Thursday, December 31, 2009


Phoebe B. Dackel, best friend and Dog Lovers Bookshop staff dog, died at home after a brief illness on Wednesday, December 23, 2009.

"The deeper the sorrow the less tongue it has."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Bookshop Dog's Journal: Part VI

Four years ago today, Phoebe and I met; we adopted each other, and the bond grows day by day. It was a bitterly cold Friday. Phoebe left the shelter wearing a red-and-white-striped wool sweater rescued by a staffer from a heap of castoff garments. Phoebe wore that same sweater again today, a bitterly cold Wednesday. What was the fate of the dog whose sweater became Phoebe's? We'll never know. We hope that dog is still with us, safe and warm, with a spiffy new sweater and someone to love who loves that dog more than anything in the world.

Dogs who end up in shelters need more protection than sweaters, of course. So Phoebe's message today is simple: please adopt and please support the agencies that assist homeless animals. Phoebe sent her annual donation this morning. Is there a better way to celebrate our good fortune, Phoebe and I wonder, than by helping other dogs and people unite?

It's been a busy day for Phoebe. Squirrel patrol, a tennis ball rescue made daring by the weight of leaves and twigs beneath which the lost was found, and a full complement of bookshop duties. She had her naps, too, which are such appealing events that I feel reinvigorated just by being in the same room with my snoozing friend.

The forecast calls for our cold day to turn into an even colder night. Phoebe and I will bake dog biscuits. Embraced by that comforting aroma -- it ranks with chocolate and baking bread in the pantheon of classic kitchen pleasure scents -- we'll curl up with our favorite pillows and fleece throws and commune, with each other and some of the books we love best. I'll read aloud to Phoebe. She'll doze on and off and wake to ask with a sweet nuzzle for another story. She'll wear that sweater she wore out of the shelter on our bedtime walk. When I tuck her in for the night, I'll thank her, for on this special day a family was born four years ago. I’ll thank her for being my dog.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Gift of Book Care

Here's a thought for last-minute gift-giving for the book lover: it doesn't require shopping or wrapping or shipping, and it's right there at your fingertips. It's a gift of time and attention, and the recipients are not just people you care for but books that need care.

You may know someone whose books and shelves would benefit from a simple dusting. Whether that someone never thinks about it or never gets around to it, books deserve this most basic courtesy. And it's a courtesy that benefits the spaces those books live in, and everyone else who lives there, too. Maybe a friend or family member has spoken about wanting to reorganize their books, but can't decide on strict alphabetical order by author or shelving by topic. Offer to help with the tasks and decisions, or to undertake them on your own. Chances are your offer will be considered unusual if not outright unique. Revel in it! The work can be done at a leisurely pace, perhaps an hour or so every second Thursday evening or whatever suits all concerned. It's a grand opportunity for coffee and pastry or wine and cheese, catching up on the latest scuttlebutt or just shooting the breeze.

Can't imagine making such an offer? Have you ever walked a friend's dog? Gotten the mail or some groceries for a neighbor? Then helping someone take care of their books should be in your repertoire. It may take a little longer than those other acts of kindness, but since when does friendship come with a stopwatch?

It's a gift you can give yourself, too. And don't forget to reward yourself with a big bag of new books.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Bookshop Dog's Journal: Part V

Phoebe has a suggestion for everyone who wonders what to give the dogs they love for the holidays: the simple gift of stories.

If you already read to your dog, you're on Phoebe's list of best humans ever. If you've never read to your dog, why not try it one day soon? Add it to that list of New Year's resolutions and trust your dog to keep the new bond it creates growing every time you two great friends, reader and listener, settle down for another chapter in the stories of your lives.

You've got everything you need. Your favorite cuddle venue is the ideal place to start. You'll find a few minutes to spare for a trial run, and who doesn't benefit from more private time with a pal? Worried that you'll feel silly? You can count on a dog's discretion; if you feel foolish your partner will make the foolishness just plain fun.

You can, of course, impart stories without literal reading. You already talk to your dog. So tell your dog a story, some anecdote from your youth or the mystery of this morning's missing car keys. Every dog's life can speak volumes, too, if you'll lend it your voice. Phoebe loves to hear me recount how she found Theodore, her toy lizard. And who doesn't enjoy pure fancy? Phoebe and the Carl Schurz Squirrels is an epic to which we add a fantastical chapter almost every day.

