Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper

homers-odysseyTitle:  Homer’s Odyssey:  A Fearless Feline Tale, Or How I Learned About Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat

Author:  Gwen Cooper

Hardback:  289 pages

ISBN:  9780385343855

Challenges:  ARC Challenge

The last thing Gwen Cooper wanted was another cat. She already had two, not to mention a phenomenally underpaying job and a recently broken heart. Then Gwen’s veterinarian called with a story about a three-week-old eyeless kitten who’d been abandoned. It was love at first sight.

Everyone warned that Homer would always be an “underachiever,” never as playful or independent as other cats. But the kitten nobody believed in quickly grew into a three-pound dynamo, a tiny daredevil with a giant heart who eagerly made friends with every human who crossed his path. Homer scaled seven-foot bookcases with ease and leapt five feet into the air to catch flies in mid-buzz. He survived being trapped alone for days after 9/11 in an apartment near the World Trade Center, and even saved Gwen’s life when he chased off an intruder who broke into their home in the middle of the night.

But it was Homer’s unswerving loyalty, his infinite capacity for love, and his joy in the face of all obstacles that inspired Gwen daily and transformed her life. And by the time she met the man she would marry, she realized Homer had taught her the most important lesson of all:  Love isn’t something you see with your eyes.

Homer’s Odyssey is the once-in-a-lifetime story of an extraordinary cat and his human companion.  It celebrates the refusal to accept limits -on love, ability, or hope against overwhelming odds.  By turns jubilant and moving, it’s a memoir for anybody who’s ever fallen completely and helplessly in love with a pet.

-Inside dust cover of Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper

Okay… breathe…  I’m going to do my best to review this book on the its merits alone, and not gush about the author herself.  It would be easy for me to go on about how, upon hearing that my daughter, also named Gwen, loves animals and has a black cat, was really excited by the book when I got my advanced reader copy and wanted me to read it to her, emailed me for my address and not only sent her a signed copy of the finished book with a beautiful hand-written card and pictures of Homer, but also sent her a copy of the audio book.  AND that, with all that she’s got going on in her life with book-signings, fundraisers and feeling under the weather, she still takes time message us and even remembers my daughter’s cat’s name.  But this is a review of the book, not the author, so I will focus my attention on that.

Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper is a memoir of how the things that we might never choose on our own can be exactly what we need.  It is about recognizing value in someone or something and building your life around it.  It is about how, by looking at life and love through the eyes of another, we take on the traits we admire in that person.  In Gwen Cooper’s case, that person was a blind wonder cat, through whom she learned courage, how to love, and perseverance.

One thing I really like about this book is the format.  It’s set up as a journey from who and where Gwen was when she got the call from the vet about the eyeless kitten whom nobody wanted and would likely be put down if she, his last chance, didn’t adopt him, continues through jobs and moves and romances, and ends with what she has learned and insights she has gained through knowing and loving and living with Homer.  But, each chapter is also a tale in and of itself, making it a book that can be devoured straight through (honestly, it’s very hard to put down) or you can nibble on it and ponder each lesson.  Also, each chapter begins with a picture, usually of Homer, but occasionally of Scarlett or Vashti, Homer’s big sisters, and a quote from the other Homer, the Greek storyteller.

Another thing that I enjoyed with this book is Gwen’s sense of humor.  There are so many laugh-out-loud moments,  like bringing her date in and the two of them being greeted by a cat who not only discovered the tampons, but how to unwrap them, proudly carrying them in his mouth to show to his mommy.  Also, there is a quality to her writing that made me feel like we’ve been friends for years.

Like life, though, the book isn’t all sunshine and roses.  There are real dangers and some terrifying moments, like waking up to find a burglar in her apartment.  As well as the heart wrenching days after September 11th, when Gwen tried desperately to get back to her cats who were trapped in their apartment, just blocks from where the two towers had stood.

I found Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper to be moving and inspirational, at times hilarious and touching, and am thankful that there was a vet who refused to accept that an eyeless kitten was better off being put down, that Gwen Cooper was in the vet’s contacts list and opened her heart to him, and that she has shared Homer and his wisdom with all of us.  I give Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper 5 out of 5 stars.  It’s one of my favorites and I’ll be rereading it again and again 🙂

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The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

landing_LLTitle:  The Last Lecture

Author:  Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow

Hardcover:  207 pages

ISBN:  9781401323257

Brick walls are there for a reason.  They give us a chance to show how badly we want something.

Grab your box of Kleenex because you’re gonna cry, most of the time they’ll be tears of laughter, but some of them will be from heart ache.  OH! and  Don’t forget the pen and paper, because you’ll want to take notes.  Professor Pausch is taking the stage for The Last Lecture.

Pausch covers the elephant in the room in his opening paragraphs:

I have an engineering problem.  While for the most part I’m in terrific physical shape, I have ten tumors in my liver and I  have only a few months left to live.

I am a father of three young children, and married to the woman of my dreams.  While I could easily feel sorry for myself, that wouldn’t do them, or me, any good.

So many things in this book are deeply inspirational, and that’s no surprise; he’s dying from cancer and that’s given him a chance to step back and say, “What legacy am I leaving?”  Much of them are simple concepts like, “Tell the truth, it’s not only morally right but efficient.”  Some are more profound like, “one customer-service decision over a ten-dollar salt and pepper shaker [ended] up earning Disney more than $100,000.”  But all of them are worth saving, writing down, reciting, and implementing, because Randy Pausch lived a life that saw almost all of his childhood dreams come true.

My Childhood Dreams

  • Being in zero gravity
  • Playing in the NFL
  • Authoring an article in the World Book encyclopedia
  • Being Captain Kirk
  • Winning stuffed animals
  • Being a Disney Imagineer

My mom turned me onto this book a couple weeks ago when I was telling her about whatever book I was reading, and she told me she’d just read a really great book.  Now, my mom doesn’t say a book is great very often… in fact, a lot of the time, they barely make much of a blip on her radar.  I’m not saying she’s a picky reader or critical, but when she ONE remembers a book and talks about it and TWO applies the “great” stamp to it, it’s a book guaranteed worth reading.

And I was definitely NOT disappointed.  The copy I have came from the library, but I will be buying my own copy.  I wish I could keep this one though… it smells lovely, reminiscent of the Viewfinder we played with when we were kids 🙂

Send Out Thin Mints

As part of my responsibilities, I used to be an academic reviewer.  That meant I’d have to ask other professors to read densely written research papers and review them.  It could be tedious, sleep inducing work.  So I came up with an idea.  I’d send a box of Girl Scout Thin Mints with every paper that needed reviewed.  “Thank you for agreeing to do this,” I’d write.  “The enclosed Thin Mints are your reward.  But no fair eating them until you review the paper.”

… I’ve found Thin Mints are a great communication tool.  THey’re also a sweet reward for a job well done.

Okay, so… Publishers and authors:  I now expect Thin Mints with each book you’re wanting reviewed 😀  It was worth a try!  Chapter 55 says, “Sometimes, all you have to do is ask.

Long and short of it:  The Last Lecture is full of common sense, community sense, wisdom that is worth reading and re-reading.  It’d make a great belated Father’s Day present, or a gift to anyone, including yourself.  I give The Last Lecture  by Randy Pausch 5 out of 5 stars.

You can watch Randy’s Last Lecture, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” which was the genesis of this book, it’s an hour and 16 minutes long and worth it 🙂