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.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Collecting Dog Books: Wolves and Other Wild Canines

Learning about our ancestors -- where they came from, how they lived, what changed their lives, and how their experiences have influenced our lives -- makes us human, and may even help make us humane. Whether we learn at a grandparent's knee or through reading, research, travel, or chance, there's always more to know, and with that comes the endless opportunity to try to understand ourselves and why we do the good, the less good and worse, the crazy, and the incomprehensible.

Our domestic dogs also have ancestors. They've got extended family throughout the canine world, and every member of that family has a story to tell. Study the body language and pack behaviors of the wolf; do you recognize your dog's mannerisms and actions?

The range of literature is as wide and varied as the global territory of nondomestic canines, from the wolf to the coyote, jackal, dingo, fox, fennec, and wild dog.

One can focus on the natural history of each subspecies or thrill to first-person accounts of encounters in the wild. Folklore and fable have much to tell us, from Native America to the Indian subcontinent and most every other culture, too. For adults and youngsters, novelists around the world have imagined dogs’ wild cousins in renowned tales and lesser-known works that are well worth reading and collecting. Children’s literature, especially picture books, is an enchanting collectible choice. The Big Bad Wolf, who appears in so many retellings that one can make his story a mini-collection of its own, is just one classic character worthy of attention.

The more we learn about our dogs' origins and how their distant cousins have lived, and thrive or struggle to survive today, the less likely we are to forget that no matter how close to us dogs are, they are first and foremost their own distinct selves. They need dog life as well as life as members of our families. The more we know about the dog life they need, the better able we are to provide at least a humble portion of it. Think of it as the treat that isn’t eaten; serving it is our reward.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Collecting Dog Books: Of Dog Words and Dogless Dog Books

Now for something potentially irrelevant: it's snowing, I've enjoyed more coffee even more than usual, and I've just set aside my morning newspaper's crossword. Why abandon one of my daily pleasures? Because the clue was "follow relentlessly" and the answer is "dog" -- not Canis familiaris, but a dog of another breed altogether.

So as I sneak up on the coffee pot yet again, I grab my biggest, fattest, heaviest single-volume dictionary, open it to "dog" and admire all those words. Not for the first time do I savor the etymologies and first known appearances. There are times, I guess, when I want to play with any dog, including the word itself.

In my ceaseless search for books about dogs, or books in which dogs appear in any context and to any degree, I often discover dogless books whose titles include some form of the word dog. So wide is that word's application that one could fashion an intriguing library of books with no real (or mythical or theoretical or metaphorical or in any other way caninely defined) dogs within but dog words on every cover. Is the word dog a well-tested marketing tool, perhaps? Does it tell us so many things, intellectually and emotionally, that there's just no end to our attraction to it?

How much dog does it take to make a dog book? How pervasive are dog words, in literature, in our daily conversation? Does our affection for dogs inspire us to use more dog words, and do we ever think twice about some of the less than flattering usages? Not every lapdog or watchdog is a quadruped. In the doghouse doesn't mean sweet Fido is having a nap but where we don't want to find ourselves, asleep or awake. Aching dogs are not paws but human feet. If you're dogged by worry, you might not be worrying about your dog. When you're the object of dogged pursuit, chances are it's not a dog who's on your trail. And it follows relentlessly, as today's paper reminds me, that no book's pages should be turned down, folded and creased to form the lamentable dog-ear. Turned down also means rejected, and a dog-eared page might feel demeaned as well as damaged. Imagine it whimpering, and you'll always use a respectable, acid-free bookmark.

Now back again to my coffee, the tumbling snow, and today's puzzle in The New York Times. Will I find another doggone dog clue?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Collecting Dog Books: Authors and Titles

Basing a collection on a favorite author is a long-established approach. It's an option as obvious as it is satisfying, so what more can be said about it?

Perhaps an experience of mine will point to what can be done when an author or a book leads the way. In book love, we're not always in control, nor should we be. We may teach our dogs to heel, but aren't we grateful when they take over and lead us to some happy discovery?

It was 1969, just after Labor Day. On my midday break from work, I went for a walk up Fifth Avenue. My goal was Central Park (I probably planned to practice my squirrel vocalizations), but due to my inability to pass certain establishments when they're open (it's that wise dog tugging on the leash that binds us) and the pure chance of my walking north on the east side of the street, I found myself in the Doubleday Book Shop, the branch that closed in 1990, and, yes, I'm still conscious of its absence, and the bitter lack of its former book neighbors in Midtown.