But what Phoebe prefers is formal reading. She seems to consider my books comparable to her tennis balls. We're both collectors, and we share what we cherish.

What to read? It doesn't have to be War and Peace and Puppies. Begin with the TV listings, the latest sports scores, or the kids' report cards. Aim for some of the classics of canine literature. But a page or two of that novel or memoir on your bedside table, or a holiday favorite, can get you going. One of the beauties of reading to your dog is that you can pick up any story anywhere, whenever it's convenient, and your audience will love you for it.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Shipping Books: Some Dog-Inspired Advice

Pack a book as if it's sentient.

Most of the books I pack are older books about members of the family Canidae, so I tend to use my dog brain and imagine that I'm settling an aging pooch into a safe and comfortable traveling case.

My point is this: If you're shipping books this holiday season, you probably want them to please their recipients. Getting carefully wrapped books to their destinations in pristine condition is part of the pleasure you're sending. So even if books aren't sentient, those who love them are. And book lovers notice and lament bumped corners and other rough-and-tumble wounds that books can sustain in transit.

Books travel best in boxes. "The book sits not on the bottom of the box but on resilient packing material: crumpled newspaper, packing pellets, layers of bubble wrap. As you look down into the carton at the wrapped book, can you see space (at least an inch, or three centimeters, is ideal) on all four sides? Once the book is resting on the packing material underneath it, it's time to tuck it in -- as you would tuck up a baby in its crib or a puppy in its basket, not with blankets or your old sweater but with crumpled newspaper or bubble wrap. When the box is closed, it should touch, not the wrapped book, but the packing material placed atop it."

After the carton is sealed, take another precaution. "Reinforce all carton edges with a heavy-duty sealing tape. Helping the carton keep its shape helps the book travel safely."

Tempted to ship in padded envelopes? Fine, but please take a few extra steps for the sake of those lovely books you've chosen. "Once the book is wrapped, cut cardboard slightly larger than the book... The cardboard must be clean and dry, thick and unbending. Place the book between the cardboard sheets, and secure them with tape... Now wrap the cardboard-secured book in another layer of wrapping, such as several sheets of newspaper. Try the envelope on for size, and if the wrapped book moves, take it out and wrap it again. Keep wrapping the cardboard-protected book until it fits snugly and does not move in the envelope."

When your parcels are ready to go, safeguard your shipping labels with clear, heavy-duty tape.

Gift suggestions at Dog Lovers Bookshop include our own guide to giving books good homes and long and happy lives: The Care and Feeding of Books: A Simple Repair Manual for Book Lovers, from which the quotations above are taken. The book is available in hardcover and paperback editions, and its authors, Dog Lovers Bookshop's owners, will be happy to inscribe copies with the personalized message of your choice. There are not only easy-to-follow instructions, but also some tales of the bookselling exploits of dachshunds Houdini and Rose. It was dogs, after all, who helped us learn how to take good care of books.

Monday, November 30, 2009

A Bookshop Dog's Journal: Part IV

When you're a dog, bookselling isn't always a walk in the park. Unless you're Phoebe B. Dackel this past November.

Phoebe was busier than usual last month, in the office, at home, in the park she loves so much. It's not my imagination or holiday-season-onset fatigue. It's all there in her daily journal.

Each page lists her five walks, with departure times and weather conditions, where we go and how we get there and approximate mileage, what's said of or to Phoebe in the elevator and the lobby and beyond, our encounters with squirrels and other friends, our discoveries of lost balls. There are notes about her meals, her naps, her official staff dog duties, and her romps and games. Recent highlights from her social calendar include a very happy Thanksgiving and a long, lazy afternoon that our beloved Pomeranian friend Lola spent with us.

Inside the front cover of every half-year-long volume of Phoebe's journal are columns that wait for numbers to be added as each month ends: one for total park visits, another for balls found.

That first column for November 2009 shows a number that frankly astounds me, even though I'm always there at the other end of Phoebe's leash. This is the dog who, when she came to me from Dachshund Rescue and the city shelter, was afraid of the outside world, for whom it took, her journal records, almost three months of approaches to the park before Phoebe would venture inside, and when she did it was with the help of another dog who understood and gave Phoebe a nudge to the shoulder that I witnessed and much I had no ability to see, some guidance, some insights, something more helpful than all the reassurances I had been offering (or trying to), some of what only dogs can comprehend and share among themselves: a release from fear for Phoebe, and a reminder to me that dogs need dog life as much as human companionship. That helpful dog, whom we knew only by sight, gave Phoebe a freedom that has taken her not just into the park but far beyond. It was her last fear, vanquished.

