I’ve always been fascinated with words. When I was a kid, I would keep an alphabetised list of words. I’d have the part of speech, the definition, the sentence that cauused me to look it up, and the book name, author and page. Every so often, I would re-write the list by hand to keep the words in order. Moving from colored pens to a typewriter helped a lot. By the time computers came onto the scene, I almost felt like I was cheating the process. Cutting and pasting didn’t allow me to write a word over and over.
I just started a new book, Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis. From the brief scan of testimonies, this book had the distinct possibility of being chewy, and that my brain may be asked to do some stretching. “An elegant cross-breed of magical realism, moral fable, owner’s manual, and philosophical treatise…”
Treatise is a familiar word. I recognize it. I think politics. “Extensive written discourse on a subject.” With my abbreviated attention span, I don’t come across extensive writings. Now, if I am in an especially curious mood, I’ll. Sometimes use a two for one one. I could take a word out of a definition of a word that needs more attention. Discourse. I’m thinking that it’s got something to do with commmunication. Written. Verbal. Discourse also has reference to being lengthy, so I’m thinking that a treatise is even longer.
Moving onto the book. Apollo and Hermes are in Toronto.If I could change the setting, I’d have them at a Toronto Blue Jays game instead of the Wheat Sheaf Tavern, though everyone at the tavern worship the gods; it’s possible Blue Jay baseball fans would worship their first-place team and ignore the gods. That wouldn’t be good at all. Instead of fifteen dogs given human intelligence, they’d probably increase that number substantially. Imagine waking up one morning to find Skippy reading the newspaper, and Skippy has his own ideas as to how things should run in the household, community, and even the world. Doggy coupe.
Sometimes words surprise me.I enjoy authors who enjoy their wide vocabulary. Apollo’s beard is down to his clavicle. Was this Alexis’s first choice or did he have the wild and out of control beard reach his chest. Meanwhile, I’m wondering if the beard is white since I do imagine gods being old.
On the opposite side, Hermes is described as fastidious.I’ve always liked the word fastidious. I wish I were more fastidious, but I am just not that particular, especially in the way I dress. Hermes is described as fastidious because he’s clean-shaven, “but his clothes were distinctly terrestrial: black jeans, a black leather jacket, a blue shirt.” The but in the middle of the sentence causes me to think Hermes lost some points in presentation. I tend to see browns and tans as terrestrial colors; in the fall, perhaps oranges and reds.But a blue shirt? What color blue. The word could have been thrown out there to see if it were even read. Sometiimes when I read, I don’t even read all of the words; I just read enough to get the gist of the story, but sometimes, like tonight, I like to savor words, knowing chances are, the words have been carefully picked out with precision and purpose.
Some words throw me for a loop. “While at the tavern, the gods began a desultory conversation about the nature of humanity.” Desultory. I first think of the word insult. Does the sult in the middle give these words relation. As I’m always telling students who think I am a walking dictionary, I tell them to see what they can tell about a word by context.The gods are drunk on liquor and the worshipping of the mortals at the bar, drunk mortals, not very good examples of humanity. I would never have gotten that desultory means random, unmmethodical; disconnnected. Then again, the gods were extremely intoxicated by this point in the story.
Fifteen Dogs is going to be a funny book. When Apollo and Hermes ask who is going to pay for their drinks, a poor student offers to pay for the five Sleemans. I’m going to guess that Sleeman is a made up drink. I was wrong. Mr. Sleeman created the ale in. 1834 in Canada. Am I now to find that the tavern is a real place as well? A well-known Toronto tradition since 1849. Did Alexis spend some time in Toronto?
As a result of paying for the Sleemans, the poor student was never empty pockets as long as he wore those same pants. Chances are lived in them until the corduroy “rotted to irrecoverable shreds.”
As the gods left the tavern, they discussed human happiness or in many cases unhappiness because of intelligence. If dogs were given human intelligence, how would their lives change? I’d want to know if the dogs kept their memories of their previous experience and be able to compare their feelings, though in the beginning of the wager, any animal was possible. Hermes took Apollo’s bet with the stipulation that if one animal is happy at the end of their life with intelligence, he would win.
Apollo is not a fan of human intelligennce. “Human intelligence is not a gift. It’s an occasionally useful plague.” A useful plague? Is this referring to humans doing things that reduce population? I think of war technology and how humans have brilliant ways of killing each other. If dogs are able to keep their traditions of sniffing butts and private parts and had intelligence to boot, perhaps they would create harmony and world peace.
The gods were near Shaw Veterinary Clinic. “Entering the place unseen and imperceptible, they found dogs, mostly: pets left overnight by their owners…” Imperceptible is one of those words that is in my vocabulary, but it’s not one that comes to mind when I am writing, and I know that if I tried to use it conversationally, I’d trip over it. Of course as I do this exercise of extracting words from readings, I’ll be able to bring in new words to my repertoire.