Friday, May 22, 2009

DEWEY, the New York Times Bestseller by Louisvillager Brett Witter

Cross-posted from Lou Reads, my book review site.

I have an awesome idea for an animal book. It's very vague; I'm still looking for inspiration. But the general gist of it would be this: the book would be about an animal like a giant tortoise or a parrot, a tortoise or a parrot that is inspiring and brave and gentle and kind... AND LIVES FOR-FRICKING-EVER. Seriously, either of those animals are bound to outlive their owners. And most importantly, those animals are bound to live all the way THROUGH the end of their memoirs. The book could end: "And as I finish this book, I look out the window at Timmy the Life-Saving Tortoise, watching him carefully masticating a big bunch of kale, and I know that he has many, many years of good living ahead."

I'm just saying... I'd read it.

In a recent blog post I said that the fact that I was reading and enjoying DEWEY: THE SMALL-TOWN LIBRARY CAT WHO TOUCHED THE WORLD by Vicky Myron and Louisvillager Brett Witter was evidence that I am not as jaded and cynical as I maybe thought I was. And the fact that I enjoyed it all the way through confirmed that.

I didn't pick up the book because I am a pet lover. I have no pets of my own-- my lifestyle isn't condusive to pet mothering. But early readers of Loueyville may remember that the blog was named after a neighborhood stray cat, Louey, who hung out on my porch. After disappearing several times for months at a time, he got sick and had to be put down, and I was devastated. Now a neighbor's cat has claimed me as his part-time mother, and he comes and goes as he pleases. But that doesn't make me a cat person. (Methinks the lady dost protest too much... )

I picked up the book because shortly after we moved to Louisville, Roomie and I met Brett Witter and his family and some of their friends, and despite the fact that we all hit it off, we didn't really keep in touch. And then, two plus years later, DEWEY happened. And this really nice guy we had a really nice dinner with suddenly became a HUGE publishing success. So I had to get my hands on this book.

I admit, I was skeptical when I bought it. Just because something is a New York Times Bestseller doesn't mean it's any good (TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE, anyone?). But within a page, I was assured that this was no soft-read, fluff, glorified Hallmark card. The introduction of the book, called "Welcome to Iowa," is such a magnificently rendered description of a very foreign-seeming place that if I were still teaching a writing class, I would give it to my students as a gorgeous example of "setting." I didn't hesistate to plow forth.

Around thirty pages into the book, after Dewey the library cat shows up on the scene as an abandoned, nearly dying, frozen kitten and is nursed back to health by Vicky and the other librarians, I started to worry. How the heck are the authors going to get 240+ more pages of cat life out of this story? Cat makes friends. Cat has adversaries. Cat has quirks. Is there really more than 240 pages worth of that stuff to tell?

No. There's not. But that's not what this book ends up being about. Cat friends, adversaries, and quirks are entertwined with Vicky's family's story and with the story of the small, suffering town of Spencer, Iowa. And those stories are just microcosms for the struggles of the farm belt and small manufacturing towns everywhere. Whether it's Wal-Mart showing up in town or the card catalogue being replaced by computers, change sometimes steamrolls over the town and sometimes pushes the town forward. But Dewey is the constant.

DEWEY is a lovely book. It is a soft-read, but it's not fluff. It's exceptionally well-written. If you love books or love the rural Midwest or love cats, the book has something for you.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've just finished this book and can't praise it enough. The story of this remarkable animal, wrapped within the story of a wonderful small town in Iowa, is a beautiful read. This should become a classic and I'm glad that a children's book about Dewey is coming out in September. Anyone who's been touched by a special animal will love this book.