The Last 50 books I Read

I did not read as many books in 2018 as I did in the previous two years. We got a puppy in March, and  another in late December, so maybe that’s why. Maybe I also started paying more attention to the news, but after a few months I knocked it off. Maybe I remembered a piece of advice I got a number of years ago: Don’t Watch Bad Goes.

My favorite work of fiction among these titles is “Milkman,” by Anna Burns, followed by Gail Honeyman’s “Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine.” My favorite non-fiction was Tara Westover’s “Educated: A Memoir.” I have continued to try to read books by women authors, but have made a couple of exceptions since making that pledge.

January 2018

Elizabeth Strout’s “My Name is Lucy Barton,” which is like “The Handmaid’s Tale” but historical fiction, so less stressful.

Roxane Gay’s “Bad Feminist”

Gail Honeyman’s “Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine”

“Dust Tracks on a Road” an autobiography by Zora Neale Hurston

“Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng

February 2018

“The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter” by Theodora Goss, the super adventures of the daughters of monsters

“The Ice House” by Minette Walters

“A Darker Shade of Magic” by V. E. Schwab

“The Power” by Naomi Alderman, fun times in the land of misandry tag.

March 2018

Mary S. Lovell’s “Straight on till Morning: The Life of Beryl Markham” (which took me a year to finish)

“Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi

April 2018

Gish Jen’s portrait of creepy suburban Asian Americans “The Love Wife”

The steam-punk hippo western, “River of Teeth,” by Sarah Gailey

“Home” by Marilynne Robinson

May 2018

“Lila,” by Marilynne Robinson

“All the Answers,” a graphic novel by my Twitter friend Michael Kupperman

“Gilead” by Marilynne Robinson (a reread)

“Woman at Point Zero,” by Nawal El Saadawi

June 2018

“Smoke gets in your Eyes,” by Caitlin Doughty

“Everything Happens for a Reason,” by Kate Bowler

Jennifer Egan’s “Manhattan Beach”

July 2018

“Tin Man,” by Sarah Winnab

“The Scorpio Races” by Maggie Stiefvater

Barbara Ehrenreich’s grouchy “Natural Causes”

August 2018

“A Mind to Murder” by P.D. James

Svetlana Alexievich’s “The Unwomanly Face of War”…interviews of female soviet war veterans

“The Dry: A Novel” by Jane Harper

Jack London’s “White Fang,” which I listened to on Audible because it was free, and really, I almost couldn’t get past the extremely racist and tiresomely sexist bits, but the dog stuff was pretty engaging, especially since I was traveling with a dog when I listened to it.

Gail Caldwell’s “Let’s Take the Long Way Home” …a salad of dogs, friendship, and cancer, tossed in a dressing of sobriety

September 2018

N.K. Jemisin’s “The Fifth Season”

“Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America,” written and read by John Waters, an excellent road trip audiobook.

October 2018

Tara Westover’s “Educated: A Memoir”

Catherynne M. Valente’s rollicking “Space Opera,” which is as good as Douglas Adams but without his heteronormative nonsense.

November 2018

“Leadership” by Doris Kearns Goodwin…I read her book about Lincoln when I was in the leadership cohort in business school and I swear I quoted it in at least five different papers. My leadership challenges these days are all dog-related, so this one didn’t grab me the way the Lincoln book did.

“Washington Black” by Esi Edugyan

December 2018

Audre Lorde’s “Sister Outsider”

Feminism is for Everybody” by bell hooks, because if you are reading this, you are, actually, a feminist.

January 2019

“A Conspiracy of Truths,” by Alexandra Rowland. These are times for books about liars and storytellers and spies.

February 2019

“Pachinko” by Min Jin Lee

March 2019

“Milkman” by Anna Burns, and I can’t wait to reread it.

April 2019

“All Systems Red” by Martha Wells, the first of the Murderbot novellas, which are my favorite sci-fi in decades.

“Trump Sky Alpha” by Mark Doten, in which the current US president brings about the end of the world

Chuck Wendig’s “Blackbirds”

Joan Didion’s “The White Album”

“Born a Crime,” an autobiography by Trevor Noah, who reads the audiobook. Parts of this were so funny I had to stop listening to it on an airplane because I was laughing so loudly I was afraid I was being rude.