What's still there, as vivid to me as a plaque on that much-remodeled address would be, is the memory. A certain shelf summoned me. A book slid into my hand. A title I had never heard of by an author unknown to me had selected me as if I were what was on offer.

I bought My Dog Tulip by J. R. Ackerley. I continued on to the park, sat, opened the book, and may have been a little late getting back to the office. It was a reading coup de foudre.

The three of us -- Ackerley, Tulip, and me -- created an extended family of books, a clan to which I belonged by sheer affinity, because something new developed in my book life. Having that one copy of My Dog Tulip was not enough. I loved the book beyond its characters, place, and story. Good as it was, and pleasing as the attractively designed Poseidon edition still is (it remains in what my bookseller's soul would call very good condition), it was not enough, but inadequate in an inspiring way.

First, I wanted a copy of My Dog Tulip in every edition in which it had appeared, and would be issued in future. Many Tulips make a fine bouquet, and these never wilt.

I discovered We Think the World of You, Ackerley's fictionalized version of the story. I had to know more about the author, too, and over the years collected everything he wrote, and everything written about him. I'm still looking for more.

If you collect based on what an author has to say about dogs, why not learn more about the author's life? Biographies, memoirs, correspondence, book reviews, and published interviews are just a few of your potential sources.

And don't assume that a book you love is all there is to the story. Has it been illustrated by a variety of artists over its publishing life? Are there sequels, prequels, annotated editions, parodies, comics, or other versions you might enjoy?

Eric Knight's Lassie Come-Home, Ouida's A Dog of Flanders, and Beautiful Joe by Marshall Saunders are among the classics that can be found in numerous editions and formats.

What book means to you what Tulip means to me?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Collecting Dog Books: Legacies

There are books you inherit, and books you pass along. Just as time parts us from our dogs but never from their love, books as legacies express our love for dogs and each other.

You may have no influence over the choice of books someone leaves you, but you can at least provide for them (do they need cleaning or repair, and if they're not to your taste, where will they be appreciated?). Or you may make some discoveries (what might you learn from someone else's preferred reading, especially if there are revealing annotations?). You might think of these books as homeless dogs: some you foster until they're permanently rehomed, others never leave your side and you're forever thankful that they came your way.

Have you provided for your own collection's future? Do you have a record of the titles that comprise your collection, with notes on provenance and other pertinent factors? Whether they’re destined for charity, an institution that will house them for research, or loved ones who will treasure them, your books deserve a future, so ask yourself if they need some care. When did you last give them a good dusting?

Starting a collection for someone else is an especially happy task. It may be the top twelve fiction titles on the German shepherd for someone who admires the breed but lacks your knack for finding good reads. It might be the foundation of a lifetime’s love of books and dogs for that grandchild who’s on the way, ranging from the stories you remember from childhood to some choice collectibles you inherited from your grandparents or lucked into at last week’s yard sale. Keep notes, to pass along with the books, on why you chose them and what they meant to you.

Above all, book legacies remind us that books are worth sparing from the printed volume’s equivalent of the dog pound that is not a no-kill shelter.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Collecting Dog Books: Time and Place

In the immense where and when of dogs, in fact and fiction, you may find the collecting niche for which you've long been looking. It might be a specialty that complements an existing interest or takes you in a whole new direction. Time and place give you as broad or narrow a scope as you prefer, limited only by what has been published within your niche. It's another trip, with a dog at your side, and here are a few of the paths you might follow.

For the truly long ago, consider the canine in archeology or the literature of ancient civilizations. Two worthy examples: the Greek Arrian (who wrote on his contemporary, Epictetus, and Alexander the Great) and the Athenian Xenophon (historian and general, among other attainments) are each credited with works entitled Cynegeticus. To read these authors for their descriptions of hounds, for example, is to understand why those dogs were believed to be the creation of Apollo and Artemis.

Perhaps you're a great fan of the novels of Jane Austen. Investigate dog literature published in the British Isles during her lifetime. Imagine reading these books not only for your own pleasure, but also from the point of view of your favorite Austen character.

Add a few decades to your search and focus on the Victorian era. From classics on dog "breaking" (as training was known in those days) to entertaining fiction to Queen Victoria's diaries with mentions of four-footed members of the royal household, you'll find some highly collectible volumes, attractive bindings, fine illustrations, and a perspective on dogs and their place in society, from the shepherd's croft to the cross-country hunt to the manners of the drawing room, that beg for our attentive reading.

Interested in arctic exploration? This vast terrain encompasses action, accomplishment, and all too often agony. On your explorations in this field you'll find memorable dogs in adventure stories, biography, first-person accounts, and scientific reports.