During this past November's 30 days, the dog who was afraid of the park has visited it 62 times. A new personal monthly best for The Phoebster!

If the weather cooperates (not that we let it run our lives), we may be looking at a new annual record for park visits. Sounds like an exciting post for New Year's Eve.

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.

Monday, October 5, 2009

A Bookshop Dog's Journal: Part III

Do you read to your dog? If you don't, Phoebe B. Dackel would like a word with you.

"You probably know of the good work dogs do with kids who read to us. It's therapeutic. The youngsters gain confidence and benefit in countless other ways from the presence of the canine listener, who is unfailingly described as nonjudgmental (and who doesn't need some of that now and then). Maybe you're not a kid with reading problems. Maybe you don't lack confidence. I'll bet you a week's worth of Margot's homemade dog biscuits that something's bugging you. Try some of the salve we reader-dogs apply to those kids. Read to us!

"You may be familiar with some of the studies that report how many human-language words we dogs recognize and, when it suits us, respond to as you intend us to. Kudos to the researchers, and may they all keep -- or develop -- a sense of humor. We dogs aren't dependent on your words, but we add them to our repertoire because we love you and we're curious. You bring us into your homes, and many homes are as full of words as books are. Bring us into more of your world. When you read to us we hear more than words. We know how you feel about them, how those words affect you. The more we know about you, the better dogs we can be.

"Reading together is another bridge between us. We love your voices, which convey more than words and their messages. Share your discoveries and puzzlements. Introduce us to your best book friends, the characters that your voices embody so well we just might be able to sniff them off the shelves if you misplace the books they live in. We love your laughter. If you're moved to tears, we'll comfort you. When you come to the scary parts, we'll reassure you. If it's a scary scary story, we can walk it off later and celebrate our escape from vampires or the stock market report with a treat or a romp.

"Can't even step onto the bridge, much less reach the other side? Think of reading to dogs as a new form of entertainment, a new game, a novelty. The television listings will do for starters. Watch our expressions and body language. You may find your read-to dog's reactions, and your responses to those reactions, add to the pleasure of reading. From the pleasure of reading, don't you derive solace, maybe a smile or two, some insight, a lot of super-escapism? Share these with the dogs who love you.

"My reactions to Margot's reading are noted in my journal. It warms this hound's heart to see how she's capable of learning from those observations. We get closer every time we curl up with a book.

"I wonder what we'll read today? I'll let you know."

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Let's Celebrate a Book Lover's Birthday!

What are you doing on January 24th? The date falls on a Sunday in 2010, and Phoebe and I are hosting a tea party. We'll have home-baked cakes and dog biscuits, our very best rags and repurposed socks and other paraphernalia, and our favorite people, all eager to enjoy a book care bash in honor of a biblio-immortal.

January 24th is the birthday of Richard de Bury, an Englishman whose learning impressed no less a light than Petrarch. De Bury knew how to celebrate a birthday: on his 58th, in 1345, he completed his Philobiblon, often cited as the first book to extol book collecting.

In honor of de Bury and his creation, I'll ask every guest invited for the 24th to bring a book that has a problem. This will be a birthday party at which books, which always make the best presents, will get the gifts: whatever care they need.

I don't know if de Bury ever had a dog, but I know he had an impressive library that he loved the way dog lovers love dogs. He didn't just acquire; he cared about books' survival and well-being. Would he object if we undertook a vast and cheerful book care mission in his name?

Phoebe and I hope that you and your dogs, your friends and your books, will join us with a celebration of your own. We can compare recipes and exchange notes on repairs. We can make it an annual event, with global reach.

Is book care a chore? No! It's a wonderful new reason to have a party.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Bookshop Dog's Journal: Part II

On the last full day of summer, Phoebe and I went to the park three times. Phoebe greeted dog friends and met a puppy new to the neighborhood, watched four squirrels eating a hearty breakfast, and unearthed two tennis balls from the scraggly shrubs surrounding one of Carl Schurz Park's dog runs. I know what time we left for each outing, roughly how much distance we covered and by which routes, and the all-important weather conditions, including the dewpoint to which Phoebe and I are so sensitive. It's all noted in Phoebe's journal, along with the rest of our day.