May 2019

Jane Rawson’s “A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists,” which was kind of like “The Phantom Tollbooth” but for gin drinkers.

Peter Shinkle’s “Ike’s Mystery Man: The Secret Lives of Robert Cutler,” which I read because Peter is one of my oldest brother’s closest and oldest friends. Turns out I liked it anyway.

“Artificial Condition” by Martha Wells

“Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” 1960s essays by Joan Didion, which I listened to as an audiobook read by Dianne Keaton, who sounds so gloriously Los Angelean, with her sloppy diction and flat delivery, I’m ready to pack my books, give away my sweaters, and move (slowly) to Malibu.

Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Poisonwood Bible” …I don’t know how it took so long for me to get around to this book because it’s the kind of thing I like, and I found it very satisfying. I bet my mother read it in her book group right around 2000, and sent me her copy when she finished, and I dismissed it with an eye roll as the kind of thing my mother would read with her book group. It is beautifully written, intimate, engrossing and larger than life, and has connections to Marilynne Robinson’s, Peter Shinkle’s, and Tara Westover’s books.

Little E at the Big Show

There are dog shows, and then there is the one that everyone has heard of, the one in that movie about dog shows, the big one in New York City: the Westminster Kennel Club Show. Eggi qualified her very first time in the show ring, by winning a major, and I didn’t know that when it happened, and really didn’t know what that meant. 

Eggi arrived at Westminster and was the only open class bitch in the vizslas. Her sisters both finished their championships about ten days before and would move up to compete for best of breed. Vizslas are in the sporting group, and their classes were Tuesday. 

733A2406-x-MaggieA snow storm was forecast to begin around 8 am that day, changing to freezing rain in time for the evening commute. We decided on Sunday to book a room for two nights at one of the hotels served by the dog show shuttle. Monday afternoon I drove up and picked up my friend S and her bitch, Vivva, who is Eggi’s sister. At the hotel the sisters rode the elevator, used the artificial turf potty balcony on the 12th floor, and chased each other around the room.

Our show day started early. We caught the second shuttle which left from the front of the other dog show hotel, the Pennsylvania, which I had been warned to avoid.


Eggi shivered most of the ride. At the show I took her to the exercise pens to pee several times but she wouldn’t even smell the situation. She stayed in her kennel until it was time for vizslas.


S had hired a professional handler to show her bitch, but did not want to sit in the front row of spectators lest her dogs spot her.

733A2401-x-MaggieA woman in the front row turned and said to no one in particular, “I don’t know why anyone would bring a class dog to Westminster!”

Eggi had no competition for the open bitches, so all she had to do was beat the open dog to take the best of winners ribbon (and the point). I’ve watched Eggi do enough showing to witness the losing. We’ve lost to dogs with pointy little heads, and bitches that misbehaved. The class dog was scrawny and small, with a shrimpy pelvis and a pointy little head.  Did that guy even feed his dog? I got that surge of adrenaline that you get when you really really must not lose. 

733A2395-x-MaggieAnd then, it was over.

Eggi got her winners bitch rosette and took best of winners. Her sister V got an award of merit.

I watched pointers and akitas and a little of the Nova Scotian Duck Tolling Retrievers after that. The thing is that what the put on TV (the groups and then best in show) skips over the bulk of a dog show, which is what happens in the breeds. Every dog you see representing their breed has beaten a bunch of other, winning dogs and bitches to get there. This is the real meat of any dog show sandwich. If all you ever see is the best of breeds and the best in show, that’s just the pickle and toothpick; you’ve missed out on the unique pleasure of a dozen of the same breed of dog, prancing or lumbering around in a big circle, being halted and stacked, having their bites examined, and the judge making their choices with the pointing of a finger or hand. It’s all over in an instant if you don’t pay careful attention. 

Eulogy for a GMC

Apologies to Churchill and King George VI

My friends, when the death of the truck occurred in February there struck a deep and solemn note in our lives. It stilled the diesel clatter in our yard, and the screaming belts that made countless human beings pause and look around them. A new sense of values for the time being took possession of us, and a Ford SUV presented itself to us at the same moment in its serenity and its sorrow, in its splendor and in its expense, in its fortitude, and in our suffering.

