January 26, 2006

"a valentine to 'big, dopey, playful galumphs'"

i'm ususally wary of bestselling books with a dog on the title. dogs can compensate for anything, including lame stories and bad writing. in today's new york times, dinitia smith argues that this one is different:
Why this dog and no other? Why has "Marley & Me," the story of an overly friendly, wildly energetic, highly dysfunctional yellow Labrador retriever, spent the last three months on the best-seller lists, climbing to the No. 2 spot on the forthcoming New York Times hardcover nonfiction list?

Marley was, in a way, a dog who loved too much. He would hurl himself through screen doors to get to Mr. Grogan or his wife, Jenny Vogt. When they locked him in a metal dog crate, he separated the steel bars.

"It looked like the Jaws of Life had pulled it open," Mr. Grogan said. Marley flung drool on guests. He stole Ms. Vogt's underwear. He ate her jewelry. Thunderstorms gave him anxiety attacks, and then he would chew through things, mattresses, the couch.

But "Marley & Me" is not just a book about a dog. In fact, it is a love story, of Mr. Grogan and his wife, a young married couple contemplating having a family. "We were young," the book begins, irresistibly. "We were in love." Ms. Vogt was nervous about caring for a baby and thought a dog "would be good practice," Mr. Grogan writes. A breeder offered them a discount on a puppy. "The little guy's on clearance," Ms. Vogt begged her husband as Marley somersaulted into their laps, gnawed on their fingers and clawed his way up to lick their faces.

in her review for the new york times book magazine in october 2005 janet maslin wrote that it is a book "with intense but narrow appeal, strictly limited to anyone who has ever had, known or wanted a dog." there are quite a few of us -- dinita smith's article is #2 on the nyt's list of the most frequently e-mailed articles today. [update: when at 7.49 p.m. it had climbed to the top of the list, leaving an article about oprah winfrey's change of mind regarding james frey's so-called memoir behind] more from maslin's review:

Mr. Grogan knew the workings of Marley's mind. He makes that abundantly clear in "Marley and Me," a very funny valentine to all those four-legged "big, dopey, playful galumphs that seemed to love life with a passion not often seen in this world." [...] Only occasionally does "Marley and Me" contrive sitcom-ready situations. It's hard to believe that the author, even in the most amorous mood, could have mistaken Marley's warm breath for his wife's until he smelled Milk-Bone biscuits. And the image of a man being slurped on a moving toboggan by a pesky dog is too cartoonishly good to be true - unless the reader realizes how much universal Lab behavior is immortalized here.
i haven't read the book yet, but anything that inspires the juxtaposition of "valentine" and "galumph" has my vote.

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the wonderful word galumph is an invention by lewis carroll "perhaps with some reminiscence of gallop, triumphant" (OED), who first used it in 1872 in "into the looking glass",

He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.
its orginal meaning was "to march on exultingly with irregular bounding movements", now it is used more to express "to gallop heavily; to bound or move clumsily or noisily". the word was quickly picked up by the punch and other magazines. the oxford english dictionary lists the following quotes, among others.
  • 1891 Harper's Mag. Aug. 378/2 He [a dog] became a.. playful, gracefully galumphing, and most affectionate monster.
  • 1930 C. MACKENZIE April Fools xii. 271 Viola..had slept through the stifled cries of her parents beneath the bedclothes when Beyle [sc. a bull-dog] was galumphing round their room
  • 1965 S. RAVEN Friends in Low Places vi. 129 In the hall was a galumphing lass with a lot of jerseys and a po face
you can see that dogs made the list of galumphing creatures quite early, but the use of the word as a noun seems to be more recent -- it's not listed as a noun in the OED yet. (valentine, on the other hand, is listed as a noun and a verb, "of birds: To greet with song, to sing, at mating time", related to "St. Valentine's Day", a day to commemorate two italian saints, "freq. mentioned with reference to the choosing of sweethearts or the mating of birds" since chaucer (OED).


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