A Dog's Life
Into the Woods, 37: For our Feline Friends

A Dog's Life, Part II

Maurice Senkak and MelvinMaurice Sendak and Melvin

Refections on community, literature, and language by Marilynne Robinson (from When I Was a Child I Read Books):

"I would say, for the moment, that community, at least community larger than the immediate family, consists largely of imaginative love for people we do not know or whom we know very slightly. This thesis may be influenced by the fact that I have spent literal years of my life lovingly absorbed in the thoughts and perceptions of -- who knows it better than I? -- people who do not exist. And, just as writers are engrossed in the making of them, readers are profoundly moved and also influenced by the nonexistent, that great clan whose numbers increase prodigiously with every publishing season. I think fiction may be, whatever else, an exercise in the capacity for imaginative love, or sympathy, or identification.

John Cheever and Flora (photograph by Jill Krementz)John Cheever and Flora

Kurt Vonnegut and Pumpkin (photography by Jill Krementz)Kurt Vonnegut and Pumpkin

"I love the writers of my thousand books. It pleases me to think how astonished old Homer, whoever he was, would be to find his epics on the shelf of such an unimaginable being as myself, in the middle of an unrumored continent. I love the large minority of the writers on my shelves who have struggled with words and thoughts and, by my lights, have lost the struggle.

Edward Albee and PoochiEdward Albee and Poochi

E.L. Doctorow and Becky (photo by Jill Krementz)E.L. Doctorow and Becky

"All together they are my community, the creators of the very idea of books, poetry, and extended narratives, and of the amazing human conversation that has taken place across millennia, through weal and woe, over the heads of interest and utility.

Mary Oliver and Percy (photograph by Rachel Giese Brown) Mary Oliver and Percy

John Katz and one of the dogs of Bedlam FarmJohn Katz and one of the dogs of Bedlam Farm

"We live on a little island of the articulable, which we tend to mistake for reality itself. We can and do make small and tedious lives as we sail through the cosmos on our uncannily lovely little planet, and this is surely remarkable. But we do so much else besides.

Ann Patchett with Rose (photograph by Jill Krementz)Ann Patchett and Rose

Amy Tan and her dog (photograph by Jill Krementz)Amy Tan and Bubba Zo

"For example, we make language. A language is a grand collaboration, a collective art form that we begin to master as babes and sucklings, and which we preserve, modify, cull, enlarge as we pass through our lives....

Isabel Allende with her husband and their dog OliveIsabel Allende, her husband, and Olive

Stephen King and his dog Marlowe (photograph by Jill Krementz)Stephen King and Marlowe

"One of the pleasures of writing is that so often I know that there is in fact a word that is perfect for the use that I want to put it to, and when I summon it it comes, though I might not have thought of it for years. And then I think, somewhere someone was the first person to use that word. Then how did it make its way into the language, and how did it retain the specificity that makes it perfect for the present use? Language is profoundly communal, and in the mere fact of speaking, then writing, a wealth of language grows and thrives among us that has enabled thought and knowledge in a degree we could never calculate. As individuals and as a species, we are unthinkable without our communities.

Jonathan Carroll and JackJonathan Carroll and Jack

Neil Gaiman and CabalNeil Gaiman and Cabal

"I remember once, as a child, walking into a library, looking around at the books, and thinking, I could do that. In fact I didn't do it until I was well into my thirties, but the affinity I felt with books as such preserved in me the secret knowledge that I was a writer when any dispassionate appraisal of my life would have dismissed the notion entirely.

Charles de Lint with Johnny Cash (white fur) and friendCharles de Lint with Johnny Cash (white fur) and friend

Alice Hoffman and Houdini (photograph by Richard Howard)Alice Hoffman and Houdini

"So I belong to the community of the written word in several ways. First, books have taught me most of what I know, and they have trained my attention and my imagination. Second, they gave me a sense of the possible, which is the great service -- and too often, when it is ungenerous, the great disservice -- a community performs for its members. Third, they embodied richness and refinement of language in the service of the imagination. Fourth, they gave me and still give me courage.

Kinuko Y. Craft and her dog WolfgangKinuko Y. Craft and Wolfgang

Brian Froud and ElfieBrian Froud and Elfie

Rima Staines and MachaRima Staines and Macha

"Sometimes, when I have spent days in my study dreaming a world while the world itself shines outside my windows, forgetting to call my mother because one of my nonbeings has come up with a thought that interests me, I think, this is a very odd way to spend a life. But I have my library all around me, my cloud of witnesses to the strangeness and brilliance of human experience, who have helped me to my deepest enjoyment of it. Every writer I know, when asked how to become a writer, responds with one word: Read. Excellent advice, for a great many reasons, a few of which I have suggested here."

Taiko Maria Haessler and Buju (in puppyhood)Taiko Maria Haessler and Buju (in puppyhood)

Howard Gayton and TillyHoward Gayton and Tilly

Tomorrow: the cats' turn.