The truck was greatly loved by all our family. It was respected as a vehicle and a Puller of Trailers far beyond the many roads over which it drove. The simple dignity of its life, its manly virtues, its sense of duty–alike as ruler and servant of the vast highways and passengers for which it bore responsibility–its gay growl and happy rumble, its example as the truck of the fleet, its courage on pavement or off–all these were aspects of its character which won the glint of admiration, now here, now there, from the innumerable eyes whose gaze fell upon the GMC Sierra 2500.

We thought of it as naval lieutenant in the towing of the boat. We thought of it as head cowboy when, calmly, without ambition or want of self-confidence, it trailered our beloved horses up and down the west coast of America. We thought of it, so faithful in daily commutes to Redmond, and later, to a commuter train station parking lot in Westchester, New York, so Large when parallel parked on a city street, but responsive during stop-and-go traffic, and yet able to stop when necessary, so uplifted above the clatter of ordinary traffic, yet so attentive to the driver, so able to drive over a curb, or pothole. All this we saw and admired, its conduct on the roads of America may be a model and a guide to heavy duty pickups throughout the world to-day, and also in future generations.

Through the last few months of the truck’s life, with the squeaky belts, rust, iffy AC and mice living in the engine it endured–its life secretly hanging by a thread from day to day, and it was all the time cheerful and undaunted, stricken in body, but quite undisturbed and even unaffected in spirit. This has made a profound and enduring impression, and should be a help to us all.

It was sustained not only by its natural buoyancy but by the sincerity of its American make. During these last years, landscapers and contractors spoke to us in admiration of it, making informal offers if we ever intended to part. Once, the Bacon Provider was asked (in Spanish) if he could haul some horses from a horse show. In the end, death came as a result of putting me in a dangerous situation, instead of after a happy day of sunshine and sport.

In this period of mourning and meditation, amid our cares and toils, we may draw comfort for tonight and strength for the future from its bearing and fortitude. There was another tie between King George and his people. It was not only the sorrow and affliction that they shared. Dear to the hearts and homes of its six seats is the joy and pride of a united family. Only once were we pulled over for an unbuckled seat belt, and once for speeding. No family in these tumultuous times was happier or loved one another more than our Family Loaded up in the truck, heading for a weekend adventure.

No vehicle got more maintenance than the truck did. The Bacon Provider made certain that he changed the oil, check the tires, and had the brakes serviced.

Let me tell you another story. When we had our Seattle house painted, the painter struck one side of our truck with his, and he took a few hundred dollars off the price he charged us. We never did get around to fixing the dent. It seemed to be a revealing trait by which we could identify it in a crowded lot of other pickups.

There is no doubt that having a truck is a handy thing, In the present generation it has made possible the acquiring of barbecues, and tools, lumber, and plants. It connected us to our friends and neighbors who needed to take a load of household goods to Goodwill. We were offered money for it when we left Seattle, but we felt it was necessary for getting our pets to New York. It was always cheap to fix, and the last repair was under $300. The truck had become a mysterious link, indeed, I may say, a magical link, which united our loosely bound but strongly interwoven

For fifteen years our GMC Duramax Sierra 2500 was our truck. Never at any moment in all perplexities in Seattle or New York, city or suburb, did it fail in its duties. Well does it deserve a farewell salute.

It is at this time also that our compassion and sympathy go out to the Bacon Provider, who used it for years as his daily driver. Their partnership was a love match with no idea of regal pomp or splendor. Indeed, there seemed to be between them the charming mismatch of a Medium Cheese Executive and a Workman’s vehicle.

They were under the floor mats

May I say–speaking with all freedom-that our hearts go out to–night to that valiant Brand, GMC, with the blood of America in its veins, that sustained us through toils and problems. May they be granted the wisdom to design a full-size SUV capable of pulling a large two-horse trailer sometime in the near future.

Now I must leave the treasures of the past and turn to the future. Famous have been the reigns of our vehicles. A purple Chrysler Town & Country Mini-van, and then a gold. A Volvo wagon the Graduate still drives. Nagymama’s Porsche. Some of the greatest periods in our history have unfolded under their sceptre.

Now that we have purchased a Ford Expedition Max, our thoughts are carried back nearly 15 years to the magnificent vehicle, presiding over the deck of a ferry to the San Juans, embodying and inspiring the grandeur and genius of the Turn of the 20th century. We are required to embark on new adventures. And, because we have more room, we can take all the dogs.

