent on the subject of man’s best friend. This copious collection, beautifully illustrated in full color, features articles, fiction, humor, poems, cartoons, cover art, drafts, and drawings from the magazine’s archives. The roster of contributors includes John Cheever, Susan Orlean, Roddy Doyle, Ian Frazier, Arthur Miller, John Updike, Roald Dahl, E. B. White, A. J. Liebling, Alexandra Fuller, Jerome Groopman, Jeffrey Toobin, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Ogden Nash, Donald Barthelme, Jonathan Lethem, Mark Strand, Anne Sexton, and Cathleen Schine. Complete with a Foreword by Malcolm Gladwell and a new essay by Adam Gopnik on the immortal canines of James Thurber, this gorgeous keepsake is a gift to dog lovers everywhere from the greatest magazine in the world.



Like all emotionally fraught relationships in New York City, the interactions between New Yorkers and their dogs — and The New Yorker and the subject of dogs (since we are dealing with a notably intricate Venn diagram here) — are marked by guilt. Those of us who live in tiny, expensive apartments in this crowded, noisy city — who choose to live a life not fit for a dog — suspect that our lives are not fit to share with dogs. We like the fact that we can find fifteen kinds of ethnic food within three blocks of our house, and that the girl across the subway car from us was almost certainly on Law & Order. But these, we worry, are distinctively human pleasures. A dog is supposed to have a backyard to run around in. A dog needs a good bone and a brisk daily walk through verdant pastureland. So we get a dog — or, at least, we think about getting a dog — and we feel bad about it.

A case in point. In my apartment building, I had to sign a notarized document pledging never to bring a dog into my apartment. Yet every morning I am awoken by the barking of my neighbor’s dog. My neighbor signed the same anti-dog pledge I did. But then she went out and got a dog, anyway — smuggling it in and out of the lobby in an Hermès bag, all the while worrying about what the dog thinks of being treated like a piece of contraband.

All three positions in this triad are emotionally equivalent. The co-op board feels guilty about bringing dogs into our building’s cramped and sunless apartments, and so bans them. My neighbor defies the ban, and feels guilty about how her dog feels, zipped up in the bowels of her Hermès bag. And how do I feel about being woken up at six every morning? Guilty, of course. Me and my selfish desire for the dog to be quiet. Who am I to judge an animal with no other meaningful outlet of self-expression? When the barking stops, I picture the dog retreating to the couch, paws in the air, to talk sorrowfully about its lost puppyhood — and my heart breaks.

You will notice that I have two pieces in this collection. I am proud of each. But I would be remiss if I did not tell you about the most important dog story I have ever written. I wrote it when I was a reporter at The Washington Post, and I am convinced that it was why — after I’d spent ten long, lonely years in the newspaper business — The New Yorker’s editors finally noticed me.

It was about Taro, an Akita in Bergen County, in northern New Jersey, who had been convicted of biting a young girl — the niece, as it turned out, of the dog’s owner. Since canine attacks in New Jersey are a capital offense, Taro was on doggy death row in Hackensack as his owner’s frantic last-minute appeals wound their way through the courts. I spent hours with his attorney, a prominent member of the canine bar by the name of Isabelle Strauss. I consulted with Taro’s psychiatrist. I painstakingly reconstructed the events that led to Taro’s criminal charges, until I was convinced that what the prosecution had claimed was a malicious bite was, in fact, an inadvertent swipe by one of Taro’s considerable front paws. It was all a gross miscarriage of justice.

During Taro’s trial, a woman named Helen Doody testified that Taro had attacked and killed her Welsh terrier some three years previously. The relevant parts of the transcript still dwell in my mind. Under what possible principle of justice was this evidence admissible?

doody: The dog was looking at me. The Akita was looking at me like he had accomplished something. He had just a look on his face . . .
strauss: objection, your honor —
doody: ... all blood.
strauss: — to her characterization of what was in the dog’s mind.
doody: He had a very pleased look on his face and he was covered in blood.
judge: Just describe what you saw. I know this is upsetting. But don’t try to tell us what was in the Akita’s mind, because I don’t know whether you—
doody: I can just see his face. I saw his face for weeks in my dreams.

