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