In fact, we have already driven it to the Adirondacks and back.

I, whose young parenthood was passed in the august, unchallenged, and tranquil glories of Seattle at the turn of the millennium, may well feel a thrill in invoking once more
the anthem:
“OMFG we bought an SUV!”

More Losing

So when Eggi won a major, she qualified for the Westminster Kennel Club Show, and about 10 days before it we had planned to do one last weekend at the Big E. I drove the truck because the Bacon Provider had taken my car to Vermont for a meeting. Eggi and I set off after dinner on Friday night, and it was a cold, dark drive, but the pickup seemed fine. In the morning we had an early start, since were first in the ring at 8 am. I started the truck early to let it run and warm up,. It was only 2F. I loaded Eggi, checked out of the hotel, and hit the road.

We’d gone about a mile when the engine died. With no engine the behemoth had lost its power steering, so I had to throw everything I had into the steer to pull over into a parking lot . I had no trouble restarting, and assumed the problem was the extreme cold. Or, like, it was an alternator thing. I still had time to make it to the show, and it was only about 15 minutes away. I let the truck run about 15 more minutes and hit the road again.

The engine died again.

I wrestled it into another parking lot (this time it was a veterinary practice that wasn’t open yet).

It was clear I was not driving even the few miles from  here to the show. I texted all the interested parties (my husband, the breeder, my handler). No one could make it to me in time to get us there. The Bacon Provider suggested I get an Uber. I sent him a photo of the corn field I was looking at.


My handler suggested I call AAA.

AAA said they’d have a tow truck to me within the hour. Not in time to get us to the show, but I didn’t have another option. I texted my son and his GF and they said they’d come get us.

An hour passed. The truck was running, with warning lights about the battery not charging. I felt like I was right about it being the alternator. We were warm enough, and out of the way of traffic. The veterinary practice opened. Techs arrived, followed by patients and pets. No one asked if we needed help.

I checked with AAA. The time of arrival had changed. Another hour passed.

I heard from the breeder. Eggi’ sister Vivva had won enough points to finish her championship that day. My kids texted that they were an hour away.

Towards the end of the third hour, the truck started to get cold. It was still running but the fans weren’t blowing. The temperature outside had risen to the mid-20s. The gauges on the dash were no longer lit. I got Eggi out and walked her around. The tow truck finally arrived. 

We climbed into the cab. Eggi sat on my lap. The shop was a six minute drive from the spot where we waited. The Graduate and his GF arrived to pick us up while I was giving the shop my contact info.


The next day I took Eggi back to the show, where she took second in her class. Her other sister finished her championship that day. 


One of my new friends, a very successful breeder of pointers, told me that even with a really great dog you lose more than you win. 

On Monday we went back to pick up the now-repaired truck. The shop said it was a frayed serpentine belt.

A Conversation I Overheard

Captain: “What are you wearing?”

Eggi: “Dunno what it’s called. I’ve got the girl flu.”

Captain: “The what?”

Eggi: “The curse.”

Captain: “That sounds bad.”

Eggi: “You know, Aunt Flo.”

Captain: “…um…”

Eggi: “Come on, Red tide.”

Captain: “…uh…”

Eggi: “Shark week.”

Captain: “…um…”

Eggi: “Code red.”

Captain: “…uh…”

Eggi: “On the rag.”

Captain: “…er…”

Eggi: “Ladies’ week.”

Captain: “…uh…”

Eggi: “Red army.”

Captain: “Red army?!”

Eggi: “Time of the month.”

Captain: “…uh?”

Eggi: “La semaine ketchup.”

Captain: “Ketchup? I like ketchup.”

Eggi: “Surfing the crimson wave?”

Captain: “Are we going swimming? I love swimming!”

Eggi: “No, no…like a visit from my relative from Rotenburg.”

Captain: “Is it someone I know?”

Eggi: “Le petit clown qui saigne du nez?”

Captain: “Ooh, ooh! Clowns! I love clowns!”

Eggi: “Oh come on. Checking into the Red Roof Inn?”

Captain: “…”

Eggi: “Oh, look, a squirrel!”



