Monday, 15 October 2012

Dewey

Everyone likes being given a book, don't they?  Well, a good book, that is.  Or... or a really, really awful book.  They can be hilarious too.

My best friend Mel (who also inflicted this upon me) knows me pretty well, and thought I'd be amused by Dewey: The True Story of a World Famous Library Cat by Vicki Myron and Bret Witter.   I don't know if they wrote the memoir together in the first place, or whether Bret is responsible for (wait for it) the 'wonderful adaptation for younger readers' that I held in my hand.  That's right - a simplified abridgment of a book about a cat that lives in a library.  The horrors.  Mel insisted that I review it for your delight and education...


Now, you probably know that I'm a part-time librarian, and it's no secret that I love cats.  I probably love them more than would be considered sane by most.  But Vicki Myron puts me to shame - and this book is a horrifying warning about what I might become a few years down the line.

Before I go any further, I should say that Vicki is probably a lovely woman, and everything I'm going to write is meant affectionately... and who knows how much sanity was edited out during the abridgment stage?  But brace yourselves.  Things get kinda weird.  And hilarious.  My housemates and I took it in turns to read chapters aloud to each other - pausing for hysterics.

On the face of it, this is rather a touching story.  A kitten is found abandoned in the book chute of a smalltown library, is named Dewey (full name Dewey Read More Books - which only works if you are American and say 'doo-ee', not English and say 'dyu-ee').  He lives in the library, is adored by Vicki, and (it seems) is able to solve most of the problems of the Western world.

Chapters can generally be divided into two camps: those which relate incidents of no notable interest, and those which relate incidents which couldn't possibly have happened.

She gets very animated about the Dewey Carry (a special technique for carrying Dewey, which involves... putting him over your shoulder); Dewey's fussiness with food; the fact that he ran to meet people when they came into the library; his liking for catnip.  Basically, lots of numbingly ordinary things which Vicki identifies as qualities which elevate Dewey to a near-deity.  But a lot of cat owners are like that.  I know I am - Sherpa only has to tilt her head on one side, and I'm cooing and taking photos - and she's not even my cat.

What gets rather crazier is the incidents which reveal the extent of Vicki's self-delusion.  She appears quite genuinely to believe that Dewey plays hide-and-seek with her - and explains his inability to hide simply as impatience.  She credits him with intelligence far beyond his species, and a level of undying partisanship for Spencer, Iowa which no cat would ever display.  Call me a cynic, but I can't imagine Dewey (also known as The Dukester *shudder*) feeling that Iowa was unquestionably superior to Nebraska or Wisconsin.  He might - here's a thought - have no concept of regional geography at all.

Most curious of all, though, is the connection Vicki believes herself to have with Dewey.  Now, I know that if I had a cat in Oxford, I'd probably craft it a cat-sized mortar board and pretend it was a doctoral candidate.  I'd also probably send out Simon & Mittens (for that would be her name) Christmas Greeting Cards, signed whimsically with a paw print.  But I'd like to think that I would do these things with a touch of irony - or at least realism.  Vicki (in this abridgment) doesn't seem to... she often talks about the first time she met him, and the 'special bond' which was immediately established:

As I took the kitten in my arms, I must admit that I felt a little flutter in my heart.  When the kitten had looked into my eyes, something had happened; we had made a connection.  He was more than just a cat to me.  It had only been a day, but already I couldn't stand the thought of being without him.
You might be thinking - this lady might be lonely, she needs a friend.  Fair enough.  But she has a teenage daughter!  This poor daughter (I think her name was Joanne, or similar) becomes increasingly neglected as the book goes on.  And Dewey doesn't even live with Vicki!  He lives in the library!  It never became clear quite why the cat didn't live at her home (except for, ahem, 'He belongs to Spencer'.)  One time, in the part I think I laughed at most, Dewey did come to stay with Vicki:
The library closed for three days on Christmas Eve, so Dewey came home with me.  We spent Christmas morning together.  I didn't give him a present, though. [Simon - ahha, not as crazy as I thought] After a year together, our relationship was well beyond token gifts.  We didn't have anything to prove. [Simon - whaaaaaaat!??]
Brilliant!  They didn't exchange gifts because either (a) their relationship had reached a place of mutual understanding and love which transcended commercial interests, or (b) DEWEY WAS A CAT WITH NO COMPREHENSION OF CHRISTMAS.  Oh, lordy, Vicki.

