I have to admit: I would not have chosen to read Dewey: The Small Town Library Cat Who Touched The World had it not been given to me as a gift. As it was, I postponed the read for a couple of months (and probably would have further lingered had Carole not suggested we read it together).
It’s not that I didn’t think the book worthy; my friend Kathy, who has a similar reading sensibility to mine, recommended it. However, I feared it would be treacly and sappy, like a "Chicken Soup" book. I can’t say if it was treacle because I was crying too hard at the end of the book. Thankfully, it was a night I needed a good cry, so I’m not sure I can hold it against the book.
I was attracted to the story for a number of reasons: I like cats, I work for a municipality, I adore libraries and I like small towns. Let me clarify: I have cats but don't cotton to the cutesy images of them. As a government worker, I am intrigued on how other government entities work -- or, rather, how their employees think they work. I also wanted to get a sense of the inner workings of a library.
Did I get what I expected? No and yes. I got the best of Dewey, Myron and Spencer in a feel-good kind of way. There was no tarnish on anyone, just a gentle glow from the crackling fire in the hearth. Dewey wasn't romanticized or cutesy, thank heavens, but Myron included mostly his best side.
While there are some parts of the tale that have come to pass (we know Dewey was allowed to live in the library), there was precious little about that situation. Was it really a slam-dunk? Even in Spencer, I find that hard to believe — and Myron didn't say it was easy. She just didn't tell us how hard it was.
The same with the town history: I didn’t expect Peyton Place, but I also didn’t expect a sanitized view of the town. Spencer was like Garrison Keillor’s fictional town of St. Cloud, Minnesota where “all the men are strong, the women are good-looking and the children above average.” Even Garrison Keillor creates realistic friction and angst in his tales. We found none here. Even Myron’s description of the "dying town" seemed to take a step back from the town itself, shielding it from the prying eyes of the readers. It's hard to write about what you know too well, but sometimes what you know gets in the way.
I agree with Carole that it was as much a memoir of Myron as it was a book about the cat; I actually kind of liked that, from time to time. However, she was not equally forthcoming about all of the people in her life. She dished on her ex-husband, which makes sense in its context of the story — and that thoroughly rounded, admittedly juicy information, was rich and robust. That made the other important relationships in her life a little faded in comparison.
Myron protected fiercely those relationships that were important to her and made them glow in the light of love, such as her mother and her daughter. At times, she glossed over their stories, again taking a step back and using a wide brush stroke. I never really felt that she was totally forthcoming — about anything. I like a "good news" story, but there needs to be a reason it's news; in some cases, there was no "there" there.
The book also kind of petered out at the end. If it was supposed to be Myron and Dewey's book, as the content suggests, it appears that Myron had nothing left to say about the library in the end. That speaks volumes, if read in context.
In the end, the book served its purpose: it told a few tales about a loveable cat. People who like cats will want to read it. People who like libraries also will enjoy the tale. Readers who don't like cats, or who are Rules People (and we know who we, er, you are!) will wonder how this atrocity could happen, a "library" cat. It was well-edited, and the story moved along at a steady pace. As a book, it was successful. I enjoyed it and I can recommend it to those who want to know about Dewey.
I hadn't heard of the book until a friend of mine in Iowa suggested that Chris and I read it for the blog. Stacy's mom lives in Spencer, and they are filming the movie based on the book there. Meryl Streep is playing Myron. Stacy said that her brother and his wife actually met Dewey and Myron; they didn't think that the librarian was all that friendly--I wonder how Streep will play her.
I come at this from a different perspective than Chris. I'm allergic to cats and therefore hold them at arm's length, literally and figuratively. What I do love, though, are animal stories that affect many people. I can't help but wonder if animals like Dewey really are extraordinary or do they just happen to show up at the right place and time to have an impact on that place and time. Or do they have an lasting impact because someone happened to tell their story?
When I was a little girl, I got to meet Misty of Chincoteague, who was an old lady by that time. I was in awe that I was getting to meet this character from a book. How cool is that? Dewey's influence on the town of Spencer reminded me of Misty and how her story affected the town of Chincoteague.
Like Chris, I really enjoyed hearing about the town of Spencer, but I often felt like Myron felt like an outsider in the community. She shouldn't have--she belonged to that place--but that hit me a few times as I was reading it. That's the funny thing about memoirs--the writer includes only the bits they want to share, but other stuff creeps in around the edges. It's up to the reader to see what they can make of it.
I didn't have a big cry when I read it--I did sniffle a time or two. Generally, I am a big crier, which my children will readily back up, but when I read an animal story that tracks its life, then I'm pretty sure I know how it will end, so I try to steel myself a little bit.
All in all, I liked the book. I'll probably catch the movie on DVD.