Mud Mask

This shit started when this friend I’ll call W was coming to visit with their new SO. The last time we saw W, they were at the end of a relationship, and it was rocky and bad;  words were exchanged, disappointments voiced, phone calls avoided and emails unreturned. Breakups are ugly, I get it, but seriously, people, you know the rest of us can see you? 

So ok W was coming and bringing the new SO and we were getting floors vacuumed and the sheets changed when W texted me to say the new SO was sick and they weren’t coming after all. Which meant we could stop vacuuming. Which was, despite the disappointment, sorta ok. We had agreed to take care of The Graduate’s GF’s fuzzy little dog for the weekend. He’d be our houseguest. Something else to do.

GqFHGW58TSu0aDUz2z34uAI was out in the yard with all the dogs when I got a text from my brother asking about an article that the Search Engine Monopoly suggested to him, written by J, one of my internet friends. My brother was like don’t you know this person and I was all sure that’s J. Is that a real friend my brother asked and I did not hesitate to say yes. 

I never like set out to have internet friends. I had them before I realized, really. When I moved from Seattle I felt disconnected from most of the people I saw every day. It was like we were dead to them. Of course, no one warned me. I just set off on my adventure with all my family, pets, and possessions, and no one wondered whatever happened to us. And that first year, we lived in North Dreadful, which had its downs and downers. And then we lived in the city, and there was a hurricane. But somewhere in there I made a Twitter for my cat, and ended up with some pocket friends.

J was one of the first people I talked to regularly on Twitter. Back in 2012, he caught me at peak cussing-on-the-internet, and RTed me as @HamsterRelish “what kind of twat says “va-jay-jay?” it’s VAGINA.” We go way back. 

I talk to J on three platforms, I told my brother. I’m looking forward to having lunch with him. (Not because we had plans to have lunch, but because I always imagined I would have a reason to go to J-ville and we would have lunch. Maybe get a mani-pedi. You know, friend things.)

But then standing in the yard watching three dogs run around I got to thinking about J and wondered why I hadn’t seen a post in about a week, which was unusual given that we were connected on three platforms.

And it was a Facebook post, to J’s wall, from J’s longtime SO, that said something about J being gone and that sure as shit didn’t make any sense.

So I looked up J’s mother. And she had a post saying that J’s last words were “Just love each other.” 

J could tell me which peanut butter cookie recipe to use and follow it up with a hilarious 80s song reference. J wrote beautifully about being a therapist, and had a plush vagina pillow on the couch at work. J encouraged my revolting and fanciful ideas about cat-milk-cheese. J tried on all the funny hats at Target. J could take down a Twitter troll and make them cry uncle. J called bullshit on homophobia, on racism, on sexism. J knew what Bundt cakes to make. J had names and numbers for mental health specialists. J took selfies with a mud mask on his face. J knew more about suicide than anyone I know. J knew when people’s husband’s employers were in the news and that not all news that seemed good actually is good. J knew how to DM me on three platforms, and did.

Your internet friends are pocket friends. They live in your phone. They know your pet peeves and your enthusiasms. They are real friends you see all the time. They go everywhere with you.

So where the fuck was J.

I checked all three platforms.

It didn’t make any sense. He was just there the other day, when the truck full of axe body spray exploded in Texas. When he walked his dog. 

I’ve had other friends disappear on social media. Sometimes they come back with another name. Sometimes they don’t. I’ve even had an acquaintance in Australia die. But this.

I hearted the posts from his SO and his mother.

And within minutes the algorithm was showing the posts to our mutual friends. And by the end of the day I was juggling DMs from mutual friends on three platforms. 

What happened.

Are you ok.

I am ok. Are you ok. I am gutted. I don’t understand. No, me either.

Luckily, in my weird little privileged world, there are always dogs to walk and horses to ride, and I kept going. Horses demanded my attention. Dogs, dogs, dogs. I was a little out of it, and had to tell my horse trainer, but we got to work, because I had regionals to prepare for. My new horse and I qualified for the championships, ok sure only at training level but it was coming up. An important horse show seems stupid and strange when you’re upset about someone who died, but also good and simple and true. We worked to get there. We were ready.

But then right after I’d left the barn my mare spooked and got a big cut on her hip. The barn manager texted me right away. She called for the vet and sent me a photo. It looked like a clean slice. Not too deep.

