“Secondhand books are wild books, homeless books; they have a charm which domesticated volumes lack.” – Virginia Woolf
Wild books, homeless books, charming books … used books are the best sort of books, I think. I even tend to judge a town or place by the quality of its used book stores. And this morning, I began to suspect that Quincy the dog may have a similar type of cataloging for local corners and walking paths.
Ask any used book aficionado, and we’ll tell you that part of the passion we have for old books is due to the unique and exquisite smell of them. Chemists at University College in London have actually taken it apart and describe it as: “A combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying muskiness.”
According to other experts, that compelling smell is due to a polymer called “lignin,” which trees produce and which stays in the paper and then breaks down as it ages in books over the years and years they are collected. The older they get, the smellier (and better).
I can’t help but suspect that it’s rather the same experience for walking dogs – and their relationship with water hydrants, bushes, corner fence posts, and all the tree trunks along the way.
Quincy certainly spends his time examining the stories he finds on our walks, just as I can linger for hours in narrow aisles between rows and rows of old books on either side of me. And, just as with old books, he “reads” all the fascinating past histories and other narratives about where the teller of the story has been, what they are feeling, who they have met on their travels. I suspect the scents he finds also speak to him of places he’s never been and experiences he’s never had. Perhaps they tell love stories and adventures; perhaps there are tales of heroic hearts and inheritances and hopeful spirits. I have no doubt he can tell if they are wild and homeless and charming.
According to the author of “The Little Bookshop on the Seine,” Rebecca Raisin: “They’d lived, sometimes in many homes, or maybe just one. They’d been on airplanes, travelled to sunny beaches, or been crowded into a backpack and taken high up on a mountain where the air thinned.” She said this about secondhand books, of course. But I see the same possibilities in the histories of dogs.
This morning, on my walk with Q, around the neighborhood and touching the edges of the horse district, I was anxious to keep moving, to pick up the pace. Yet Q dawdled and lingered over certain spots and particular scents. And then I remembered how much I hate being “hurried” through secondhand book stores. And I considered that this corner, this path, this place, might be just as spellbinding to him as my favorite used bookstores are to me.
And so I slowed down for him, I dawdled along with him, I just waited until he was ready to move on. And in my thoughts I began to paraphrase the remaining words of Virginia Woolf’s that I quoted at the top of this column: “And in this random, miscellaneous company we may rub against some complete stranger who will, with luck, turn into a best friend.”
Secondhand books and passing dogs have all the best stories to be told, I suspect; to be shared, perhaps to be savored into charming, long-treasured friendships.