The month of August is almost gone and I haven’t spotted Sirius, the Dog Star, once. This is in spite of early morning forays out into the yard with the dogs, although our house is surrounded by trees and Sirius clings close to the horizon, near Mercury as it rises and fades just before sunrise. Mercury earned its name because it stayed so close to the sun—the messenger of the gods carries Apollo’s caduceus, after all, and also because it’s so darn hard to spot. Of the planets that are visible Mercury is the one that’s hardest to find, although you also have to look really carefully to see Uranus, but that’s another story.
Why is Sirius the dog star, anyway? To the Egyptians the star that marked the month of August was a goddess and her appearance meant the Nile was due for its annual flood. It became known as the “dog star” because it’s a prominent part of the constellation Canis Major and hence became a marker of the “dog days of August” when dogs wouldn’t go out in the heat. They will, however, make me get up early to take them out even on the weekends.
Anyway the dog days of August always remind me of a book I picked up one summer on a trip to the library: Dogsbody, by Diana Wynn Jones. She’s the same author who wrote Howl’s Moving Castle which was adapted into the Studio Ghibli film, and several other terrific books, including the Dark Lord of Derkholm series. Dogsbody was the first book of hers I ever read—one I found almost by accident. In it the stars are sentient beings and Sirius, having committed a strange crime, is condemned to Earth to live the life of a dog, which allows him to unravel a deeper and stranger mystery of the stars themselves. What’s really compelling about it, though, is how much Jones gets into a dog’s perspective, even though Sirius has a dual personality: the star he once was and the animal he’s become.
It’s a fun book, one I’ve reread several times, and like all great books it holds up. In fact it’s one of those rare childhood books that, when I read it as an adult, reveals layers I missed when I was young. And it’s not bad to keep on the bedside table to read when the dogs have been out and they can go back to sleep but I can’t.
So, anyway, what have you been reading this summer?