Sunday, April 5, 2009

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

This book proves I don't just read history books, poetry, and television adaptations!

I am an avowed cat lover, having had cats around me for almost my entire life--neighborhood outdoor cats first, then some of our own, then finally my own bundles of hellspawn, er, I mean joy that are with us today. Only my college years and first few apartments were cat-free, and I missed them the entire time.

So it comes as no surprise that when I heard of this book, the story of a stray kitten who should by all rights have died but instead managed to survive a cold night in a library book drop, it was something I wanted to read.

Dewey Readmore Books, the full name of the cat to the left of this text, ended up staying at the library he was found at, adopted by the staff and Director Vicki Myron in particular. It's quite unusual for a library to keep a pet, and Myron explains that the decision was not easily arrived at--not when there's a board of good old boys to pacify and the usual bogus cat rumours to deal with. It takes a special cat to find a home in a public place with open doors and not run away (there's no way three of my cats could handle the job, and the fourth is stationary just because he's fourteen), and, as it turned out, Dewey was just such a cat.

Most of the book is about Dewey's life as a library cat, starting off as an energetic, rubber band-stealing kitten and moving through his middle age, where he helps place Spencer on the map. There is also the tear-jerking story of his last days, which of course affected me, having lost an inherited cat to cancer earlier this year. (SPAY YOUR DAMNED CATS!) However, Myron also splices in pieces of her own life and how Dewey affected her during rough times, such as her relationship to her daughter or dealing with her own many health issues. Depending on how you feel about such things, the personal sections either add to the book, showing how cats really do become a part of your life, or are an attempt to get a bit of autobiography out there through the lens of Dewey's story.

Personally, I don't think you can write a book about cat without talking about the people involved. When Myron discusses her own struggles, and Dewey's ability to bond with her at just the right moments, cat owners know exactly how she feels. It's no different than the passages telling how Dewey interacted with people who needed help at the library itself, in my opinion.

Myron also works in some details about the town itself and trying to keep a vibrant, Carnegie-founded library open during hard economic times. A lot of what she said rang true for me, growing up at the edge of the similarly effected Mon Valley in Pittsburgh. Her dedication as library director to keep the library as a place that catered to the needs of all despite perceptions makes for interesting reading.

But the main star of this book is of course Dewey, possibly the most finnicky stray cat I've ever read about. Whether he was sitting in laps at geneology club, hiding in desk drawers, or looming over everyone at the top of the light fixtures, Dewey became a draw for the patrons. His adventures make the book sing, as Myron does a great job of working in just enough description for you to picture the scenes in your head. Dewey was apparently a cat that was just so in touch with humans that he was able to function in a way few other cats could.

The last days of Dewey are particularly sad to me, as they show why so many adult cats end up in shelters. As Dewey aged, he became sick and could not do all those great tricks anymore. And the same people who loved Dewey the sweet cat became agitated at seeing his fur get older, his gait get slower, and his aches and pains increase. I hate to go all "conservative" here, but that disposable attitude people have to everything from televisions to cars to pets is disgusting. Myron quietly shows her anger at Dewey's abandonment, but good for her for holding on to him for as long as possible.

Dewey got a lot of press over the years, from the usual sources (cat magazines) to regional pieces to an international spot in a Japanese special(!). A lot of people came to know him, and some even drove hundreds of miles to see Dewey in his native home. The Spencer Library keeps up a web presence for him, which I think is a nice touch. This book is a great send off for a cat that touched thousands of lives, and is highly recommended for anyone who loves cats and books.

1 comment:

  1. That's not going all conservative at all. Anyone with half a heart should be disgusted by the disposable attitude that has become so commonplace.

    That said, I've not read this book - I flipped through it plenty at the bookstore - but I did give two of them as Christmas gifts this past year and both recepients loved it.