Lost Pets / Found Books
The cat, most likely, chose to leave you.
(A few indie bookstores are offering signed pre-orders of my novel, BIOGRAPHY OF X, which will be released March 21. More info at the bottom of this post & here.)
Lost: Other people’s pets // Found: Other people’s books
Every time I see a Lost Cat or Lost Dog poster I stop to look at the cat or the dog in the picture, trying to memorize the animal so that I might later save them. In this unrealized fantasy, I’m almost always returning a dog to its person, as it seems to me cats are rarely lost, rarely missing. The cat, most likely, chose to leave you.
A few months ago I came across a poster for a missing parrot:
Actually it wasn’t just one poster, but dozens, and fresh ones kept appearing. My first thought was that the parrot, like all those lost cats, had simply decided it was time to go, but then I read it again.
Su parejita esta triste, the parrot’s parrot girlfriend was sad, lo esta búscando, looking for her lost mate. Whoever was putting up the posters must have been doing so on behalf of the little parejita lurking around the apartment, looking under the sofa, in the other room, under the sofa again. This wasn’t the owner’s lost parrot, but the other parrot’s lost parrot.
A few people have sent messages on the what-have-you-lost page about missing cats, but only one person has written to me about a lost dog—lost in the euphemistic sense of the word. (We both know and don’t know where the dog went.) It had been five months since Justin’s dog Eleanor had died. He wrote to me of his last memory of her:
the whites of her eyes swelling over the iris. it is what happens when the end has arrived, apparently. i have a new dog. similar breed, similar look. when i look into her eyes that's all i can see now—little eleanor, swelling… perhaps it was too soon to adopt.
sorry! you asked. or, rather, your machine asked.
This message (sorry! you asked) was the first to make me wonder why I was seeking all these sad stories in the first place, but I didn’t stop, didn’t take the page down. Last month I wrote to see how Justin was doing. He emailed back to say he was still traumatized, still missing his original dog.
New support dog sees me more as a mom than a friend, which is unexpected. What’s that quote, you can never go home again? Home in this case is having a friend rather than just being in a position where you are expected to care for a thing.
Love shared with an animal is incontestably sacred— even in the most secular person’s life. Comparisons are sometimes drawn between pets and children or spouses, but a pet has a particular way of reflecting and refracting our personalities over time in a way that people never quite do. What seemed to painful in Justin’s case was how he was being asked to become a new person to this new dog.
When you speak to a pet, they hear sounds, not words, and maybe this is part of the reason that those relationships feel so elemental and difficult to describe (and therefore difficult to mourn.) It hits you in a deep, pre-language sphere of the self.
Serious readers (ie, people who locate a large part of their identity in reading) tend to have a similar of relationship with their libraries. Having your books near (those you’ve read, and those you plan to read) is a comfort similar to having a pet near. Like spending time with an animal, reading is a way to be both internal and outward looking, simultaneously alone and in good company. And at the risk of pushing this parallel too far, both library and pet will gladly take over your home—the cat or dog hairs stuck to everything, the books overwhelming the shelves, then the floors, in endless stacks.
Through both circumstance and necessity, I’ve been mostly separated from my own library for more than a year. At first this was a constant stress, but as I’ve lived in the homes of friends I’ve discovered the profound pleasure of reading other people’s books.
At Lozano’s I read Little Labors by Rivka Galchen, and it was precisely the sort of company I needed right then. Then there was the morning last June at Sara’s when I came across a copy of Love’s Work by Gillian Rose and read it in one sitting. At Daniel’s I went through the Katherine Mansfield journals and binged all the Anne Carson and read Under The Volcano for the first time. And now, apartment-swapping with a very well-read couple, I feel almost as if I’m living in an idealized version of my own library—lots of my favorite books and plenty of titles I’ve always wanted to read, then several obscure books I’d never heard of until just recently are all here, as if a part of some elaborate and wonderful prank.
Is reading other people’s books anything like finding a lost pet? Maybe, in a way, or maybe I’ve pushed this metaphor too far.
I’m leaving in a stack of the books I’ve read here for my friends to see when they come back: this is who I was when I was in your place.
If you’re interested in pre-ordering a signed copy of Biography of X, here are some bookstores that are offering that option, and yes I think they all ship:
P&T Knitwear in Manhattan
Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn
Odyssey Books in South Hadley, MA
Exile in Bookville in Chicago
Politics & Prose in DC