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.