Battlepanda: Monday Book Blogging: The Dogs of Bedlam Farm by Jon Katz


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Monday Book Blogging: The Dogs of Bedlam Farm by Jon Katz

O.K. I'll confess. This book caught my attention because it had a cute border collie on the cover. When I picked it up and saw that there's a picture of a border collie and a donkey together, I knew that I was probably going to buy it. What can I say, I'm a sucker for animal stories, especially in rural settings.

However, The Dogs of Bedlam Farm is a very different book from the James Herriot-esque heartwarming-tales-from-the-farm type material I was expecting. Katz seems to be a neurotic Jewish writer who is on a slightly quixotic mission -- to purchase and live on a working farm in Upstate New York tending sheep with his border collies. He does occasionally sell the odd sheep or fleece, but it's obvious that he is not choosing this thankless life for pecuniary reasons. In fact, I'm still not entirely sure I can explain Katz's decision. But it was not something I questioned while I read the book, because living the farm life was obviously so important to Katz. It was a kind of spiritual quest for him and his dogs. I admire him for his tenacity and discipline, and in a funny way, his integrity -- which I am not using as a synonym for "honesty" but to describe his unshakable persistence in doing what he thinks will make him happy and whole despite the fact that it is totally crazy.

Unlike my co-blogger Brock, I am definitely a dog rather than a cat person (the fact that being in the presence of cats have the tendency to make my eyelids swell shut kind of make this a foregone conclusion). Some of the strongest part of this book delves into the human-dog bond, what it is and isn't. I suspect that this partially is why sheep herding so attracted Katz -- it's such an iconic partnership between man and dog, and you can see Katz struggling to find larger meanings through it. I find myself pondering such matters myself as I played tug of war with Dodo with her favorite dandylion toy -- what is going through that little walnut-sized brain of hers? How can we share so many experiences together and yet have no idea of what's really going on in each other's heads? It's all rather remarkable really.

Overall, I'd say that this book is more about Katz than dogs (sorry). But that doesn't mean it's not good. And there are cute donkey stories sprinkled here and there too, which can only be a good thing.

The book for this week is a little different than usual -- I'm reading a book that teaches you HTML and CSS that is part of the Head First series. I'm a few chapters in, but I can honestly say I'm impressed thusfar. The real test will come in the later chapters though, when I really start getting into material I'm unfamiliar with.