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.
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!”
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?!