There's a lot going on right now. Time to curl up for a bit.

By David Canfield
March 12, 2020 at 02:56 PM EDT
Illustration by EW

Books of the canine persuasion can get a little ruff, but these novels are seriously good. And for no particular reason, we've been looking for some reads recently that are both involving and, well, a little soothing. Here are a few favorites. (Dog-earing permitted.)

Nose Down, Eyes Up By Merrill Markoe (2008)

Dysfunctional-family comedy meets dog novel in this acerbic book by former TV writer Markoe (Late Night With David Letterman). Middle-aged layabout Gil learns to communicate with dogs, including his alpha canine, Jimmy. Then Jimmy comes to realize that his biological family lives with another set of humans: Gil's ex-wife and her new husband. So kicks off the messy reunion between not one but two wild clans. There's lots to enjoy here, from the spousal bickering and secret spilling to, yes, the talking dog.

Biloxi By Mary Miller (2019)

Grumps don't come more endearing than Louis McDonald Jr., the 63-year-old hero of the latest redemptive tale from Miller (Big World). He's been a pretty rotten person since his wife left him, but finds a new outlook on life after Layla, a chubby mixed-breed, comes into his world. Biloxi is slow and sticky, just like its Southern setting, and rich with observational humor. This dog may not do many tricks, but she can eat the hell out of a bologna slice off the floor. That's realism, folks.

The Friend By Sigrid Nunez (2018)

The National Book Award sticker rightly signals a good read, but be sure your brain is on high alert here. Nunez's lauded, darkly funny saga of an aging writer and the Great (Great!) Dane she inherits from her late friend feels a little glum at times — why we recommend reading during a stormy afternoon — but it's more perceptive about dogs and our curious connection to them than anything else on this list: two grieving souls, of two different species, finding a little solace in each other.

Cold Nose, Warm Heart By Mara Wells (2020)

A historic Miami Beach dog park is at risk of destruction in Wells' kickoff to a new romance series as engaging for its vivid setting as it is for the (potential) couple at its center. Sparks fly between Riley, manager of a run-down art deco apartment building, and Caleb, the man planning to convert it into a luxury condo block — and turn the park next door into a parking lot. Riley (and her chic rescue poodle, LouLou) won't go down without a fight, however, especially with an army of pooches behind her.

The Art of Racing in the Rain By Garth Stein (2008)

What's it like inside a dog's head? Allow Enzo, by now one of pop culture's more famous pups, to tell you his life story. The hero of Stein's best-seller, recently adapted into a film starring Milo Ventimiglia, believes he's a human trapped in a Lab mix's body — oh, how he longs for thumbs! — but has a lot to learn from his master, racecar driver Denny, about how to be one. This dog dies in the end (we couldn't totally avoid the cliché), but trust us, in this lifetime-spanning novel, it's hardly a spoiler.

Separation Anxiety by Laura Zigman (2020)

Judy's parents have recently died, her best friend could soon die from cancer, and who knows if her marriage is already dead. But after developing an unusual coping mechanism (see the book's cover for a clue), she feels a sense of connection that may just bring her back to life. Zigman calls this witty novel "semi-autobiographical fiction."

The Call of the Wild By Jack London (1903)

The classic of this group, newly adapted as a movie with Harrison Ford (out now), London's brutal novel follows Buck on his harrowing journey from pampered ranch pet to abused sled dog. Transported to Alaska, where he learns to survive, Buck sheds his civilized upbringing and embraces his instincts in a vivid natural backdrop. You won't get the warm puppy fuzzies most of these others offer, but you'll find profundity in its raw beauty and a new appreciation for canine independence.

Lily and the Octopus By Steven Rowley (2016)

"Man's best friend" — the phrase lives up to its meaning and then some in Rowley's magical-realist tragicomedy. A portrait of the unbreakable bond between a newly single gay man and his ailing dachshund companion of 12 years, Lily, it's a perfect take on the love between man and pup, filled with wise quotes you'll want to get etched on a throw pillow. Things get fantastical. Things get sad. Bring tissues. (And, bonus: Michael Urie's audiobook narration is hysterically good.)

**

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