How Shall I Tell the Dog? - Miles Kington
When I was commuting to and from university, I'd often buy the Independent to read on the journey. And sometimes, too weary to deal with the problems of the world, I'd skip straight past the national news, the world news, the columns and editorials and letters, and read Miles Kington's humour column first of all. Little in his small corner of the paper reflected the agonies and hardships of reality - only good-natured but razor-sharp wit.
After I left uni, I fell out of the paper reading habit, and it was purely by chance that last year I picked up the edition of the Independent which, past the national news, the world news, the columns and editorials and letters, carried Miles' obituary. He had died from an illness that was more sudden than some, and slower than others, and in the time between his fatal diagnosis and its eventual realisation, he wrote a number of letters to his agent pitching ideas for his last book.
His ideas were, of course, completely absurd, and How Shall I Tell the Dog? compiles these letters into a thin, heartbreakingly funny book. The eponymous letter, for example, wonders about providing the public with a book to help them break the news of their terminal illness to their pets. Miles worries that his own pampered pooch might, having no real understanding of death, burst in to demand a walk as he lies on his death bed - resulting in the unfortunate last words: "Oh, for God's sake, not now, Berry!"
Death and cancer certainly lie at the heart of this book, but Miles writes in a direct, slightly absurd fashion that avoids sounding pathetic or heroic. He's clearly unhappy to be leaving, but he expresses this in a lighthearted way that kind of makes it more palatable, and yet kind of unintentionally sucker punches you for exactly the same reason. How Shall I Tell the Dog? is, I suppose, really a rather strange little book, although I think we can forgive the author for not properly finishing it off. And I think that given all the dumb, inconsequential and sometimes quite nasty humour books that line the shelves of Waterstones, this collection of intelligent writing does us a far greater service than any book he might really have written - had he the time.