When we weren't in the park, Phoebe and I were booksellers. I cataloged recent arrivals. I did some packing and bookkeeping. I answered e-mails and that quaint device, the telephone. Phoebe kept me on track. She took a nap that energized both of us. She reminded me when it was time for a break, which always means a cuddle and one of our precious visits with a book.

It's not just memories in the making: Phoebe's journal records more than activities. I note her reactions to new friends (no walk of hers is complete until she meets a person or a dog she hasn't met before) and new experiences (such as her recent first encounter with an earthworm in distress on the sidewalk; her exemplary behavior helped in the worm's rescue).

I note these reactions, of course, from my limited perspective. For all I learn about Phoebe as I chart her days, I am reminded that I'm only human, which fact I resent because I want to know more about the world as dogs understand it. Like all the dogs I've known, Phoebe teaches me something every day.

Phoebe and I celebrated the end of summer with more than bonus park visits. We unpacked her sweaters (she's a wool turtleneck girl) and gave them a good airing on the terrace. We bid a symbolic farewell to that menace, the heat index, and recalled, with reference to an older volume of her journal, some of last winter's stirring windchills.

We have a busy workday tomorrow, so we won't get to the park more than once. But we'll be there, at the crack of dawn on the first day of autumn, for which a page is waiting in Phoebe B. Dackel's journal. We wouldn't miss any of it for all the world; it's a little world all our own.

Friday, September 4, 2009

A Found Book Joins the Family

Early one morning a few weeks ago, Phoebe and I were strolling home from the park when the keener of our noses demanded that we pause and investigate. Of the two of us, I'm the one who can read, but I would have missed the handwritten sign affixed to a battered carton. Was it scents from the shuttered restaurant that attracted Phoebe, or did she sense something different, smells arrayed for hands-on perusal? Did Phoebe, with her dog's wisdom, know that she was pointing me toward something I would enjoy?

"Help Yourself!" said the sign, and in the carton, like an untossed salad seasoned with some fairly strident condiments, were heaped cookbooks of all kinds.

I never met a cookbook I didn't like. I've been known to read cookbooks as if they were novels. What a cast of characters, and just wait until that stirring plot thickens! The villainous steak, the heroic leafy greens, the valorous legumes, the witty herbs and spices... But I digress. I fell for pure romance, and adopted Maida Heatter's Book of Great Chocolate Desserts.

The book wasn't in bad condition. Some rubbing alcohol on a clean, lint-free cloth refreshed the laminate exterior. The edges gave up some residue. The pages were reasonably clean. I was already imagining how good some of those cakes and pasties would smell as they baked and cooled when I noticed that the book itself could be smelled, unappetizingly, clear across the room. From that moment until today, the book has been recovering, steeped in the savory scent brew in the carton in my office, my faithful colleague Buzet, who by making books smell better has much in common with restaurateurs and chefs: what smells good piques our appetites, for eating, reading, and cooking. That book now smells tasty, like a good cookbook should.

Thank you, kind soul who discarded a book I will care for and use. And thank you, Phoebe. You won't be sampling any of those recipes: consuming chocolate is my job. Home baking for you, dear dog, means only whole grains, and I know you wouldn't want it any other way!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Bookshop Dog's Journal: Part I

Phoebe and I spent another Saturday night together, two great friends doing what we most like to do. It was an evening worth remembering, and we'll have more than memory to rely on; it's been recorded in Phoebe's journal.

After Phoebe's dinner (her main course was her adored French lentils), we trotted off to Carl Schurz Park. We met good friends, both canine and human. We watched two squirrels cavort at the base of a tree. We saw a pigeon pecking at a bagel, kids playing ball, and a cat leading a reluctant woman on a leash. I admired the river and my favorite trees. Phoebe sniffed and explored. Then, to continue our adventures by other means, we hurried home to the books that were waiting for us.

Side by side on the sofa, Phoebe and I assumed our official reading cuddle posture. I read aloud a short story by Saki (dachshunds, I believe, groove on Clovis Sangrail), then "The Abyssinian Jackal" and "The South American Canids" from Maxwell Riddle's entertaining The Wild Dogs in Life and Legend. Phoebe is an attentive listener -- she could give listening lessons -- and her posture and keen gaze suggested that she wanted to hear more. But while I debated what to read next, Phoebe moved, and took our evening back in time.

