DEWEY: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World
By Vicki Myron, with Bret Witter
Grand Central Publishing; Hardcover,
ISBN-10 0-446-40741-0; $19.99 US
Reviewed by Marianne Plumridge – October 2008
I like reading biographies now and then. I also like reading animal biographies once in a blue moon. Blame ‘The Wonderful World of Disney’ from when I was a kid.
I was reading comments on a mystery writers’ blog when one commenter quipped an aside that caught my attention. She said: “Hey, I just read an advance copy of DEWEY - about the famous library cat. It’s the new MARLEY AND ME.” Or words to that effect. ‘Library’ and ‘Cat’ stood out, so I looked it up. So I’m a sucker for things that happen in libraries…
Anyway, I obtained a copy of the book when it came out this week and read it the same day. The headache following that was well worth it.
Back in Spencer, Iowa, on 18 January 1988, the temperature had dropped to below 15 degrees. The wind made it seem much, much colder. When Public Librarian, Vicki Myron arrived at work that morning, she and a co-worker found something strange in the overnight drop box: a tiny bundle of near frozen fur containing a huge pair of hopeless eyes. Vicki and Jean rescued the poor little kitten and strived to warm it up, since it was too early to call the vet. A warm bath in the sink revealed that the little fellow was actually orange, not grey, and turned out to be a very young long-haired orange tabby cat. On his first hobble (his toes were a bit frostbitten) around the table to introduce himself to the rest of the library staff, the boy kitten melted the hearts of all he met. They called him Dewey and hoped that the Library could keep him.
That was the tricky bit - gaining acceptance of the Library Board of Directors as well as the Mayor, and the majority of the patrons. Things like allergies, asthma, and complaints had to be addressed, since the library was a public place. Vicki did her homework and got medical opinions about all of the health concerns. It turned out that the Spencer Public Library was perfectly built to house both Dewey and the allergy/asthma ridden visitors, so most people were assured. One woman though, whom the library staff never did meet all of the long years that Dewey lived there, wrote a letter of complaint that was pure “…fire and brimstone, full of images of children keeling over from sudden asthma attacks and pregnant mothers spontaneously miscarrying when exposed to kitty litter. According to the letter, I was a murderous madwoman who was not only threatening the health of every innocent child in town, born or unborn, but also destroying the very fabric of the community…” Sad, really.
Dewey himself was perfectly behaved. From kitten-hood onward, he was a calm, friendly people-loving, social cat who wove himself into the fabric of the Spencer community during both good times and bad. And there were bad times and crises. Despite personal problems of her own, Vicki Myron strived to make the Public Library a place for enjoyment as well as help to the many people who needed it. Economic downturn, loss of employment, bankruptcies, etcetera, all took their toll on the rural populace. Vicki created the Job Bank at the Library: a section that contained all the job listings, books on job skills, job descriptions, and technical training, a computer to create resumes and letters, and a caring staff to help them use it all. Dewey’s arrival seemed to help too, although “…Dewey didn’t put food on anyone’s table. He didn’t create jobs. He didn’t turn our economy around. But one of the worst things about bad times is the effect on you mind. Bad times drain you of energy. They occupy your thoughts. They taint everything in your life. Bad news is as poisonous as bad bread. At the very least, Dewey was a distraction…”
But he was so much more. His story resonated with the people of Spencer. His story of survival matched their own. After all, he survived his worst trial, so there was hope for theirs. Dewey’s personality reflected a trust and confidence, but never arrogance, and a sort of serenity that soothed many a burdened or case-hardened heart. A persistent lap sitter, Dewey wormed his furry backside into as many friendships as he did small boxes. The author’s large store of Dewey stories are funny, touching, but never cloying, and reach out to all readers alike. In fact, Vicki purposefully downplays many of Dewey’s antics in comparison to the many larger issues at hand, but his effect can’t help but leave a definitive impression anyway. He was that kind of special cat.
Whether sitting quietly with an autistic child during reading time, stalking laps, playing hide and seek after hours with the staff, volunteering to lend fluffy cuddles and purrs to someone needing comfort, hunting rubber bands to eat, or inspiring hearts, Dewey always gave his best. Some years into his library residence, people from far away were arriving to visit the Library Cat. He’d been the subject of newspaper articles, a few magazine articles, and radio commentary. Somehow, his existence reached beyond that small Iowa town and stretched all the way to Japan. A camera team and a director subsequently arrived and spent a whole day with Dewey, filming his every move. None of Dewey’s visitors or fans ever went away disappointed. And to some of them, his small furry attendance made a difference in their lives.
This is a lovely book. Something to read on a cold winter night snuggled under a warm rug with a cup of tea or hot chocolate beside you. Or read it at any other time of the year and still be warmed by Dewey’s story and those who loved him…
Labels: Dewey, Library Cat, Marianne Plumridge