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!