Outside Of A Dog

A Passage from Luminous Airplanes, or Things As They Were: A Hyperromance

For reasons which utterly escape me, this reminds me of something my friend Lucas likes to say: “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend.” Which is obviously not something he came up with himself; it’s just half of an old bad joke. Lucas doesn’t even have a dog. But he does like to talk about books. One week he’s reading the complete works of James Ellroy and the next week it’s a biography of Werner von Braun. When I first met Lucas—this was in the spring of 2006, when I was still trying to write Summerland—I asked him how he could read so much.

“I don’t have anything else to do,” Lucas said. “Retired. Divorced. I like you just fine, but… outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend.”

“Not my best friend,” I said.

I had just come from the Bleak College library, where I was taking a look at Kant’s writings about Swedenborg, the Swedish mystic. I was making some progress with Kant, I said, when I felt this suffocating chill, like I was being frozen in liquid nitrogen, like I was going to be stored in the library and woken up in five hundred years. And, I told Lucas, I remembered how much I used to love reading, how I couldn’t wait for the day to end so I could go back to Tolkien or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or Three Children and It. I wondered what had happened, whether people naturally lost their love of books as they grew up, or whether there had been some historical change, whether, in the era of the Internet, books were simply less related to life than they used to be.

“I don’t know,” Lucas said. “I still like them.”

“Maybe I’ve just been working too much,” I said, with unusual insight. “Maybe I need to take a break.”

Lucas shrugs. “In that case,” he says, “the place for you is inside a dog.”

Which was—more or less—where I went, a few months later.

© 2008-2021 Paul La Farge. All rights reserved.