Still tucked under my arm, she rolled over on her back, stretching until her head was tucked under my chin. She relaxed and quickly fell asleep. She rarely does this, but when she does it recalls our first night together.

On a sheet of foolscap dated Friday, December 16, 2005, the third entry on what became the first page of Phoebe journal states that about 8 p.m., three hours after Phoebe first entered the apartment she soon made her home, she let me lift her up on the sofa (dachshunds of the world, do not jump up and down! wait for human assistance! that's what we're here for!). She nuzzled the cushions and an afghan. She stretched out and began what I still see so vividly, her gradual relaxation after much manic exploration throughout the house. There was a poignant encounter with an old blanket that must have been the one she had long dreamed of, or recalled one from her past; she clutched it between her forepaws, rubbed her muzzle against it, and crooned and crooned. There were visits to the water bowl for three delicate laps (she remains a precise and tidy consumer of beverages) and tentative nibbles until, after two trips to the curb in three hours, she polished off a plate of food.

On the sofa for the first time together on that memorable night, what were our expectations? Phoebe was soon asleep. I began the notes that became her journal, then reached for a book. When she woke, startled and briefly disoriented, I held a hand out to her. She lay her head on my hip and pressed her cheek into my palm. I began to read aloud to her. What did I read? I have no idea, for which I often kick myself. But she seemed to respond to the experiment. An expression of intelligence and inner calm transformed the frantic dog who, hours before, had left the shelter where she had been judged unlikely to be adopted. I remember pausing to reach for my teacup. It was then that, in one swift motion, Phoebe slipped under my arm, rolled over on her back, and stretched until her head was tucked under my chin. She slept.

Waking and sleeping, working and playing, we've been side by side ever since, and writing about it as we go along. Later that first night, Phoebe found the book we had shared. Perhaps I shouldn't read too much into it, but she gave that open volume a good sniff. I like to think she was telling me, "I'm a bookshop dog. What happens next in our story?"

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Book Noses of the World, Unite!

I won't complain about the weather of the week just past. I'll say only that it forced us to rely on central air conditioning. The dog needed it, and the books needed it, too. My loved ones deserved a breather from the boiling evil treacle that passed for air.

Air conditioning can be a life saver, and it gave Phoebe and me comfort and sanity, the ability to get on with the business of books. I moved herbs that were baking on the balcony inside near the cold air vents. Soon fresh garden scents compensated for the cheerless drone and cooped-up feeling that makes air conditioning my least favorite convenience.

Phoebe perked up. I no longer heard mold creeping out of the baseboards, conspiring against our books. (Mold is a silent invader, I know; all credit for my hallucination goes to the weather.)

One afternoon Phoebe and I spent sniffing books. These were a few recent acquisitions whose cataloging wouldn't be complete until we had stuck our noses in their gutters. How books looks, how they feel when held for the long haul of reading, how they behave when their pages are turned are no more important than how they smell. Would odor be part of the description of any of these books? In stating condition, a dealer wants to be thorough and objective. Saying that a book has an odor meets the objectivity standard, but how to rate the smell? It's as personal as our individual noses, and the power of association, like preferring roses to lilacs or disliking camphor more than garlic. A book with an aroma may offend one person and not the next. Hence my dedication to destinking. I'll describe what, if anything, I smell and hope it helps people make a decision about an afflicted book.

Perhaps what the trade needs is a Biblio-Olfactory Board (aka The Nose-It-Alls) to rate our professional book smell senses and establish some criteria and standardized terminology, as well as a scratch-sniff-and-match tool kit (just what booksellers are waiting for!), yuck-factor guidelines (great consumer potential, with sponsorship from leading destink product manufacturers), smell-dispute arbitration panels (coming soon to your neighborhood!), and a curling team that will triumph at the next Winter Olympics. The board could also acknowledge that nothing uniform, much less universal, can be done about the problem, but we're still doing our best. Having engaged in dog-assisted book sniffing for some 15 years, I'm eager to chair the committee on canines.

