Sunday, November 29, 2009

Books and Dogs and Holidays

If there are inanimate gifts better than books, I've never received one. Dogs are the greatest gifts in my life, but none came to me wrapped and beribboned; we met, got acquainted, adopted each other, and became family. It's tempting to say that we meet books, conclude that we'll be happy together and take them into our homes and love them, but books can sit unattended on our shelves far longer than a dog can wait for meals and exercise, tummy rubs and conversation.

A dog shouldn't be given as a gift, especially as a surprise during the holidays. When someone you know wants a dog, give moral and logistical support: encourage adoption from breed rescue groups and shelters, offer to join the dog-seeker on shelter visits or other relevant expeditions (a first-time shopper for pet supplies usually needs backup), remember to ask the questions the dog-enamored may forget when under the spell of a prospective new friend. The list goes on, of course, and you can wrap it all up with a book or two about dogs. Here the surprise factor is appropriate, the opportunities for pleasure and satisfaction almost as limitless as a dog's devotion. Dogs are not good impulse buys; books, however, are among the best.

You can give the gift of dog books to everyone you know (does anyone who wouldn't welcome a book about dogs deserve a gift?). One of the lessons I learned as a bookseller specializing in dog literature was that people want books about dogs even when they don't have dogs, can't have dogs for heartless-landlord-from-hell or nonmalicious reasons, or don't even want dogs. Maybe they long for the dog stories they read as children for their grandkids. Maybe they read behavior and training books the way some people who don't cook read cookbooks. They want every volume that contains a single mention of the breed of their dreams, the dog they'll live with when life goes right. Then there are the people with dogs at the heart of their lives. There's a lot out there for them to read.

The practicalities and hazards of getting a puppy delivered anywhere on the planet in time for the holidays should be enough to send you bookward. Books travel well, if well packed for their journeys. In The Care and Feeding of Books Old and New: A Simple Repair Manual for Book Lovers, I devoted several pages to packing and shipping advice, and in the spirit of holiday book-giving, will share some of these important pointers in a post this coming Thursday.

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