June 2013 Review–Dewey’s Nine Lives: The Legacy of the Small-Town Library Cat Who Inspired Millions by Vicki Myron with Bret Witter

~by Michele Gregoire

Dewey’s Nine Lives: The Legacy of the Small-Town Library Cat Who Inspired Millions is a sequel, published in 2010, to Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World (reviewed in this column two years ago). Written by the same author team and in the same style as the first Dewey publication it is a book of nine true short stories. Author Vicki Myron compiled the tales of people and their special cats from around the country, which were shared with her after the publication of Dewey. The story arc begins in Chapter 1 with a woman from Spencer, Iowa, a regular visitor to the library, who had a quiet relationship with Dewey, which was especially meaningful after her own cat had died. The last story concludes in Spencer, Iowa where the book began; it starts with a mini-biography of Glen Albertson, and ends with his meeting of the author and their embarking on a life together. In the vein of human interest writing, the stories all have sad moments but end happily, providing a sense of real life along with a generally upbeat and positive approach to living – the ‘happy ending’ most of us like to see. The other seven chapters detail diverse characters and places and contain heartfelt human-cat bond life stories that bring sadness, occasional humor, and joy – a balance of what one expects in this genre.

Myron and Witter open the Prologue, entitled ‘Dewey,’ with an excerpt from a reader’s letter: “Thank you, Vicki, and thank you, Dewey. . . I don’t believe in angels, but Dewey comes close.” The author’s very first sentence counters that belief and sets the tone for the rest of the book. Myron states, “I disagree with the person who wrote that letter, because I do believe there are angels walking among us, helping us grow. . . These angels . . . come in all forms. I believe Dewey Readmore Books, the famous library cat of Spencer, Iowa, was one of those angels. He taught so many lessons, and touched so many lives, that I can’t dismiss it as chance. And I don’t believe in coincidences.” This she calls ‘Dewey’s Magic’ and it refers to his ability to change the way people thought about themselves. Stories that show this ‘magic’ are the subject of the book and it is as much about challenges to the human spirit as it is about the love between these humans and their cats. However, in each tale, the relationship between the protagonists and their cats is paramount and indeed speaks to how that bond helped each person through conflict and difficult times. Most important is the love for their cats expressed by the central figures in each story.

The same short story writing framework is followed throughout the book and provides for a cohesive structure. The primary author’s thinking is also observed as she reflects on Dewey’s impact and extends it to the many other cat characters who populate the true stories within the book. Each chapter opens with a quote from a letter to the author, written by the person whose story is told. These are very poignant and capture the essence of the feelings and relationships between human and cat, something that everyone who loves a cat (or cats) experiences yet may have difficulty putting into words. The term ‘angel’ is found as is ‘spirit,’ suggesting that to most of the characters their cat relationships clearly touch the divine.

Because each chapter is an entirely new story the book can be read one chapter at a time over a long period. (In fact, I started the book almost two years ago, put it down for over a year, and then recently picked it back up to finish.) Sometimes that is the better way to read a series of such human-animal stories because they do tug at the heart with the sadness that is felt in varying degrees with each story, since most were compiled some time after the cats’ lives were over. The reader experiences grief with the owner, and not just for the pain of loss of a beloved cat but also for the other events that caused sadness and hurting for the main characters. For example, in the last chapter, there is the loss of relationship with his children when Glen’s marriages ended, making him feel alone and so very sad. In chapter two the story is told about a woman whose mother rescued kittens and cats before it became a widespread practice and it also encompassed the sad circumstances of her life as she aged. Each character is developed in the beginning of the chapter at the outset of the story and his or her life circumstances are defined and placed in context over time, including the paramount place of the cat character in the individual’s life. Many of these people experienced life hardships and unhappiness to differing degrees; suffering is evident at some level in each chapter, but it is alleviated by the character’s relationship with his or her cat(s).

The opening chapter quotes from the people whose stories are told provide a glimpse into the emotional quality of the book, story by story. The second chapter opens with this statement. “I simply wanted to thank you for putting into such eloquent words what many of us who have loved a cat, or any animal, feel every day. They are our family, and we love them just as deeply and miss them just as desperately when they are gone.” And this one, from the man whose story is told in Chapter Three: “I had a cat for twenty-one years. . . He shouldn’t have survived . . . yet he did survive to bring so many hours of joy to my life for so many years. And to this day, you can sometimes feel his wet nose touch your leg as he still waits for my spirit to join him.” And finally, in Chapter Six, “I have never been loved by anyone, not even my daughter or my parents, the way I have been loved by Cookie.” These cats have provided very special, unique, and profound relationships with their human family members that could only come from the human-animal bond. Every story in Dewey’s Nine Lives imparts to the reader the special love between humans and cats. This is a very sweet book, another tribute to Dewey, and all cats who provide a more fulfilled life for their human families.

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Dr. Michele Gregoire has been Chair of the Education Department at Flagler College since 2004 and a member of the faculty since 1988. She came to Flagler College from Georgia College in Milledgeville where she had been Director of Music Therapy for four years and prior to that she spent one year in the same capacity at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. Dr. Gregoire earned her bachelor’s degree in Music Therapy at Florida State University, her master’s degree in Music at California State University at Long Beach, and her doctoral degree in Special Education at the University of Florida. She has conducted research and published articles related to music therapy and special music education, consistently maintains a strong record of professional conference presentations, and her current interests are historical research in music education, special education, and music therapy.

Dr. Gregoire has been involved in several professional organizations throughout her career, and has served in leadership capacities in most of them. She worked for ten years as a clinical music therapist and director of internship, specializing in developmental disabilities, at the beginning of her career and continues to provide consultation in both music therapy and special education to individuals and organizations.

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