June 19, 2017
David Kopp, Vice President, Executive Editor, Convergent Books, edited Andrew Root’s book, THE GRACE OF DOGS, and was instantly drawn into this engaging story – a heart-warming, enlightening read for anyone who has ever owned, loved and lost a dog, and who wanted to further explore the full scope of the human-dog relationship, including “how our dogs shape us, and how they serve as ‘teachers,’ of sorts.”
Mr. Kopp worked closely with Dr. Root, shepherding this project from proposal to finished book. Here David offers thoughtful responses to questions about the editor/author process and what separates this book from the pack.
What distinguishes THE GRACE OF DOGS from the scores of dog books that are on the market now?
We wanted to take this tail wagger of a book home the moment we saw the proposal. Here was a dog lover, dad and seminary prof who wanted to explore the deep and even unique connections many of us feel with our dogs. We particularly loved that Andy oriented his scholarly narrative in his own deeply felt experience. For example, he opens his story with a scene that many can relate to—a room at the vet’s office, where he and his family are gathered to say tearful goodbyes to a beloved family member—Kirby, their faithful Black Lab. Just before they head home, eight-year-old Owen spontaneously enacts a surprising ritual. He kneels, lays a doggie treat on Kirby’s now lifeless body, and then, dipping his finger in a paper cup of water, reverently makes the sign of the cross on Kirby’s forehead. “That’s the moment,” Root writes, “that I couldn’t shake.”
Great news for readers that he couldn’t! From there the author sets about to explore questions like: What in the world just happened here? A child intuiting a shared spiritual connection with a dog? If a dog is nothing more than a furry object, why did my son’s sacramental act feel so appropriate? And why did the loss of Kirby hurt so bad?
There have been a lot of books exploring our relationship with dogs on the level of science or everyday experience, but Andy’s book was the first we’d seen that tapped into the spiritual component of that relationship in such a satisfying way. He explores the meaning of spirit and soul as well as the mutually beneficial evolutionary development of dog and humans. And he tackles the kitchen table questions that kids ask, most notably: Do dogs go to heaven? (Spoiler alert: yes.) But deeper than that, he shows how our dogs shape us, and how they serve as “teachers” of sorts for the best faith has to offer—reminding us that we are worthy of receiving unconditional love and capable of extending it to others.
How would you describe the editor/author process and experience of working with Andrew?
Andy is a theologian by training, but he draws on so many threads in this book: neuroscience, history, the writings of serious religious thinkers like John Calvin and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and of course, the story of Andy’s family and their black lab. All to say he brought of a lot of soul to his writing. Our main task with Andy was finding a way to unspool his argument in a way that would feel like a reading adventure to the average reader—not, in other words, like a scholar building a case for his premise. And of course we wanted to wrap all his thoughtful research into a heartwarming read that captures the magic we sense when we spend time with our dogs. Fortunately, Andy brought consummate skills as story teller, thinker, entertainer, dad and dog lover to the task.
In keeping with our editorial vision at Convergent, we all wanted to deliver a non-religious but spiritually-informed conversation to readers in the general market. So, for example, we didn’t think readers would care about proving spirituality for spirituality’s sake, or for that matter, using chapter and verse to “prove” a particular point of view. We knew they would be reading THE GRACE OF DOGS with their own pet in mind—their own wonderings about why their dog-human relationship feels (or felt) so unique, and can go so deep. We figured readers simply want more insight into perhaps that persistent feeling that their relationship with their dog is or was something more than the material, something mysterious, and something that makes life more worth living. You don’t really need to use the word “spiritual” to accomplish that.
June 19, 2017
The joy of having a dog family member cannot be easily measured, nor can the pain felt when the time comes to say goodbye to a furry loved one. Andrew Root offers illuminating, personal insights into this human-dog dynamic in his book, THE GRACE OF DOGS: A Boy, A Black Lab, and A Father’s Search for the Canine Soul, published by Convergent, a Crown Publishing Group imprint, on Tuesday, June 20.
Dr. Root was moved to begin writing down his thoughts after his family gathered in the vet’s office to grieve losing their beloved Labrador, Kirby. Dr. Root’s eight-year-old son, Owen, led the family in a Christian ritual at their dog’s burial service, inspiring the author to draw on biology, history, theology, cognitive ethology (the study of animal minds), and paleontology to trace how in our mutual evolution, humans and dogs have so often helped each other to become more fully ourselves.
In the first of a two-part article about this special book, Dr. Root gives thoughtful responses to the following questions:
How would you describe the creation of THE GRACE OF DOGS and how the book evolved while you were writing it?
I always had a sense that people have deep connections to their dogs, but Kirby was the first dog that I owned that I watched my kids really fall in love with. Watching him get put down, I was really shocked with the grief of the experience. How, in the midst of that grief, there were these overtones of the spiritual. So the book was really born from that – that dark experience of losing, not something, not some kind of object that you cared about or you liked, but something that you actually loved. And that experience led to the book’s driving question: How deep is this connection, how significant is it?
This is the hardest I’ve ever worked on a book. My first draft was sort of a very academic book using lofty diction. I think as an academic you in some ways write past the reader to this silent community of other people that somehow will validate your work, and it was a real kind of exorcism for me to just write for an everyday reader. Dave (Kopp) and Derek (Reed) at Convergent worked really hard to make it a good read. Every time I got an e-mail from them I swore under my breath knowing there would be more work to do, but I’m incredibly thankful for all their feedback.
What are the key revelations about the dogs we love do you hope readers take to heart while reading your book?
I hope readers see—even more than they do now—how unique dogs actually are. Dogs have had incredible relationships with human beings for tens of thousands of years, maybe even as far back as our own evolutionary origins, in which dogs played a part in helping us be human. I think they still play that part today.
Maybe my greatest hope would be that, as people read, they keep looking at the dog curled up at their feet and are struck by the sense that there’s something mystical about these ordinary beasts—these creatures that can tell when we’re mad, can tell when we’re sad, and want to be with us. The relationships we have with our dogs is a gift—maybe even a gift from God—because it’s filled with grace, it’s freely given. A dog doesn’t look at your bank account or the number on a scale or how many degrees you have. It doesn’t even really care what other people think about you. Your dog simply desires to give you love and companionship, and that’s something we profoundly need.