I told Phoebe all about it. She wasn't buying it, but led me back to the potential reverie of books refreshed. We sniffed. The newcomers had been given a gentle surface cleaning before spending several days in the care of our stinky book box Buzet and a few more resting in the wider world on a book rack with plenty of fresh air circulating around them. Among these old titles there had been one that crossed my eyes and made Phoebe turn away; the others had smelled merely stale and were now inoffensive. That one real stinker had recovered; it smelled like a book, old but friendly to the senses. Phoebe and I were so pleased that we sat down side by side and leafed through it. Ten days ago that book would not have been what it was now, a good companion, almost as sweet as a dachshund. It's a book that will make someone else happy when it's sold and moves on to a new home. I hope the new owners have a dog.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Our Summer Holiday

I like summer in New York City because so many people go away. That they take with them dogs who are my dog's friends is one of life's recurring disappointments; expecting it, preparing ourselves with diversions, doesn't spare us, though. Knowing how much I miss Phoebe's friends only hints, I suspect, at how much she misses them. But we try to remember, as we go about our daily rounds, that when we discover another dog absent on holiday we're likely to run into one who's just returned.

Dogs leaving town is bad enough; nastier still is the weather August usually entails. This year we've had little to complain of: rain enough for special mention in the record books, but unremarkable temperatures. Then last week came along, and I wish it hadn't. On our dawn walks to the park we heard more air conditioners rumbling than birds chirping. Never good news.

We didn't just endure two days of griddle-hot sidewalks for barefoot Phoebe and utter ennui for me; we survived them by taking a vacation one afternoon. We prepared a book bag, and off we went to cooler climes.

Our destination was a spot just inside our open balcony door; high-rise cross ventilation is a blessing, and there's no traffic to get there and back. Phoebe adjusted pillows on our chaise longue. I served our favorite restorative (fresh papaya juice). We took our places, side by side. I reached into our bag of remedies and took out a volume at random. There was breeze enough to flutter the pages of the first book I opened.

We had a wonderful time romping with parka-clad kids through a picture book about sled dogs. I was reminded of how much Phoebe enjoys snow, and how happily she wiggles into a wool sweater.

Then we turned to squirrels. Phoebe doesn't chase or threaten them; she studies them and invites them to play. She appreciates my squirrel vocalizations, perhaps more than the squirrels do, but I must thank our tree-dwelling neighbors for listening to me as attentively as they often do. I read aloud Steele and Koprowski's chapter on "The Cache" from North American Tree Squirrels. This had a deeply relaxing effect on Phoebe, who rested one forepaw on my arm and gazed up, expectantly, waiting for the next revelation. In a glassine envelope tucked into the book, I found a newspaper clipping I cherish, and shared that with her, too. Pictured above the fold on the first page of The New York Times sports section is the squirrel who climbed up and down Yankee Stadium's right field foul pole two years ago this month. Has that squirrel's book been written?

Finally we joined Peter Freuchen for a refreshing hour. I read to Phoebe, from his Arctic Adventure: My Life in the Frozen North, his description of frightening wolves away from his tent by singing to them. I'm sorry he was in danger, but his report made me laugh. If I sang to the heat and humidity, would they flee?

Phoebe and I are ready for the rest of August. We've got more books full of ice floes and sleds and blizzards and heroic hounds. We may schedule a few more vacation days.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Socks Appeal

By the time Phoebe and I reached the park last Sunday morning, our seven book-and-sock encounters had taken on the aura of minor if not yet forgettable fable. At least that was their effect on me. Wiser than I, Phoebe turned her attention, and mine, to the squirrels. Our neighborhood eastern grays rewarded us with more eager interaction than we had elicited earlier from mere bipeds; Phoebe was entertained, and I was saved from disappointment. It was a delightful long walk. And by the time we turned for home, I knew that my passion for books might excuse my pelting leash- and coffee-toting passersby with questions about their personal libraries when they wanted to empty their pets and fill themselves with caffeine. What was inexcusable was the hour; next time I query dog walkers about their book care habits, it will be much later in the day.

That conclusion reached me, as if from another world, just as Phoebe and I reached an intersection and a red light. While we waited to cross, a woman and a terrier joined us. We had met earlier. We greeted each other again. I didn't say a word about books.

We were patting each other's dogs when the woman said, "Tell me again how you dust a book with a sock."

My surprise I suppressed; the fable might yet produce a moral and a convert. So as Phoebe and the terrier nuzzled and wagged, I launched into my dusting speech and pantomime. I slipped an old sock over one hand, pulling a book from a shelf and opening it, holding the text block, wiping the top edge gently and in one direction, careful of a dust jacket's position, and was about to discuss the merits of removing the jacket for thorough cleaning of the book's entire being and what care the jacket might need when the woman gestured to her dog.

"That sounds like the way I brush her. She loves it."