We got home and headed out to walk the dogs. Eggi was too excited for words and kept licking my face and bumping into Captain. The Houseguest looked fuzzily nonplussed, but I fitted him with his little blue collar and leash. I handed the Houseguest’s leash to the Bacon Provider, and took our two dogs myself. We were doing the short loop, through the woods. We were about a half-mile from home when I heard the Bacon Provider make a sort of hiccuping noise. I turned around to see him holding a leash, attached to a little blue  collar, buckled into a neat round loop with no fuzzy dog in it. The Houseguest was booking it back down the trail towards our house. Now the Bacon Provider is not accustomed to fuck-ups, and takes things v seriously, and he took off running after the fuzzy little punk, despite my attempts to explain that he really should not chase the dog. DON’T I shouted CHASE HIM to the empty woods.

Then I was alone in the woods with my two dogs, and my phone rang and it was the vet. She had sewn up the hole in the horse. I asked about the upcoming show. “Well,” said the vet, “if it were on her leg, I’d say no. and if it were on her face I’d say no problem. You should stick to light work for the next few days and we’ll see.”

Sticking to light work.

What happened. 

Horses are stupid.

But what happened.

There was a guy, fixing a thing, with a power tool. It made a noise. The horse scooted.

Is she ok.

She’ll be ok. 

Don’t you have a show coming up.

Back at the house, the Bacon Provider and the Houseguest looked like nothing had happened. I thought about posting something about how naughty the Houseguest was on one or three platforms but thought his owner might be sad to learn he was being a pain while she was away.  


A couple days passed and the Bacon Provider left for a business trip. My horse and I stuck to light work. By Tuesday it was clear the stitches were holding nicely. But the stitches are right on her hip, and if she stood the wrong way on the trailer ride she might open it again. I made the decision to keep my horse home from the show. Even though it was the championships. Even though we worked so hard to get there. Even though.

I got a text from my husband sitting on his plane where he saw W’s ex who boarded after he did. Had W and the new SO made it for the weekend, they would have very likely all run into each other at the airport. JFC people the rest of us can see you. Be good to each other, even if you have to let someone go.

I walked all three dogs by myself.

I got in bed early and put a mud mask on my stupid sad face.

I got a text around 10 from my neighbor. She was away and the person who was supposed to do barn check hadn’t. Could I go over and throw the horses a flake of hay? Of course I could. I washed off the mud mask. Real life friends and neighbors are important. I went in my pajamas. Her horses were fine.



I miss you, J.

Little E at the Big E

When Cherry died in late November, we were still in the middle of remodeling our house. Captain was pretty lonely, but my plan was to get a puppy the following summer, after we would be you know airquotes-finished. But kitchens and bathrooms take frickin forever, and in March when a third person told me I had to go see S about a vizsla puppy, I did. 

I didn’t say yes, definitely on that day; I waited for the Bacon Provider to have the same experience lifting a perfect ten week old out of the puppy pen and snugging the little squirmulator because why waste words telling him about it? The litter was born between Xmas and New Years, and they were all named for toasts, so we named ours Egészségedre (Hungarian for Cheers!), and we call her Eggi.


We’ve owned vizslas since 1992, but never shown one. Eggi looks exactly as I think a vizsla should, and is happy and eager and clever as clever and somehow because of these things it seemed reasonable and not ridiculous to show her. In addition to puppy class, Eggi and I did a few weeks of practicing dog show skills with a trainer (stopping and standing instead of sitting, trotting, being stacked, letting a person peel back her lips to show her teeth). Eggi thought it was fine, if a little boring compared to agility. I tripped over my own feet.

We went up to Massachusetts on a Thursday night on account of the early start at her first dog show on the next day. Eggi is a bit awkward about getting into the car, but once she’s in her kennel, she is a good traveller. Through the creepy intensity of dark Connecticut and late-night Massachusetts, we listened to Jack London’s White Fang. At the hotel, the hallway smelled of bleach. A solitary woman in the gym next to our room walked quietly on the treadmill until the midnight closing time. I gave Eggi a bath in the hotel tub.

