Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Dog Suggests My Evening's Reading

One afternoon last week, I was thinking about a neighbor's newly adopted dog, to whom I had been introduced that morning, and my daily question about my evening was answered.

I'd curl up after dinner with The Great Gatsby.

More to me now than the title of a novel I revisit every so often, it's the name of a dog with whom I expect to become great friends.

Fitzgerald's classic is many things; what it's not is a book about a dog. There is a dog in the story, however. We get a vivid few glimpses of a presumptive Airedale, and know more about why someone wants that dog than how the dog will develop in response to that need or much else. We shudder at the implications of a dog's leash discovered late in the novel, and at the anguish of tears shed at the sight of a box of dog biscuits. For me, these familiar objects set a nasty trap, as the positive images so easily conveyed by a leash and biscuits turn to messages of inescapable pain.

Then there's Myrtle's violent death. It's compared to that of a dog, with a succinct description that doesn't skimp on horror. A sentence of sixteen words, and in it I hear the squeal of wheels, the metal-on-mortal impact, the car and a driver's indifference roaring away. The comparison to a dog being run over has always made Myrtle special to me. I know what's coming, but the imagery gives me an instant of hope that, like a lucky dog, she'll get out of the way.

As I read that night I found no obvious clue to the naming of my new dog acquaintance. I'll have to ask, and I'll probably ask all my friends about their dogs' names and as many strangers as I can, too. I wonder how many of those dogs will point me to a good book.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Military Dogs and Memorial Day

Bookselling introduces me to all kinds of people who love dogs, and many of them tell me their stories, of happiness and loss, of goodness and regret, of lifetimes and families in which the giving and receiving of love knows no distinction between two legs and four. If there's a feature common to all these stories, it's emotion. Often there's heroism, sometimes horror, but always a sense of indescribable gratitude, in stories told by the people I've found to be the most emotional when it comes to dogs. The tellers of these stories are military personnel. Whether long retired or on active duty, they know something about the skills and tenacity and uniqueness of dogs that the most dog-devoted of us civilians can only begin to imagine.

So today, on Memorial Day, when Americans honor the armed forces, let's get emotional about the dogs who also served, and the dogs who serve now. Thank them for all they've done and all they do. Promise them that we'll work for a world free of conflict, for every human and every canine.

Your favorite Internet search engine will connect you with organizations that support military dogs. Consider a donation or a care package, perhaps in the name of your dog.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Collecting Dog Books: What's Your Genre?

In dog terms, the dachshund is my genre. Dachshunds chose me when I was an infant; I belong to the breed. But I read and collect beyond the scope of the sublime badger dog. I'm always looking for new niches to explore and recommend.

For entertainment, mysteries and thrillers probably lead the genre parade. There are the classics, often obtainable in old and not always expensive fine editions, and a constant crop of new tales. You can collect by author, series, breed, or such subgenres as the cosy (you've got to curl up with a dog to read these!). A dog's role in the action might also be your focus: there are dog victims and heroes, dogs whose mastery of human speech may tell the reader more than what any other character imparts, and the canine sidekicks of professional investigators and amateur sleuths.

In nonfiction, there are lives of dogs and lives of people devoted to them. Veterinarians, zoologists, explorers, dog breeders and trainers and behaviorists, authors and artists, hikers and hunters and mushers, names renowned in the world beyond dogs, and names known only to next-door neighbors are among those whose biographies or memoirs transport us to times, places, and events we might otherwise know little or nothing about, and where we'll meet memorable dogs. In canine biography, the possibilities include the companions of European monarchs, American presidents, and celebrities; dogs remembered for their immortal contributions in military service, space exploration, and other endeavors; dogs who have excelled in the performing arts; and pets who may never have left their backyards but have so much to share with us.

Whether you rate religion and fairy tales as unrelated or indistinguishable, you'll find illuminating stories of the dog in both fields. Investigate creation stories from every corner of the globe, and you may be surprised and humbled by how often the dog is present and significant. Similarly, "Little Red Riding Hood" and its wolf in grandma's guise is just one classic with equivalents in many cultures.

What’s your favorite corner of the dog reading world?

Friday, April 30, 2010

Dogs: Purest Poetry

I've been laid up or laid low (whichever best explains an instructive silence) with a bad case of the dogless blahs.

But with National Poetry Month in its final hours, I think it's time for me to go from bed to verse and confide that in April I added to my daily two- to three-mile walks a more exhausting workout: imagine iambic pentameter and all its mates as a barbelled treadmill and the ever-expanding universe of rhyme schemes as Wall Street's weightiest derivatives. I'm still breathing, but otherwise unmoved.

Every morning I would read a poem about dogs. And then I would go for my walk and watch dogs walking, not with me, because they were not my dogs, but with me just because we were all in motion. Those walks scanned better than anything I came upon on paper.

Perhaps I expect too much of poetry, or simply can't benefit from what I am willing, if too breathless, to appreciate.

It's time for an afternoon walk. It's perfect dog-walking weather, and there will be dogs, or as the wordbound might express it, purest poetry.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Dog-Ears and Dog Ears

On the first full day of spring -- mild and bright, perfect dog-walking weather -- I walked some books from my constant-use reference shelf out to my terrace, gave them a refreshing rubdown with a clean cloth, and a few hours' airing well away from direct sunlight. A good start to the season people who don't sneeze through it are so fond of, and I was, despite the satisfaction I get from a bit of book care, more concerned with how someone I don't now and never will know should be punished. Happiness, and a cheery balance of the day, came when I decided on the obvious: there's a biblioperp out there somewhere who must search for books desired and never find them -- in pristine condition.