It did get a bit uncomfortable at times.  Cue photo pun.

photo source

I think my favourite moment of crazy, though, came from neither Dewey nor Vicki.  There is a chapter devoted to the fact that Dewey likes eating elastic bands (no topic is considered too trivial to have a chapter devoted to it) and they want to hide them away at night.  Vicki's colleague Mary has some in a mug - which she insists he cannot access.
"How about an experiment? [says Vicki] You put the mug in the cabinet, we'll see if he pukes rubber bands in the morning."

"But this mug has my children's pictures on it!"

"Good point."
HOW is that a good point??  Will her children be somehow cursed if photos of them are put in a cabinet?  I don't even know what she was trying to mean.  But I laughed.  A lot.

I can't, in all honesty, recommend this book.  It's either appallingly written, or appallingly abridged, to make Vicki sound like a loon.  Even people like me, who are destined to turn into Vicki ("turn into?" comments everyone who knows me, adroitly) consider her crazyboots.  BUT, if you can find someone who is willing to read it out loud with you, then it's an absolute joy!

Right.  Sorry if I've been too mean today... tongue-in-cheek, remember!  And Mel - happy now?!


47 comments:

  1. Oh, after having a hard time at work you've just made my day. Brilliant review, I laughed all the way through. Thank you!

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    1. My dear friend, who is very intent on getting my English right (and I’m very grateful, although she is worse than Henry Higgins at times), pointed out that in my previous comment it’s not quite clear who was having a hard time at work. So just to clarify: it was me :))

      P.S. I re-read the review twice and can’t stop laughing!

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    2. Thanks Agnieszka! And don't worry, I worked out exactly what you meant ;) Indeed, I didn't notice anything awry.

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  2. I didn't make it through the first chapter of the unabridged version - you're obviously made of sterner stuff :) I too was laughing all the way through, especially at your point that Dewey may not in fact have understood regional geography - oh, and your Christmas cards with Mittens.

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    1. Thanks Lisa May! I don't think I'd have got very far if we hadn't been reading it aloud and laughing at it...

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  3. I was given this book a few years ago as a gift and sadly decided to pass it on unread. I feel much better about that decision now (and yes, I have two cats). :) Great review, Simon!

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    1. Thanks Kristen! I hope it found a good home ;)

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  4. Sherpa and I have been reading this review - and she was in stitches (though that might have been a result of a broken leg - not true, attempt at early morning joke). She was saying that Somerset at Christmas is the best of times because her adoring "uncle" Simon comes home.

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    1. Awwww! I choose to believe she said that...

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  5. Great review -- love it -- I would be happy to read this if I found it just lying around somewhere where I was, otherwise not. Your comment about taking photos of Sherpa rang a bell though -- my computer is swamped with pics of my (obviously totally adorable and highly intelligent) kittens.

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    1. My phone seems to be entirely devoted to pictures of Sherpa now!
      And thanks :)

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  6. Sherpa just re-read this on my lap and wishes to point out that there are two typos.
    She also wishes it to be known that you were correct in saying that she is not your cat - but would like to remind you and your readers that she considers that she has 'part-ownership' of you.
    Having read a recent post on facebook she is doubtful as to the wisdom of calling your (future) kitten 'Mittens' - clearly such a choice would end in the kitten getting lost half the time.
    Sherpa, having concluded her review of your post (and given up on sneaking some of my breakfast) has loftily removed herself.
    ;-)

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    1. I'm pleased she decided to read it twice :) And that I'm partly owned by her - I'll see her sooooon!

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  7. OMG - I remember a time when I was newly with cats (baby substitutes then) and signed Christmas cards with two little pawprints. Your review was very cheering on a cold Monday morning.

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    1. I mustn't judge, because I'll definitely be doing that when I have cats!

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  8. Still laughing, but oh dear... I'm a crazy cat lady but I do draw the line at this sort of book. It gives the rest of us a bad name. ;-)

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    1. heehee! Yes, mad cat ladies/men all to the good - but there has to be a line somewhere, doesn't there?

