Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron with Bret Witter

Title:  Dewey:  The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World

Author:  Vicki Myron with Bret Witter

Hardback:  277 pages

ISBN:9780446407410

That’s life.  We all go through the tractor blades ever now and then.  We all get bruised, and we all get cut.  Sometimes the blades cut deep.  The lucky ones come through with a few scratches, a little blood, but even that isn’t the most important thing.  The most important thing is having someone there to scoop you up, to hold you tight and to tell you everything is all right.

For years, I thought I had done that for Dewey.  I thought that was my story to tell.  And I had done that.  When Dewey was hurt, cold, and crying, I was there.  I held him.  I made sure everything was all right.

But that’s only a sliver of the truth.  The real truth is that for all those years, on the hard days, the good days, and all the unremembered days that make up the pages of the real book of our lives, Dewey was holding me.  He’s still holding me now.

Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron with Bret Witter, page 271

*sniff I am not going to cry

Dewey Readmore Books was one of the luckiest felines in the world, but his life didn’t start out so hot.  In fact, it started out very cold, when he was dumped into the book drop box of the Spencer Public Library on the coldest night of the year.  When author and then assistant director of the library, Vicki Myron, and her co-worker Jean Hollis Clark found the eight-week-old shivering gray ball of fluff, his foot pads were frost-bitten.  It wasn’t until after giving him a warm bath, through which he purred non-stop, that they discovered he was actually orange, he had been so dirty.  After working through a bit of red tape and the cat charming the hearts of the library board, one member at a time, it was decided he would live there and become the Spencer Public Library cat.

Called Dewey after the inventor of the Dewey decimal system, used by libraries as a way to organized books effectively, it bacame official after allowing the town to vote on his name.  “Readmore” was added by the Children’s Department and “Books” gave his name an official and stately feel.  Not only was his name a reflection of his living arrangements, but turned out to be an auspicious challenge “Do we read more books?”  Spencer, Iowa answered yes, and library attendance rose dramatically.

Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World tells how this small cat, this extraordinary feline, came along just at the right time and helped provide the bridge between people, gave hope to those who were down, lent his ear to the lonely, and loved every single person, from infants to the handicapped to the elderly, and made each of them feel special.  He loved them through their hard times and, in the process, put Spencer, Iowa on the map of the world. 

I really enjoyed this book.  Funny story on it, though…  Originally, I bought a copy when it first came out.  I saw the bright-eyed kitty on the cover and was compelled to pick it up.  After reading the description and the first few pages, I was hooked and had to buy it.  Being from a midwestern small-town, and a farming community to boot, I could relate to the people and the feel of the story-telling.  The book sat on my TBR shelf for over a year.  Then last week I decided I wanted to read it.  After reading Homer’s Odyssey, I was in the mood to read another touching kitty book, but when I went to look for Dewey, he was no where to be found.  Poo!  And I so wanted to read it!  I gave up and decided to go to the next book on my short stack, but I couldn’t stop wanting to read Dewey.  So I went to my small-town library and checked out The Small-Town Library Cat.  After reading the book, I think this is all very Dewey… lol.

Besides being touching and heart-felt, Dewey is written from the heart of a librarian.  I love Myron’s description of how we picture a library:

When many people think of a library, they think of a Carnegie library.  These are the libraries of our childhood.  The quiet.  The high ceilings.  The central library desk, complete with matronly librarian (at least in our memories).  These libraries seemed designed to make children belive you could get lost in them, and nobody could ever find you, and it would be the most wonderful thing. -page 118

She also beautifully answers the fears many have that books are a dying genre, and libraries with them…