Staying in a hotel with a young, reactive dog, you sneak in and out, peering into the hall and checking both ways before you leave your room.  It’s not because the dog isn’t allowed but because you don’t know what weirdness you’re going to run into. It could be another dog. It could be the housekeeping cart. It could be people with a lot of luggage. All of these things are frightening and/or exciting to an almost-8-month-old dog. The worst encounter we had was in the hall outside our room as we were coming in; someone’s tall, beefy nephew had the airquotes-hilarious idea of pretending to be very, very afraid of my dog. He shrieked and waved his hands in agitation above his head. Someone’s uncle needs to explain to this guy why he shouldn’t do this, to any dog, ever again. Not me, though. I gotta get up early.

West Springfield, Massachusetts has a giant fairgrounds surrounded by chainlink and barbed wire, called like the Great Enormous Northern American States Super Exposition Center or some-such-something, but anyway folks call it the Big E. You pay five dollars to go in, and then you drive all over the acres of pavement around many huge barns, past the midway, over on the other side of the apparently actual New England town this thing grew up around, and then circumnavigate seven huge buildings, each bigger than the last, looking for the Country Life Pavilion, or the Better Living Complex, or some such building. It was flanked by a several rows of RVs.

I looked for dogs, and Door Number 7.

I was instructed to arrive at 7:15, and I made it, despite my circuitous route inside the Big E. I parked and walked Eggi around for about 15 minutes, begging her to pee.  She would prefer not to.

Inside, it’s as big an indoor space as they make and had eight show rings surrounded by row upon row of dog crates and grooming tables.  It had the noisy quality of something big happening a block away, but you couldn’t hear anyone until they were right next to you.

Our handler T was easy enough to find (she saw me and waved wildly). I was told to go sit by the ring and wait. I got myself a large coffee and found a bench.

At 8 am, they played the national anthem. Folks turned and faced the American flag painted on the wall above the snack bar. I held my coffee in my hand. I watched one guy with his hand on his heart try to make eye-contact with another man so he’d see his take-off-your-hat-you-disrespectful-goon gesture. 

I wanted to yell play ball afterwards but I didn’t. I sat back down.

Tell folks you’re going to a dog show and they’ll say how much they loved that movie. You know the one. Yeah, yeah, the busy bee. The only people who don’t wanna tell you all about their favorite scene are the people who actually go to dog shows; I’ve never heard them talk about that movie.

Right away the handlers started bringing the vizslas that had gathered into the ring, and doing the trotting, and the stacking, and the bite-revealing thing I had tried to learn. In other rings there were other people with other kinds of dogs like beagles and French bulldogs, and spaniels and boxers and mastiffs. All the flavors of dogs. The people consisted of the judges and handlers all dressed in business attire, and a few straggling owners, some of whom looked like they just rolled out of their Winnebago in the sweats they slept in.

Each little group of competing dogs was in and out quickly, and the winners chosen rapidly. I kept my opinions about which vizslas I liked to myself. Some of the handlers were fun to watch because they moved well. The dogs lined up, the dogs trotting alone. The judge running her hands over a dog. The dogs trotting in a group. The judge pointing at one dog, and then another. You could look away and miss it. They go out, and the winning dogs come back in to compete with other winners.

Just like that movie.

Anyway, after some dogs there was Eggi’s group.

She is still a puppy and she was pretty wiggly but T made her look elegant and spirited instead of goofy and wild and of course I beamed at her and clapped when she won. Because of course she won!

Then T had to rush to another ring to go show some other kind of dog and she handed Eggi off to another handler who showed her in the next group and I guess she won again and then T came back and showed her a third time and I really don’t know what happened other than we came out with three ribbons and a lot of people being very excited.

“Do you know what she won?” T asked.

“Not really,” I admitted.

“Best of Winners for a major.” 

Dog shows are pretty stinking fun when you win. The handler even gets to take a picture with the dog and the judge. It’s validation that your dog, who is the best dog in the entire world, is known and admired for being the best.


After that you go back to the hotel and have a nap.


Dog shows are weird and boring when you don’t win. Some other dog who is not nearly as adorable or good as your own dog gets the blue ribbon from the judge the next day, and you go home feeling like you drove two hours to the casino and lost everything on a bad bet in the first five minutes. Fortunately, on the days that Eggi didn’t win, her sister did extremely well, so we can keep hoping about next time.