From the courtroom, I drove to Taro’s bleak, high-security dog run, and listened as his anguished howl rolled across the surrounding countryside: whoof, whoof, whoof, whoof, whoof.

But what is the lesson of the Taro story? As the result of my effort, Taro was pardoned by the governor of New Jersey, Christine Todd Whitman. And upon releasing him from death row, she made a single stipulation: that he leave the state and live out his days on the other side of the Hudson. Governor Whitman looked at what had been done to an innocent Akita by the legal authorities within her jurisdiction and realized that New Jersey was not fit for a dog. And where did she decide was fit for a dog? New York! Oh, the irony. We beat ourselves up here in the big city over our cramped and sunless apartments, and we forget that it could be worse. Across the river, in the verdant pastures of New Jersey, a dog is every day denied justice.

A few words about you. You bought this book: several hundred pages on dogs. You are, in other words, as unhealthily involved in the emotional life of dogs as the rest of us are. Have you wondered why you bought it? One possible answer is that you see the subject of man’s affection for dogs as a way of examining all sorts of broader issues. Is it the case of a simple thing revealing a great many complex truths? We do a lot of this at The New Yorker. To be honest: I do a lot of this at The New Yorker — always going on and on about how A is just a metaphor for B, and blah, blah, blah. But let’s be clear. You didn’t really buy this book because of some grand metaphor. Dogs are not about something else. Dogs are about dogs.

Another case in point. One of the first articles in this collection is “Dog Story” by Adam Gopnik. Adam is a friend of mine. He is a brilliant man who lives with his family in an apartment uptown. Adam doesn’t just write about how A is actually about B. He specializes in pieces that argue that A is actually about B, and B is an outgrowth of C, and C has a surprising connection to D, and so on, like a elaborate version of a Russian nesting doll, except that every time you open the doll you see a smaller doll inside that is tweaked in a subtle and counterintuitive way. Adam’s Russian dolls mutate. Except when the subject is dogs. “Dog Story” is about Butterscotch, the dog that Adam’s daughter, Olivia, insisted on getting. So what is “Dog Story” really about? What is the doll inside the doll inside the doll inside Butterscotch? Why, it’s Butterscotch!

To this day, people ask me the same thing about my efforts on behalf of Taro, the death row dog. What was that about, Malcolm? My answer is always the same. It was not about anything, except the plight of this brave, incarcerated Akita. Isn’t that enough? In a world where one New Jersey dog is not safe from overzealous prosecution, no New Jersey dog is safe from overzealous prosecution. Let us leave the grand gestures and the metaphors to the cat people.

I know what you are thinking right now. You’re thinking that there’s a twist about to happen — that I’m going to reveal, dramatically, that “Butterscotch” is, in fact, Taro, exiled from the moral wilderness of Bergen County to a junior six on the Upper East Side. In the Hollywood version of this introduction, that would indeed happen. But this is not Hollywood. This is The Big New Yorker Book of Dogs. Taro is Taro.

Butterscotch is Butterscotch. Besides, how on earth would Adam find an Hermès bag big enough to sneak an Akita past his doorman?

I have a favorite in this collection. It is Ben McGrath’s “Man Blames Dog.” It begins, “Pity the poor dog. In this time of heightened fear — of drugs, of bombs, of the things we humans might do to one another — man increasingly asks so much of him.” It turns out that a Hell’s Kitchen nightclub called Sound Factory had been required by authorities to employ a drug-sniffing dog — in this case, a seven- year-old black Labrador named Fanta. But when the police raided Sound Factory they found Fanta fast asleep. McGrath ever so briefly entertains the notion that Fanta might have been derelict in her duties before he rushes to her defense. Fanta was commuting into the city, we are told, from eastern Pennsylvania, an hour and a half away. The raid happened at six in the morning, at which point Fanta had already been at work for five hours. “So yeah, she was sleeping,” her handler told McGrath, and here we have it all: the injured tones, the defensiveness, the guilt over subjecting man’s best friend to five hours of electronic music every night. Who among us has not stood in her shoes? “There’s nothing for her to do,” she went on. “Am I supposed to tell her to stand at attention? I can’t explain to her that she must stay awake for no reason.”

You will stay awake, dear reader. And with good reason. Whoof, whoof, whoof, whoof, whoof.

Copyright © 2012 by The New Yorker Magazine

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