SCOTT SIMON, host:
Groucho Marx once said, outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read. Well, today, we continue our series Three Books with a theme that Harpo's brother might appreciate. Science fiction writer Steven Barnes recommended his favorite books about, did you guess? Dogs.
Mr. STEVE BARNES (Author; "In The Night of the Heat"): Man's best friend. We go way back. A science-writer friend has a cocktail-party theory that canines and human beings actually co-evolved. He likes to say that we made a deal with them to protect their puppies if they would lend us their noses. They became our furry, walking olfactory lobes, freeing our forebrains to develop logic, spatial reasoning and Playstation 3.
Maybe all that ancient history explains why we're so fascinated by our four-legged friends, why we laud and demonize them. I invite you to lie back in your hammock and enjoy the literary adventures of three very different doggies.
In Stephen King's classic, "Cujo," a cheating wife is trapped in a broken-down car, assaulted by a rabid St. Bernard. King winks at the reader, as if to say: want to bet I can't write a whole book set almost entirely in a car? Trust me, he pulls it off.
King knows what we love, which makes it easy to attack our hearts with our greatest fears. By playing to our terror of loss and betrayal, and wrapping those nightmares in 200 pounds of fang and fury, he delivers a genuinely jolting fright-fest, a minor book by a major force in popular culture.
Trotting back to the turn of the 19th century, we find the great detective himself, Sherlock Holmes. In "The Hound of the Baskervilles," Holmes confronts a murderous demon dog avenging past wrongs. I suspect the book works because it echoes the complexities of the real-world human-canine relationship.
Humanity domesticated wolves and bred them down to spaniels. On some deep and hidden level, do Chihuahuas remember when we feared them, rather than carry them in our purses? Do poodles ever wonder how we taste? We have an odd relationship with man's best friend. And on the moors of the Baskervilles, the ultimate man of logic meets the ultimate nightmare from our primeval past. The consequence is a timeless literary classic.
Lastly, we come to one of my favorite guilty pleasures, Dean Koontz's "Dragon Tears."
This tale of a super-powered serial killer loose in Southern California is a nail-biter. Five ordinary human beings struggle to stop the birth of a new, evil godling. The battle is horrendously uneven, but the humans have one unexpected advantage - Woofer, a wonderful mutt with a surprising nonhuman intelligence. It's Woofer's ability to perceive hidden emotion, his courageous loyal heart, and ultimately, the uncanny canine sense of smell that gives these frail mortals, and all humanity, a bare chance of survival. When he rises above his humble origins to risk life and all four furry limbs for the men and women who have shown him simple kindness, I promise you will cheer.
And there you have it, three terrific books with both bark and serious bite -the perfect way to wind down the dog days of summer.
SIMON: Steven Barnes is a science fiction writer. His upcoming book is called "In the Night of the Heat."
On the topic of dogs, his recommendations were "Cujo" by Stephen King, "The Hound of the Baskervilles" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and "Dragon Tears" by Dean Koontz. You can find more Three Books suggestions at npr.org.