And when you walk into the library, you still notice the books:  shelf after shelf and row after row of books.  The covers may be more colorful, the art more expressive, and the type more contemporary, but in general the books look the same as they did in 1982, and 1962, and 1942.  And that’s not going to change.  Books have survived television, radio, talking pictures, circulars (early magazines), dailies (early newspapers), Punch and Judy shows, and Shakespeare’s plays.  They have survived World War II, the Hundred Years’ War, the Black Death, and the fall of the Roman Empire.  They even survived te Dark Ages, when almost no one could read and each book had to be copied by hand.  They aren’t going to be killed off by the Internet.  And neither is the library.  -pages 163-164

I could not help mentally drawing a comparison between Dewey and Homer’s Odyssey, the other cat book I read recently.  Is there a need for two cat books?  Doesn’t it get redundant?  I mean, both started out their lives being rejected and unwanted, and both found a niche in the hearts of almost everyone who met them.  So how are they different?  Well, both cats are unique individuals.  They had similarities, but where as Homer changed Gwen’s world, and those in her orbit to a lesser extent, Dewey’s life was much more public.  Gwen writes about how her life was blessed when she saw value in an eyeless kitten and decided to build her life around him, where as Vicki writes about how Dewey touched lives, gave hope and helped heal a community and beyond.  Both have very different and worth messages, and it makes me hug my own kitties and pause to think what they have done for us, as well.  Did I save them? or did they save me.

It’s not much of a spoiler to tell you that Dewey passed away.  The language of the book gives you that.  I only add that here because I know there are some people who want to know that before choosing to read a pet book.  He didn’t die a horrible, painful death or anything… honestly, Vicki’s own life stories made me run through more hankies than Dewey’s death.  What was more heart-tugging was how far-reaching the news of his passing was and what he meant to so many people from his own small-town and those far away from it. 

I give Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron 5 out of 5 stars.  I also recommend you check out Dewey’s website at http://www.deweyreadmorebooks.com/  There are videos there of the Dew himself, as well as other tid bits 🙂

Find your place.  Be happy with what you have.  Treat everyone well.  Live a good life.  It isn’t about material things; it’s about love.  And you can never anticipate love. -page 270

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Empire Falls by Richard Russo

Title:  Empire Falls

Author:  Richard Russo

Paperback:  483 pages

Date Published:  2001

PublisherVitage Books (a div of Random House)

ISBN:  9780375726408

MiscellaneousEmpire Falls won the 2002 Pulitizer Prize for Fiction

 

“Has it ever occurred to you that life is a river, dear boy?”  Mrs. Whiting said when Miles sat down opposite her in the gazebo.  In asking this question the old woman managed to convey, as with all such queries, that she was not anticipating a response that would enlighten her.  Whereas some people’s attitude suggested that perhaps they knew something you didn’t, Mrs. Whiting’s implied that she knew  everything  you didn’t.  She alone had been paying attention, so it was her duty to bring you at least partially up to speed.

Empire Falls by Richard Russo, page 161

Empire Falls by Richard Russois the multi-faceted and complex tale of the Central Maine town of Empire Falls. Woven together like a rich tapestry, it tells of the cross-generational intersections of the lives of its denizens, with the life of Miles Roby the central focus.

Miles has spent most of his life going with the flow. A devout Catholic, he’s predisposed to motivation-by-guilt and a nagging sensation that everything bad that’s ever happened can somehow, if one looked hard enough, back to him and is his fault. His desire to always do the right thing gives him the unintended air of moral superiority that can be repellent, and the fact that he attended 3 1/2 years of college before returning to Empire Falls when his mother was on her death bed gives him an added perception of intellectual superiority. All of this is not a truth about Miles, only what others sometime perceive about him.

Opposite Miles are Jimmy Minty and Mrs. Whiting. Jimmy Minty, Mr. Empire Falls as he referred to himself, is a police officer and possibly the next Chief of Police. Whereas Miles can seem morally and intellectually superior to the town even though it’s everything he is NOT, Minty is the “everyman”. People may not like him, but at least he’s one of them and knows it. What the town does NOT know is that this “everyman” has keys to each and every lock in Dexter County, a houseful of stolen electronics and no tangible income to explain his ownership of a shiny, new, red Camaro.