Remember that books whose primary subject matter barely touches on your topic, but that list published or other sources, may point you toward important discoveries. Peruse bibliographies. A good bibliography is one good reason to buy a book; it, too, might qualify for status as a canine collecting niche.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Collecting Dog Books: Breeds

If "collect what you love" is a classic recommendation for bibliophiles, then the breed you love best may be the most logical, the most satisfying way to start or refine a library devoted to canine literature. Let your dog be your guide!

But even within your specialty you can specialize.

Breed books per se are only the most obvious choice. Even if you have a few, or many, such volumes, remember that authors' eras and perspectives provide not only different takes on everything from breed origin to breed standard, and the usual guidance on choosing, rearing, training, breeding, and showing, but also some extras, a few surprises, an anecdote or two you've found nowhere else, illustrations or photos you've never seen and wish you hadn't had to wait so long to admire.

Dog literature is rich in breed-specific biography and memoir, immortalizing dogs who've experienced every walk of life, from the farm and field to the city streets, from the rigors of war to the fanfare of motion pictures. In fiction, the role of the dog knows no bounds, from the realistic to the fantastical; is there a recognized breed that hasn't appeared in a novel or short story? Whether your preference is fact or fiction, you can fine-tune a collection by searching for books written in the canine first person, books written for the adult or younger reader, picture books for kids or other illustrated works, including those by artists known for depicting certain breeds with special skill.

Curiosity can take you far afield, to a dog's ancestral home, to places associated with breed history. During the 1970s, I made several pilgrimages to Gergweis, Germany's famous Dackeldorf, where more than one breeder assured me that the town always had more dachshund than human inhabitants, an innkeeper showed me the dog beds with dachshund-sized duvets in every guest room, and a farmer invited me to watch a dachshund herd cows home for milking. Travel is also a wonderful excuse to acquire books, editions you might not find at home, as souvenirs or gifts. Of course, if you can't make the trip, you can read about the place or scour the Internet.

Learning more about what a breed was created to do is another great provider of insight. So my love of the dachshund, which translates as badger dog, has given me a shelf devoted to the members of the family Mustelidae. I collect everything I can find that describes the dachshund as hunter and earthdog. The more you know about your breed's talents and instincts, the more you know about the dog individual with whom you live.

While I know there's nothing in life more compelling than dogs, I admit that most dog lovers have other interests, many of which combine nicely with the canine. Who among the great and famous, for example, has shared your breed preference? Read about those individuals, and you'll often read about their dogs. In my constant quest for dachshundiana, I’ve read everything I can find about Pierre Bonnard and his Ravejeau and Poucette after marvelling at the dachshunds in his paintings, and my appreciation for tenor Richard Tauber’s recordings has only been amplified by discovering his dachshunds Fritzi and Mitzi in an article in Time in 1931, and on the cover of Opera News in 1991.

Part of the fun of collecting is the sense that one is always on the scent. Just another little lesson my dogs have taught me.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Book That Bit Me

To a holiday gift and a haircut goes all the credit for my conversion from a lover of books who acquired them as regularly as groceries to a collector near the high end of the mania scale.

From the card still tucked inside, I know that in 1976 I was given a dog encyclopedia that I toured, for months, every few days, looking for new vistas to expand my view of my favorite species. I won't claim cause and effect, but I do recall that my routine with that book coincided with my having hair that often caught in my belt cut level with my chin, with bangs, and that my dog Po, a German shorthaired pointer, did not approve. He spent weeks tugging at my hair, while I slept, while I read to myself and to him, no doubt trying to restore me to his concept of my true self. In time he made peace with the new me, and I made both of us promises: no dramatic changes without preparing Po, and I had met a book I had to own as soon as possible.

In that dog encyclopedia I came across a reference to a 1906 publication whose title alone fascinated me. The book was cited as the source of some of the historical tidbits I'd been reading. I wanted more. I wanted that book! I wanted it within the hour! It was as dramatic as that haircut, and as decisive: my hair hasn't grown down to my waist and I haven't outgrown my need for certain books, or the patience to wait until I find them.

I looked for that book wherever books were sold. I searched dealer catalogs, I telephoned, I wrote, I asked that my request be kept on file. As the years passed, my yearning for the book grew. A trip to Washington, D.C., and two afternoons spent reading that book in The Library of Congress made me wonder if perhaps I should move to our nation's capital. I could read the book whenever the LOC would graciously place it before me in that splendid reading room of theirs.

