• Betty Bastai

Fifteen Dogs Tickled My Passion For Ethology And Mythology With A Touch Of Humor And Psychology

Updated: Jul 19, 2020

Last December I started reading books from little free libraries for the Memory Loop action art project. Three times in a row I was able to find inspiring reads. Then my luck dried up. After overcoming an initial disappointment, I began to realize that up to that moment I had been borrowing other readers’ books. It was about time I added my contribution and decided to donate a book to one of those libraries. The book that I selected did not come from my handful of volumes that survived several long distance moves. Instead, it came from a fascinating and quirky secondhand bookstore called Downtown Books.

On Thursday, February 27, I stepped inside a townhouse that had been converted into a bookstore guided by a positive gut feeling. I marveled at the density in which the books were stacked from floor to ceiling. I delighted at the sight of a kitchen sink filled with books for sale that was tucked away in the cramped recesses of the house. “There must be a printed treasure within this claustrophobic, yet mesmerizing, jungle of books,” I thought.


As soon as I set my eyes on letter “A” of the fiction section I immediately noticed an attractive thin paperback titled Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis. I immediately read his synopsis and reviews on the back cover and smiled at my intuition. I was hooked and bought it straightaway without bothering to browse any further. I had never heard of this novel and author before. Sadly, soon after my visit, the bookstore closed down because of the new city rules due to the pandemic. I really hope that it will open again after the COVID-19 emergency declaration is lifted.

A few days earlier before the actual day of typing letter #4 outdoors, I picked the little free library where I would place book # 4, and a city park with a picnic table where I would type letter # 4 to reader # 4. This park was farther away from my home than the previous one and I had to figure out how to transport all my gear there without having a car.

As I mentioned in a previous post, my manual typewriter with its wooden case is quite heavy to carry for long distances on foot. I have a travel suitcase with wheels and expandable handle but it was not big enough to contain it. I could not shop for a similar and larger suitcase at thrift stores because they were all closed. Carrying the case on my bicycle by holding it with one hand didn’t seem to be very safe. I was afraid that, in order to compensate for the extra lateral weight, I would shake the handlebar so uncontrollably like a drunk with the possibility of losing my balance and crash. I searched for a sturdy secondhand bike rack online without luck and buying a pricey new utility cart was not in my budget. So, in the last attempt to make it work, I tried to fit the case inside my largest backpack. Fortunately, after some maneuvering and pushing, I was able to fit it. Then I strapped my two tripods on the outside and rode my bicycle to the park.


Sunday, April 26: Spring has brought with her a refreshing, yet, sometimes, annoying, “lover”: a daily afternoon breeze, if not wind, that sometimes blows in the morning too. Windy conditions are not ideal for recording sounds so I kept watching the local weather forecast to figure out the best day and time to record the typing of letter # 4. Another issue that I had to avoid was intense sunlight because of the limitation of my video GoPro camera. After considering all these environmental factors, I got up at the crack of dawn (listen!) to be able to start typing at 6:30.


The park turned out to be the perfect place to type letter # 4 because it was full of dogs of different shapes, sizes, colors and level of obedience. The happy dogs’ barking and the guiding voices of their owners filled the welcoming still air.

I always type two copies of the letter for the next readers. Letter # 4 typing sessions were particularly eventful experiences. Passersby expressed their appreciation for listening to the sound of a manual typewriter while on their walks; hummingbirds kept swooping by to check me out because I must have looked like a gigantic pink flower, and the usual typewriter’s erratic behavior made sure that I would sometimes sweat out of fear that I wouldn’t be able to complete the job because of a possible catastrophic mechanical failure.


At some point, stubborn key “A” got so stuck that it was a challenge to dislodge it without breaking the whole thing. Thankfully, I averted the worst by taking deep breaths and moving my fingers slowly through the type bars. However, I was unable to put enough pressure on that same key with one of the fingers of my left hand so I had to use my right index finger, which slowed the typing process even further.

Another struggle that I had was typing the capital letters uniformly black. Instead, they had a “modernist” appearance. The top half was devoid of ink and looked embossed, and the bottom half was black. It reminded me of a Scottish truncated Belted Galloway cow with one horizontal, rather than vertical, white stripe.


Every time I type a letter for the Memory Loop action art project I need to make sure that all the text fits one side of a sheet of paper. It was particularly tricky to do this with letter # 4 because I didn’t want to edit it for the fourth time. In order to fit this “fat” letter into the available space I had to adjust the line spacing manually by judging the right distance and sliding the platen upward accordingly.

Friday, May 1st: At last, book # 4 was ready to be relocated to the selected little free library # 4. It is a private library that is not part of the official Little Free Library’s network. It is dedicated to Dr. Juergen Homann, a psychiatrist, who immigrated to the US from Germany in the 1950’s. Dr. Homann had practiced in many states, including New Mexico, where he retired. The library kiosk was built to distribute his vast library after his death in 2018. It was filled continuously for months until his personal collection was absorbed into the neighborhood by interested individuals. It is now a hub for sharing books in the same spirit of the original free little library movement that was started by Todd Bol in Hudson, Wisconsin, in 2009.

(Little Free Library website: https://littlefreelibrary.org/ourhistory/)

I read Fifteen Dogs twice and grew fond of his dogs and wit. It was not easy to separate myself from it. Like the other three books that I placed in their corresponding little free libraries # 1,2 and 3 I wished him good luck.


After thinking about the fate of the other three Memory Loop books I decided to post a message on nextdoor.com to let my neighbors know about the project and invited them to participate.



Tuesday, May 5: I checked the little free library # 4 and saw that Fifteen Dogs was gone. I hope that the book is in good hands and will return to this library enriched with another reader’s letter soon.


Friday, June 19: On my way to the art supplies store I stopped by the little free library # 4 to check if an enthusiastic and thoughtful reader had followed my instructions and returned Fifteen Dogs. I was not surprised to find out that it was not the case. The book is still at large despite the fact that I had published a post in a social media website asking folks to return him at that specific library. After closing its door, I looked at the hazy sky and noticed that the air had an unusual smell. I wondered if the book was burning in one of the Arizona wildfires and imagined the letter to reader # 4 turning into a delicate short-lived sheet of ash.


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Thank You and Happy Reading!

Memory Loop Action Art Project/Book 4


Fifteen Dogs


Author: André Alexis

Publisher: Coach House Books, Toronto, Canada

Year: 2015

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