15 November 2021

Why do we love books? Let's 'paws' and reflect

| Sally Hopman
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Book "written" by Happy the dog.

Happy may not be handsome but how many dogs can author a book? Photos: Sally Hopman.

There’s a scene in a movie where a woman and her book take to her bed, already inhabited by her handsome partner. She looks at him, then at her book – and starts reading the book.

And it’s not even a new one. It’s a library book, you know it is because she sniffs it just in case you couldn’t tell by how dowdy it looks – if it were human, it would be wearing a cardigan.

Such is the draw of books. Even ones without pictures. Don’t quite know what it is about them that makes you want to dive straight in, devour the words, then have a deep and meaningful with a stranger about them. Or go to a talk by the author and ask questions about his message, her inspiration, what they had for breakfast?

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For me, it’s just the escapism of it all. It also helps if you find a cracker of a book in the most unlikely of places.

Op shops are the best. Go straight past the shiny Bryce Courtenays to the specials bins. It used to be that volunteer book-sorters equated old books with ones people didn’t want and priced them accordingly. Or offer them collectively in a bucket so not only would you get a pile of old books, you’d also get a bucket. But this doesn’t happen so much these days, people are too smart for their own good, but you can still get lucky. And rather a lot of buckets.

Like I did the other day. Yes, I was in an op shop again, but purely for medicinal purposes. And I saw it. A beige-covered book with the title, If I were King George. But wait, it gets better. It was by Happy, the King’s Dog – and there was even a pic of Happy on the cover. (A seriously unattractive hound but clearly the marketing department was hoping for the sympathy vote).

The dedication on the inside of the book is hard to read – perhaps it’s in Happy the Dog’s paw/hand – but the date is clear, May 1911.

There’s also a dedication at the front that looks to be written in ink, dated Brighton, May 1911 – and just to make sure the book won’t be worth a small fortune, a child has scribbled their way across the inside front page, a lot more recently, in pencil.

Now being able to write a book is quite impressive, more so if you’re a dog. But clearly not so for Happy.

Firstly, he knows what side his bones are calcified on: he dedicates the book to “My King and Queen. They’ll Understand. Happy”.

Sadly, I can’t tell you how the book opens because it starts at Page 11. But it seems to have something to do with someone called Cesar, who I’m pretty sure is another dog, or a human who barks orders.

But with such a gem of a book, it’s worth persevering, only to be rewarded on Page 20 with a splendid D&M (Dog and Meaningful) between King and Dog.

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“King George left me – how I hate this wretched ‘business of State’ that will always interfere with our games. Any sensible dog will tell you that it’s much more important to find a really good, round, right-sized stone than to sign any number of musty papers.”

Could this book get any better? By page 48 not only do we already know that Happy the Dog is royal, we also know he speaks French – and that there’s a moral to the story.

“My dear little doggie,” the King tells Happy. “I believe nearly all the trouble in this world comes through misunderstanding.”

Happy: “Then he repeated something in French I’ve heard him say many a time when he’s been worried. Unfortunately, my French isn’t’ what it might be …

“To understand everything is to forgive everything,” Master said slowly. “If only people remembered that, diplomacy would be child’s play.”

The End. Woof.

Original Article published by Sally Hopman on The RiotACT.

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