Then I found a dealer with a copy. He promised to hold it for me. I mailed my check. The phone rang. Apologies so profuse, a voice so cracked that had it been a book's spine it would have been rushed to the binder, and I felt almost as sorry for the dealer as I did for myself. He had indeed placed the book on hold for me. Through some mischance, however, his partner had sold it to someone else. I learned a lesson that was to pay off years later when I became a dealer. A customer asks me to hold a book, and I hold it.

More years passed. I kept looking. I didn't move to Washington. Dog Lovers Bookshop was founded and the Internet became a new haven for the book crazed. With my developing book dealer skills and speedy keystrokes, I found another copy. It was in San Francisco, where the German shorthaired pointer who endured the early years of the search and my newly cropped hair had lived as a pup. The copy in his old hometown would be mine. I had visions of Po fetching it for me. The dealer promised to hold the book. I paid. The book arrived. It was January 28, 1998, a Wednesday. I remember unwrapping it, the book I'd wanted for 22 years, as my dachshund Rose wagged and watched and sniffed. The book was in condition even better than the dealer had described. Rose and I spent the evening with it, a good friend come home at last. It has a place of honor on a shelf of favorites.

The book was an even better read, and education, than those encyclopedia references suggested. It took a bite out of my ignorance and gave me new appetites. It is not a book about dogs, but dogs figure in it, and in ways that still send me off on other expeditions: how dogs have been viewed and treated throughout history interests me far more than the latest dog show results. And if I'd never read it, would I be able to discourse on the murder trial of a French sow or a writ served on Maine rats?

My elegant copy of The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals by E.P. Evans has also taught me that I can probably find any book I want.

Friday, January 8, 2010

How to Collect Dog Books

If you love dogs and you love books, the combination is irresistible.

Your shelves may be overflowing. But how are those many books organized, and were they acquired with method or by serendipity?

Perhaps you've just bought your first puppy training manual for the best friend you've been dreaming of all your life. How many more behavior and training books will your young companion inspire you to acquire, and will you be hooked on the subject, and reading about it, long after you and your dog have learned how to behave to each other’s satisfaction?

Chances are we all have more books than dogs, so why not collect the former with as much care and curiosity and sheer unbounded delight as we expend on the choice of the latter?

On our online catalog, the Dog Lovers Bookshop table of contents lists books under more than 200 headings, most of which are subjects of potential interest to collectors. Here are some of the collectible topics I'll be discussing in the weeks ahead:



Childhood favorites

Domestic dog breeds

First editions

Genres galore



Signed editions

Time and/or place


Wolves and other wild canids

But where to begin? Probably with an early collecting adventure of mine that spanned 22 years, and a few references to dachshunds.

What's your special interest in dog books? And how are you pursuing it?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

At Junior's Tree

I've been to see the squirrels. I've told them about Phoebe. At Junior's Tree, I found the squirrel who trusted us. He learned, when both he and Phoebe were new to the ways of the park, that Phoebe's interest in him was wholeheartedly friendly and that I, under her influence, was equally harmless.

We met Junior early in Phoebe’s introduction to squirrels. He fell out of a tree, his yelp as long and dramatic as his plunge into a privet hedge. His parents rescued him, bundling him up the trunk as Phoebe wimpered and I reassured her. She watched as the three squirrels vanished far above our heads.

We met regularly thereafter, watching Junior master his squirrel skills and become a confident, robust, and thoroughly engaging character. He often greeted us with a chirp and an extended paw, which I report only because there were occasional, and astonished, witnesses.

One dawn last spring, we came upon Junior pawing through a patch of newly risen seedlings. He paused, seemed to notice us, and went back to work. We didn't move or make a sound. Soon Junior tugged two shoots from the ground, roots intact, carried them toward us in his mouth, and placed them across my feet. Standing beside me, Phoebe crooned and wagged. I thanked Junior as he darted up his tree. Those gifts grew on our balcony all summer.

I can no longer go home from an encounter with Junior or any of our other fine squirrels and read about them to my friend Phoebe. So after I announced that their canine admirer and student had died, I read to the squirrels, a few entries about them from Phoebe B. Dackel's journals.

Phoebe learned so much from those squirrels. And I learned so much from Phoebe. In our parting, she reinforced the lesson I’ve been tutored in by many beloved dogs: the bond is unbroken, our good-byes are merely physical, the insuperable tragedy would be if we had never met.

“Thank you” to all you dear, kind people and dogs who have commented on Phoebe. She would reply with her heartiest “woof!” and her sensible “let’s get on with our day” gestures, which always steered me back to the books that needed mending, or cataloging, or packing and shipping, when what I really wanted to do was give her another dozen hugs. While I worked I often talked to her about the stories that awaited us when work was done. I’m not entirely alone when I open those books.