Minty’s off-the-book work as Mrs. Whiting’s muscle is, of course, how he affords the car. Think of a Bedford Falls in which George Baily just went along, obligingly, with what Old Man Potter said, and you’d have Empire Falls. Mrs. Whiting is Russo’s answer to Mr. Potter. Incapable of feeling love herself, she has an incredible knack of uncovering that affliction in others and does her best to eradicate it. “Power and Control” are the words by which she lives, and tells Miles that people often confuse will with power, and that the “power” they perceive the lucky few as having is simply that they know what they want in life and go after it.

 

“You appear to have been visited by some sort of revelation, dear boy,” Mrs. Whiting observed. “Here’s my suggestion, though. Why not think things over? Passionate decisions are seldom very sound.”

“When did you ever feel passion?”

“Well, it’s true I’m seldom swept away like those with more romantic temperaments,” she conceded. “But we are what we are, and what can’t be cured must be endured.”

“What can’t be cured mus be avenged,” Miles said. “Isn’t that what you mean?”

She smiled appreciatively. “Payback is how we endure, dear boy…”

Empire Falls by Richard Russo, pages 434-435

 

Another of Miles nemeses, Timmy the Cat, is one of my favorite characters in this book.  Timmy, found and adopted by Mrs. Whiting’s daughter Cindy, had, as a small kitten, been placed in a sack with her litter-mates and tossed into the Knox, the river that runs through Empire Falls.  She was the lone survivor and never right in the head ever after.  Described by Miles in such loving terms as “psychotic” or “homicidal”, Timmy is whispered by the townspeople (usually in the bar and after a few drinks) to be Mrs. Whiting’s familiar.  Appearing as if from thin air whenever Mrs. Whiting’s name is spoken, as if the uttering of her mistress’s name was the spell to summon the demon cat.  In a way, Timmy is representative of Mrs. Whiting’s nature and how she relates to people, as if she were a cat and they the wounded prey she toyed with until they bored her and she finally ended their lives.

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It took me a while to finish Empire Falls, and a bit longer than that to write this review.  It is a dense and complex novel, with several sub-plots and sub-stories.  There’s Tick, Miles’s daughter, and her steady march to adulthood.  Will she become passive and resigned to whatever the fate’s bring like her dad?  David Roby, Miles (maybe half) brother, and his life of sobriety after an accident caused by his own drunk driving, rendered his left hand useless.  And, of course, there’s the incorrigible Max Roby, Miles father, who’s life philosophy can be condensed into two words, “So What!”  Max is always on the look out for the hand out and badgers his son  for money, promising him if he’d just give him $500 then he’d take off for the Florida Keys, and he’d be out of Miles’s hair for a whole New England winter.  Tempting, Miles thinks, before realizing the old man would just call for more money once he got there.

After considering and weighing Empire Falls by Richard Russo, I came to the understanding that the best way to describe it is that it’s a “grown up book”.  Not necessarily for language, though it does have plenty of that, nor for sexual content, ditto, or for violence, though there is animal cruelty and a shooting in it, but rather that it’s the kind of book that rings several emotional and experiential bells that one needs to have lived a little to even begin to catch the nuances and appreciate the full sensations found in the book.

For its intimate and tangible moving portrayal of life in a small town, I give Empire Falls by Richard Russo  4 1/2 out of 5 stars.  I cannot, for the life of me, explain why I’m holding that last 1/2 back… perhaps because it’s not a WOW book, but rather, like water slowly flowing along, eroding the rocks and banks slowly and imperceptively over time, until, all at once and a long way down river, it’ll suddenly hit me.