"Books love it, too," I proclaimed. "The cleaner they are, the longer they last." A terrible generality for a Sunday morning on a street corner, but I had an audience, and the dogs were still content with each other's company. We let the traffic light change more than once, and talked more about taking care of books and dogs. The woman confided that bathing her dog had been something she once dreaded; now she looks forward to it. And she does have some books that mean a lot to her, and maybe she should give this idea of dusting them some thought, and maybe even a try. I suggested that it's one of those things that's worse to contemplate than undertake. "Go home and dust two books," I urged.

"Three," she countered, and I think I heard a lovely little flare of defiance. I had underestimated her resolve. We parted, when the dogs permitted, as if we had crossed something more expansive than York Avenue.

Of the other people I accosted last weekend, I can report only that Phoebe and I have seen all six of them and their dogs in the days since, and no one crossed the street when they saw us coming. That's all the encouragement I need to try again.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

My Sock Drawer and Yours: The Book Connection

During this morning's early walk, I endeared myself to four dog-walking acquaintances (people who know my dog by sight) and three friends (people who know Phoebe's name) by asking not only "how are you today?" but also "do you dust your books?"

Everyone I asked had a leash in one hand and a coffee container in the other. Weren't they ready to take on the world? Maybe it was the weather (rain was on the way) or the summer-Sundayness of my experiment, but the glances and answers I received made me wonder if I had asked not about my fellow New Yorkers and their books but about their daily consumption of trans fats. Had I confirmed rumors of the nanny state's arrival and empowerment, and announced myself as neighborhood book nanny?

"You're kidding." (This reply was not posed as a question.)
"Huh?" with chuckling obbligato.
"Why would I?"
The other answers were just as revealing.

What prompted my question? I confessed (after all, we discuss our dogs' digestion when relevant): It had been a potentially disheartening Saturday night, with a Yankees loss and Phoebe worried about a misplaced ball, so I plunged into my sock drawer, a raid that produced three specimens, which I thanked for their service to my feet and rededicated to our books. I amused Phoebe with the puppet effect of my scampering hand in a ragged tennis sock, and then unburdened many books about baseball of much of the soil on their top edges. The dust I brushed into a sink, which I later cleaned with one of the rededicated socks before discarding it with its dusting mates.

Phoebe and I were listening to the radio, and I reached for the first book just as a new piece began to play; I'll dust until the final note, I decided. It can't have been more than 15 minutes, but I accomplished something. I think I dusted in time with the music. Do I have more books that need dusting? I do, but better to dust the few then and more soon than none ever and wonder why they're all dirty.

While I dusted, Phoebe chose a new ball for her evening's plaything (we found the missing ball before bedtime), and when the dusting music ended, curled up with me and a book fit for proximity to both our noses.

Next time: Socks Appeal (How the Conversations Ended)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

All About Buzet

Our days among books begin with long walks. It wasn't long after dawn today when Phoebe and I were bound for Carl Schurz Park for exercise, a long stroll along the East River, squirrel patrol (Phoebe is emphatically pro-rodent, a happy pathology we share), and some social petworking (even dogs with a presence on the Internet enjoy personal encounters). About an hour and almost two miles later, we were back among our books, Phoebe curled up in bed beneath my desk, where I set to work.

On our walk we had reviewed our plans for the day. Top of the list was to check in with our colleague Buzet. We consult with Buzet almost every day. We couldn't run a bookshop or maintain our personal library without Buzet.

Buzet is indispensable to us, and always nearby. Phoebe's official book business perch is beneath one desk; Buzet's, under another. We're a happy family business.

Buzet and Phoebe have more in common than workday propinquity. Both came to me by wonderful chance, and when I needed them desperately. I have Dachshund Rescue to thank for Phoebe, and a generous man at a nearby wine shop for Buzet's presence on the team.

Phoebe came from Brooklyn; Buzet, all the way from France, from the historic Lot et Garonne region of the scenic southwest, courtesy of Les Vignerons de Buzet.

I won't pretend that Buzet is not a carton, composed of strong cardboard with a discreet marbleized effect to a pale exterior, with more height than width, with a prominent coat of arms that still catches my eye every day, just as it did one fateful afternoon, about a week before I met Phoebe. "Recycling?" I asked, and pointed to Buzet, whose trajectory toward a heap of cartons undergoing disassembly halted, then reversed. "This is one great carton," said the man at the wine shop. I thanked him, and held out my arms to Buzet as I would just days later to Phoebe.