What prompted my invigorating burst of spite was nothing less than a crime against books. Three evenings of reading a novel acquired secondhand, with all the sense of extra-fortuitous pleasure the surprise find gave me, were every so often interrupted by a small queasy anger that was in no way related to the story or the creative writing. Had I bought the book for resale, I would have rated it "near fine" -- until I discovered that within its 266 large octavo pages there are 17 prominent dog-ears. Those corners don't just turn down; they droop. I wonder if the perpetrator had visions of a hound.

I read past each offense with visions of the living dog ear -- so expressive, so pettable. And I wished, not for the first time, that dogs, whose lives real and imaginary so enrich literature, were not homonymously related to a bad act against books.

Is there ever an excuse, much less a reason, to dog-ear a book page? If you don't have a designated bookmark, get several, or make do with something else. Order bookmarks with your dog's picture; include one with every gift book you give. There are Internet sites that teach bookmark-making. Write yourself a note, jotting down the number of the page where your reading paused, and if you can't find the note, don't worry: remembering the page number is good brain exercise.

The perils of folding a book page’s corner are well known and real. If you needed to rig a collar-and-leash substitute, you wouldn't loop piano wire around your dog's neck: the slightest stress, and you'd induce pain if not injury. You'd find something strong but unabrasive that would give you and the dog security and comfort. And just as no dog needs expensive designer leashes or collars, no book needs more than a clean, dry, preferably acid-free bit of something thin and flat.

The dog-ear is a lazy convenience that can damage, leaving at best a visible scar, at worst an ugly stump when due to paper quality and/or age the result is amputation. Some remedies for dog-ears appear in The Care and Feeding of Books Old and New: A Simple Repair Manual for Book Lovers. From book arts professionals to book care hobbyists, the dog-ear is, as Wikipedia’s essay calls the practice, "generally frowned upon." Imagine your dog looking miserable, and transpose that sorrow to the page between your fingers; you’ll never dog-ear again.

As to the fault in my biblioperp's punishment -- that no one who would dog-ear a page cares about a book's condition -- I have an addendum. To have read the dog-eared book to its end, as the spacing of the wounds suggests, indicates a person who enjoys a good read. May that person read and read and learn and learn, and one day discover the error of dog-earing and turn over a new leaf, perhaps in a book about book care, and take better care of books ever after.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Collecting Dog Books: Childhood Favorites

"Can you help me find a dog story I remember from childhood?"

That's a question I've heard often as a bookseller, and it's the request I treasure most, a constant reminder that the emotional attachment we have to books and dogs is often bound together. I, too, am always looking for the dog stories I couldn't get enough of as a kid. Just thinking of those books summons the dogs I curled up with long ago, but too few of those books have grown older with me; it's as if they've joined those dogs: physically absent, but best friends forever. I've reassembled much of my childhood collection, and rereading books that were classics when I was young or were newly published way back then, I'm reminded that one is never too old to be a kid again.

Do you have any, if not all, of the books of your youth? If not, and you miss them, you've got a good reason to start a collection that recaptures more than books. You can read your way down memory lane. You can take your kids or grandchildren with you. You can collect only the books you possessed, all titles by authors or artists you enjoyed and who published during your younger years, picture books or early readers, adventure stories or any other genre that appeals to you. Even if you have no children or grandkids, or not yet, you can assemble a collection representative of your childhood reading for the delight of future generations of dog-and-book lovers. It's value-added reading; your sentiments, handed down, mean as much as all the Newbery prizes put together.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Collecting Dog Books: Art and Artists

Ever wander through a museum or gallery, and no matter what the subject displayed for your edification and delight -- from the gods on Olympus to Napoleon at Waterloo to a contemporary domestic scene -- what you react to first, what you search for, perhaps unconsciously but quite correctly, is the dog? Samuel Johnson may have said it best: "I would rather see the portrait of a dog...than all the allegorical paintings they can show me in the world."

Books on the dog in art bring home those museum visits, ample evidence of Johnson's wisdom, and no end of beauty and interest and surprise. There are books on the history of dogs in art and on notable collections, illustrated auction catalogs devoted to dog-related art, compendia of drawings, paintings, objets d'art, and photography, too. Postcards, collected individually or as published in book form, and greeting cards old and new, are other possibilities.

Your goal may be to gather the most evocative (or whimsical or realistic), or just the most, images of the breed closest to your heart, or as many books in which an artist you admire is represented. Which artist has best captured your favorite breed? If you haven't yet decided who that is, you have one of many reasons to focus on dog art and artists.

You might look for books devoted to the work of, or with illustrations by, such notables as Cecil Aldin, Lucy Dawson, Morgan Dennis, Maud Earl, Marguerite Kirmse, G. L. Stampa, Vernon Stokes, or Diana Thorne. Of more recent vintage are the dog works of David Hockney, Keith Haring, Stephen Huneck, Maira Kalman, Rien Poortvliet, and George Rodrigue, to name but a few.

You can, of course, collect by quirk. If a book's front cover features a dachshund, or any shape suggestive of a dachshund, I want it, whether it's a dime novel with one fleeting allusion to my breed or the latest screed on string theory.

Every dog is a work of art in waiting. If you don't paint or draw or sculpt, you've got reason to learn; needlepoint is another of many creative options. Collecting craft books can point you to the hobby that's right for you or perfect your current skills. Commissioning a portrait of a beloved dog makes a wonderful gift and a future heirloom.

For information and sheer pleasure, browse The William Secord Gallery and Dog Art Today.