A more precise title for Susan Orlean's new Rin Tin Tin book might have been The Lives and the Legend, seeing as the most cherished German shepherd in show business had at least 11 manifestations, all descending from the dog who made Warner Brothers' fortune and was voted Best Actor at the first Oscars. Orlean devotes a mere four paragraphs of this 317-page history to the temperament of the original Rinty, who was, along with being an extraordinarily emotive performer, reportedly prickly and standoffish. (Like an 85-pound Orson Welles!) 

No matter: The book is packed by kennel trainers and TV producers with enough self-made muleheadedness to rival The Orchid Thief's John Laroche. The world of performing animals is inexhaustibly absurd, the solemn anthropomorphism giving Orlean about a laugh a page. Most she intends. (One early dog-picture screenwriter explains that "you cannot let your dog give your baby a bath, no matter how funny, because dogs don't give babies baths under any conceivable circumstances.") But she indulges in enough flowery speculation on what Rin Tin Tin symbolized to the human race that the otherwise fleet book heels at the side of bathos. It is hard not to be sentimental about your dog, of course, but it is impossible to seriously listen to anyone else being sentimental about their dog.

GO: Susan Orlean reads from Rin Tin Tin and screens what she calls his best movie, Clash of the Wolves, at the Hollywood Theatre, 4122 NE Sandy Blvd., 281-4215. 7 pm Thursday, Oct. 27. $15.