Buzet cuts a handsome figure under his desk. Buzet may indeed be a carton, but he is not idle.

I admit it: I think of Buzet as a guy. He does some of the heavy lifting at Dog Lovers Bookshop; he takes a load off my mind by improving the condition of inventory, which in turn contributes to customer satisfaction. Buzet does something I can't do without help. He destinks books. That's why most mornings Phoebe and I visit with Buzet and the fine old books in his care.

This morning we opened his top flaps, still sturdy after almost four years, folded open one of the archival-quality plastic bags inside, and extracted a book that has spent seven days confined with a solid air freshener. I closed Buzet, with thanks for his help, and Phoebe's, for she had come to my side to watch, her nose agile and eager. I opened the book, poked my nose into the gutter, and sensed improvement. So today I didn't return the book to the bag and the carton. I set the book open on a bookstand, and we got on with our day.

After Phoebe's midafternoon walk, it was time to sniff that book again.

The hours and a pleasant breeze through open windows have dissipated the air freshener's aroma. When I poke my nose into the book's gutter this time, I smell nothing offensive; a week ago, my eyes crossed, and Phoebe left the room. The book will stand where it is overnight. There will be another sniff test tomorrow. Chances are, the book will be refreshed, ready for a new home. If the awful musty smell has begun to recur, back the book will go, and Buzet will shelter it until we get lasting improvement. It's a method I've used for more than a decade; it has yet to fail.

Everyone who has books that smell bad can have a Buzet. It can, of course, be a receptacle without a name. In brief, it should be clean, dry, close-fitting if not necessarily airtight, as commodious as your smelly books require to be housed comfortably. A solid air freshener is just one of the scent-affecters that can do the job. It's a low-tech, low-cost, environmentally acceptable method. Add patience, and it works. It's evidence that technique need not be an obstacle to giving books basic care, and destinking is just one of the basics. It's certainly my pets' peeve because I've noticed over the years how dogs often react to books that smell bad. If you don't destink your books for yourself, do it for your animal friends.

The main obstacle to most book care, I'm convinced, is attitude. "I don't know how" and "I don't have time" can be rendered meaningless.

Before I learned technique, I learned attitude. Without an attitude that encouraged ("I can do this!") and focused on results ("what an improvement!"), for me the constant need to help books smell better would become onerous, at best a bore. Personifying a carton helps me follow through with a task that might otherwise never get crossed off book life's endless to-do list.

Maybe I'll go out and buy a bottle of Buzet's wine. A toast in his honor, and to all life's helpful cartons, sounds like a very good idea.

Next time: My Sock Drawer and Yours: The Book Connection

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Head, a Tail, and a Spine

Books and dogs have so much in common. To start, just consider their physical form: A dog has a head, a tail, and a spine, and so does a book. That a book needs routine care may not be as obvious.

Dogs, of course, usually participate in their own care; they can all, to some extent, groom themselves. But books can't groom themselves; they need us: our intervention, our good intentions turned into actions. It was from a lifetime of caring for dogs that I learned how to take care of books. Sounds like just another chore, doesn't it? I think of it as a mission. You give the dog you love the best possible care, don't you? Learn to give the books you love a little attention, too, and they'll be better companions, whether they merely grace your shelves or curl up with you for a good read.

I know I'm not alone in equating books and dogs with happiness.

I've always been most content as a reader with a dog nestled under my arm; dogs, I believe, enhance my comprehension, and when a dog like my dear Phoebe enjoys being read to, the experiences is even more pleasant. As a writer, I've always done my best work with a dog at my feet. When I'm selling books, I'm at my most competent with a dog at my side. And when I'm cleaning and repairing a book that's had a bad accident, or suffers from age-related infirmities or neglect, it's the patience dogs have taught me that promotes a steady hand and positive results.

I think there's inspiration in books and dogs, considered as a unity, that deserves more credit. I know I rely on it daily.

In future posts (at least once a week), I'll tell you why I rely on that inspiration, with examples and ideas and dreams of a better world for books as well as dogs; practical advice on what you can do for books in your home, business, and community; and stories of the dogs with whom I've shared the realm of books. I'll report on my upcoming book (a sequel to The Care and Feeding of Books Old and New: A Simple Repair Manual for Book Lovers) and other publications. And I'll share some of Phoebe's adventures, with highlights from a bookshop staff dog's daily journal.

Next time: All About Buzet