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I’ve been watching the HBO mini-series Empire Falls, based on this book.  It’s a really good show, and does a good job of staying close to the book, in spirit if not literally.  The screenplay was also written by Richard Russo.  As for the casting, I wasn’t entirely stoked about Ed Harris as Miles, but I did like Paul Newman’s Max Roby, and thought William Fichtner as Jimmy Minty was SPOT ON. 🙂

and a twofer, this one is a brief “making of” but gives a great feel for the book itself.

Rant by Chuck Palahniuk

Rant by Chuck Palaniuk
Title: Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey
Author: Chuck Palaniuk
Publisher: First Anchor Books (Random House)
Publish Date: May 2008
ISBN: 9780307275837

Shot Dunyan: How weird is that? A sexually conflicted thirteen-year-old rattlesnake-venom junkie with rabies -well, it’s safe to say that’s every father’s worst nightmare.

Very weird and bizarre, but I suppose it wouldn’t be Palahniukif it wasn’t. This is actually the first book by Chuck Palahniuk I’ve read. I saw the movie Fight Club when it came out on DVD, but did not know it was a book until a few months ago, and then I’ve only known it was by Palahniuk for a couple months. Just from my limited exposure, though, I can safely say he is one of my favorite authors.

It will be difficult to review this book without spoilers, but I shall try. Rant is written in the form of an oral history. You start out with Wallace Boyer, daytimer car salesman, telling how he first met and talked to Rant Casey after Rant had died. HUH? And it stays just as mind-bending, alternate-universe-like, for the rest of the book’s 319 pages.

Within it’s covers, you read about rabies, time-travel, car crashing parties, people raising themselves to godhood, superhuman abilities, government conspiracy, and effective salesmanship. Is Rant Casey the patsy for a government’s true objectives, population control and maintainance of the class system? Or is he really a superspreader of a new, incurable form of rabies? What would happen if you went back in time and killed your parents before you were born?

At some point in time before Rant’s high school career, a technology is created that allows a person to “plug in” to a port at the base of your skull, and re-experience someone’s life experience that they recorded while experiencing it. And, of course, the experience aloneisn’t enough to keep people’s attention, so before the masses get it, it has been experienced and “out corded” by a possible variety of people from babies, the deaf and the blind, to junkies. These out corded experiences of the memory (or neural transcript) are then mixed in with the original. The final product is an amped up, or boosted peak, providing the consumer with an experience of heightened sensitivity and awareness; a memory that is more real and alive than they’ll ever experience in their own life. However, a person with the “Rant Rabies” cannot receive the neural transcripts, so they must seek the highs elsewhere, one way being through “party crashing”. Party Crashing is like a sport with teams of people in cars driving around and crashing into each other… for fun.

There are several scenes in the book that I really liked, but my favorite is the Halloween haunted house where the fifth-grader Rant hosts the blindfolded game of “These are brains! These are eyeballs! This is intestines!”. Most of us have played this, and we know that it’s just maconi-and-gelatin mold, peeled grapes and cooked spaghetti noodles. MMmm, well… Rant’s is real.

Buster “Rant” Casey is the hero/anti-hero of this book. In his childhood, he was the most popular kid and most infamous in his small Texas town. He was the Tooth Fairy of the fifth grade class, giving hundred-year-old gold coins for teeth and upending the Middleton economy. In high school, he led the Erection Revolution seeking gender equality for male students. And when Rant left town for the big city, he left a large population rabies infected.

I was enraptured by this book. It’s weirdness and unexpected events kept driving me to turn the pages. By the middle of the book, I could not even begin to fathom where this book was going nor how it might end. I couldn’t say, “Oh it’ll end this way because that’s the rules of literature.” It’s Palahniuk! He writes his own rules, then breaks them.

Graphic and nauseating in spots, sexually explicit in others, and weird through and through, this book is definitely not for the squeamish, the nice-story and happy-ending seekers, and don’t even bother picking this book up if you aren’t willing to fulling suspend logic for the duration. But if you are the type of person who would hide out at the freak show until after closing time, just to see what might crawl out of the cages, this book is for you.