My Life in Dog Years

by Gary Paulsen

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Would "My Life in Dog Years" be considered a biography? My class is about to read biographies for a book report assignment. A student just e-mailed me to get approval for this book, and I was not sure of the genre. Thanks!!

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While it is not a standard narrative of a biography, Paulsen's work can be considered an autobiography.  He uses the dogs in his own life as a vehicle to discuss his own experiences and life stories.  The dependence on the natural world and the slight distrust of human beings is a theme in Paulsen's work and his life and this is brought out through the exploration of the dogs in his life and how they have impacted him.  It can be considered an autobiography because Paulsen uses the dogs and their experiences with him as a way to reveal his own life and pieces together his youth, adolescence, his embrace of writing as well as the belief that much can be learned from our own experience within the natural world.

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What a great question!  Too bad it has a complicated answer!

In the way that the word is defined in English I would have to say "no," My Life in Dog Years is not a biography.  Most usages of the word restrict the use of the label "biography" to mean the story of a human's life, not a dog's life.  It would be closer to an autobiography for the sections in the descriptions of the dogs where the author includes stories of how the dogs influenced his life.

The tricky part would be if you went back to the origin of the word "biography." Bios=life, graphia=writing. In the Greek sense of the word, My Life in Dog Years could be considered a biography because it does not implicitly say human life.

I suppose it is up to you, then!

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