Because They Smell Good

Ellen Parker

          I may not be Sarah Jessica Parker, but like her iconic character, Carrie Bradshaw in “Sex and the City”, I love the smell of library books.  There is something sensual about the good leather of a fine book – the detailed binding that suggests a treasure awaits one inside.

And then there is the bleak memory of the first “Time Machine” movie, where the childlike Eloi race has allowed all the books to turn to dust, crumbling as one touches them and leaving man’s history to reside only in ‘talking rings’ which spin tales as one spins them, literally, on a special table.  Or Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury’s classic sci-fi novel about ‘firemen’ who burn books like the Nazis.

All these thoughts and more have been in our minds as industry publications like The Blood Horse grew tinier and tinier with every passing week, then The Thoroughbred Times announced it would go semi-weekly, then that it would not publish a stallion register (though theirs was the best) and now – The Thoroughbred Times is no more.  Bankrupt as the fine-boned, commercial breed upon which it was eking out an existence, we were notified via a Fed Ex letter, as my husband Ron was one of the suddenly ‘no longer employed’.

Almost forty years ago, we first entered the hallowed halls of 904 N. Broadway in Lexington, Ky., the home of The Thoroughbred Record, which was the predecessor of The Thoroughbred Times.  We worked there one winter on the stallion book (as old-time teletype machines spit out reams of paper with pedigrees) and we met William Robertson whose “Hoofprints of the Century” was such a classic that we have two copies, because neither Ron nor I want to give ours up.

Over the years we watched The Times change to a monthly, then become The Thoroughbred Times, a tabloid that started out as a newspaper type publication and became a slick industry standard.  Naturally, lots happened behind the scenes we don’t know about but it was not quite the same as the old Thoroughbred Record, though we got used to it all the same.

Many people walk into our house and think we have lost it – or maybe just that we are a couple of old ‘hoarders’ since the world now revolves around reality TV speak.  But we love our books and they are everywhere.  I do not think I could be married to someone who hates books.  And Ron loves them enough he would rather put his nose deep into a paperback than break its spine.  I work out with a woman who tears off the pages of her paperbacks and she runs to nowhere and I imagine Ron strangling her if he ever sees her do it.

From time to time we toss out some old Daily Racing Forms, or files – even a few magazines.  But we keep our Blood Horses and Thoroughbred Times – and yes, our ancient Thoroughbred Records as well.  Within these pages are our lives not only together but even before.  Books take me all the way back to my first 1958 racing experience when I went to Arlington Park to see Round Table run.  Would anyone catch me throwing out a book describing Round Table’s Horse of the Year season?  Not bloody likely!

Do I really need my old Black Stallion books you might ask?  Well, no.  But I still like to read about The Black taking on Casey with 146 pounds and Black Minx winning the Kentucky Derby and Alex falling in love with a girl who loves – and loses – a colt named Black Sand.  And yes, I still get out Marguerite Henry’s Black Gold and read, “Black Gold finished his race.  On three legs and a heart he finished it.”

But most of all – oh, more than most of all – is John Taintor Foote’s Hoofbeats, within which is the cherished story “The Look of Eagles”.  Tell me, those of you so busy ‘friending’ strangers on Facebook or Zenyatta’s page – when was the last time you read poetry about a horse?  Or can you only read on a screen?  Does a book take too long, is it too much trouble?

Ah, well, we are all the children of our generations.  But I shall be more than glad to pass from this life – like Jackie Kennedy – surrounded by books I love.  “Books are our friends” I was taught as a child.  Sadly, that will no longer include many Thoroughbred publications.  But then the horses that we wrote about don’t exist anymore either, do they?

View change as something you can depend on, Clint Eastwood’s character tells us in “The Bridges of Madison County”, don’t let it frighten you.  Which is very wise.  But as I write this, I am not afraid.  Just depressed.  So depressed I think only a dose of The Black Stallion’s Courage might help.  It’s an old book and I bought it at a dime store that smelled of candy.  Sometimes when I read it, I honestly think I still get a whiff of Hershey.  Either way, I know I will find it comforting.  I’ve never gotten much comfort from a Facebook page or a Twitter tweet or a text message,  or even from a computer screen.  They don’t smell like anything, or feel like anything and they give one no sense of opening a gift.

What an old Luddite you must be thinking as you read this!  And that’s okay. I don’t mind.  I’ll be deep in a chocolate book with a chocolate coated stallion racing through clouds of history and feeling just fine, thinking, “Bring it, Walter (Farley)”.