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  9. So funny that I had to comment. Thank you, thank you and I am not even a cat person. I almost wept with laughter ( colleagues are looking disapproving)I won't ever try to read the book in case it is disappointing.

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    1. Heehee! Thanks - and sorry your colleagues were disapproving!

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  10. This post has served as a timely reminder as to (a) why I don't read this sort of book despite being a devoted cat person and (b) that it definitely wouldn't be a good idea to send my daughter at uni a card 'signed' by our three cats for her birthday.
    Thank you for brightening up a damp Monday!

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    1. thanks, Liz! (but don't let me stop sending signed cat cards!)

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  11. oooh, you have made me very unhappy because I don't understand geography.
    Boudreau and sherry

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    1. Don't worry Boudreau, I don't understand geography either!

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  12. Oh my! I've been curious about the original, but this is too funny!

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  13. May well give the book a miss, but I have to admit that on occasions our cat has begged me to let him dip has paw in paint or ink so he can make his mark on a card destined for Younger Daughter...

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    1. I sent a holiday postcard to Mum, Dad, and Sherpa, I have to admit!

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  14. There's another library cat apart from me??? Tell me where it lives and I'll go and hiss at it.

    Fur raised, DP

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  15. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sP4NMoJcFd4

    is this her?!!

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  16. Very funny. But I feel left out by being the only member of the Thomas family who isn't pretending to relay comments from Sherpa.

    Pluggy says that there aren't enough polar bears on this site.

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    1. Sorry Pluggy - if you can find a book about polar bears, I'll write about it.

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  17. I have the unabridged version, given to me by a much-loved sister, (but unfinished), so I felt guilty chuckling at your post, but I did! (And I confess to signing Christmas cards with the names of our cats and dogs... But only for catty/doggie friends/family...)
    My son works with a museum cat, but is showing no signs of writing a book about their shared experiences.

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    1. Maybe he could make his fortune here!

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  18. You have brought me to tears of laughter with this post, all the worse because I am at work. As soon as you are able to have your Mittens, I so want to be on your Christmas card recipient list.

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    1. Heehee, thanks Ruthiella!
      And I'll make sure that Mittens sends her love, when she exists...

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  19. Oh I've missed a trick here. Years ago I worked in a small branch library which had been adopted by a stray cat. He used to sleep on bookshelves (it made shelving returns a challenge) and sit on the issues desk and paw at the date stamp as we used it. Children visiting the library to change their books adored him. We bought his food out of the fines box. That's five chapters right there! And I haven't even mentioned his magical powers or the many adventures we had fighting crime and doing right...

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    1. Ah, what a shame! I especially want to read those final two chapters you mention ;)

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  20. I've read the unabridged version - it is, indeed, truly awful. I gave it to the charity shop, they didn't seem impressed; then I saw the 6 other copies already on the shelves & understood why :)

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    1. Now I feel bad for laying the blame at the abridger's door!

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  21. "She credits him with intelligence far beyond his species, and a level of undying partisanship for Spencer, Iowa which no cat would ever display." Oh, just getting over the giggles from that one. Strangely your review makes me want to read this but perhaps I should steer clear.

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    1. Ha! Well, if you want my copy, Polly...

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  22. What a coincidence. Mere days ago I briefly held the audiobook version (unabridged) of this title in my hand, but quickly tucked it back in its spot on the library shelf after reading the description. Something about "life lessons" yadda yadda yadda. Sounded too terribly twee. Glad to know the old instinct for slosh is still in fine working order!

    Thanks for the laugh, and the warning as well!

    (Crazy cat lady here, but not quite *that* crazy. No pawprints on Christmas cards, though I could see that happening once my descendents leave home & are far enough away to merit sending mail to.)

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    1. Your instinct is definitely working well! Although, if you can find someone to enjoy it with you...

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  23. This dear Simon, might just be one of my favourite ever reviews that you have done. Myself and Oscar (oh no I am cat crazy too) have been sat here laughing away, well actually I have as Oscar has been happily sat cleaning himself as he has no idea of whar the internet is. He know the laptop... it is his arch rival in my attentions sometimes and indeed had a mug of tea knocked over next to it once from spite. Or just accidentally. Oh god... maybe I should write a book... Oscar the Amazong Domestic Ditz.

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    1. Aw, thanks Simon! Glad Oscar enjoyed it too ;)

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