Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World

Fri, Jan 2, 2009


Guest book review by Peter J. Wolf

It was nearly 20 years ago when Library Director Vicki Myron discovered a tiny ginger-colored kitten in the overnight book drop of the Spencer Public Library. “I know melting can be a cliché,” writes Myron, “but I think that’s what actually happened to me at that moment: I lost every bone in my body. I am not a mushy person. I’m a single mother and a farm girl who has steered her life through hard times, but this was so, so…unexpected.”

At the time, the small northwestern Iowa town was just beginning to pull out of the farm crisis that crippled much of the Midwest during the 1980s. And the arrival of little Dewey Readmore Books, as the kitten was soon named, proved to be a very good omen. If nothing else, he was a survivor. After all, the thermometer had dipped down to minus 15 the night he was put into the library’s drop box (how he got there is a mystery that’s never been solved).

But Dewey did more than just survive. As the adopted library cat, he absolutely thrived. Soon, the town of Spencer was undergoing its own turnaround, thanks at least in part to Dewey, as Myra points out:

…I don’t want to make too much of this one turn of events, because Dewey didn’t put food on anybody’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 your 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. Dewey’s story resonated with the people of Spencer. We identified with it. Hadn’t we all been shoved down the library drop box by the banks? By outside economic forces? By the rest of America, which ate our food but didn’t care about the people who grew it?

Twenty years later, Dewey’s story is resonating with people well beyond Spencer. It’s been on The New York Times’ list of hardcover nonfiction best sellers since its release in September (at last check it was Number 2).

The timing is uncanny, of course. The economic conditions described by Myra and co-author Bret Witter sound all too familiar. If there was ever a time for Dewey it’s now. But just as Dewey the cat was more than a distraction, Dewey the book is more than a fluffy diversion. Carefully interwoven with Dewey’s tale is Myra’s own compelling story, as well as a brief history of Spencer–a back-story that provides both context and a human-interest element.

All of which gives Dewey a timeless quality–perhaps the real secret to its success. At its heart, this is a story about how companion animals enrich our lives, and in many cases, actually make us better people–more closely approximating the people we wish we were.

Publishers Weekly suggests that Dewey’s been “anthropomorphized to a degree that can strain credulity,” a criticism–if sales are any indication–easily dismissed by fans of the book (or, indeed, anybody who’s ever bonded with an animal). In any case, given the recent work of Temple Grandin and Patricia McConnell, among others, it’s clear that we still have an awful lot to learn about the emotional lives of animals.

How much of an impact can an animal have? How many lives can one cat touch? These questions, from the blurb inside the book’s jacket, are far too complex to be answered in any single volume, of course. But Dewey’s legacy doesn’t end with the book, either. In addition to an all-things-Dewey (including book tour dates) website and Dewey’s Facebook page (with nearly 3,000 fans), Dewey makes up a significant part of Spencer’s Wikipedia entry. And, according to Variety, a film adaptation of Dewey, starring Meryl Streep, is in the works.

That’s pretty good for an abandoned kitten from small-town Iowa–not that Dewey would have made a big deal of it, mind you.

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10 Responses to “Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World”

  1. 1

    This book rates up there with Marley and Me and A Good Pig, all wonderful heartwarming stories. A must for all to read, not only to yourself but should be shared with others especially children

  2. 2

    A film version? YES!!! I have had it up to here and beyond with dogs being shoved down our collective throats by the media (last night during prime time and every Friday night during prime time in living memory, for instance, every show was about — you guessed it — dogs) and it’s wonderful that the nation’s REAL favorite companion animal is being honored in this way and advocated for! Hope it’s the start of a trend.

  3. 3
    Carla Johnson

    I asked for the book for Christmas and got it. I started and finished it in less than a day, it was that good. This isn’t a cutsie story by any means. This was serious content and Vicki Myron is an excellent writer who skillfully weaves the tale of two lives and how they supported and sustained each other through good and bad times. I dare anyone to read this book and say that Myron is a lightweight or that this cat didn’t actually perform a service. Yes I cried at the end….

  4. 4

    I ordered this book about a week ago and I’m looking forward to reading it :-)

  5. 5
    Bobby & Lora Jones

    I read this wonderful book to my husband and daughter as we drove to various doctor’s appointments or meetings. We have two cats (1 in and 1 out) and we love them both. Dewey was a very special cat as well as all cats who give unconditional love and lower the blood pressure too! We finished the book today (1/23/09) on the way home from looking for a “home” for our “special” daughter. Of course we (Dad and I) cried even though we knew the ending. Thank you Vickie for giving us a book that touches us all. I will be passing it on just as I did with Marley & Me. Great books!!

  6. 6

    I read the book it made me laught it made me cry,I love Dewy and I love his pic on the cover of the book such a handsome sweet boy:)

  7. 7

    I would like to add myself to all those who loved the book and who appreciate just how important, how valuable, companion animals are to us. Dewey is a sweet, fabulous example of how deeply the animal human bond can be and how this helps us on all levels. For those who disbelieve, or who are doubtful that such an intricate relationship can exist (between humans and animals); I can only say that one must be open, empathetic, aware and have an ability to think outside the box. Cats are fabulous, individual, unique, intelligent, amazing animals.

    I would like to suggest to Vicki Myron and her co-author as well as the Spencer Public Library that the best way to continue Dewey’s legacy is to share his good fortune with other animals who are less fortunate. Perhaps a percentage; a portion of the profits which come from the book, the proposed movie and any other publications/productions be donated to the creation of a NO KILL animal sanctuary/shelter in Spencer or wherever near there one may be needed. What better way to extend the love and nurturing that Dewey received? I believe any/all abandoned, stray, abused or thrown away kitties, if given the chance, could turn out wonderful, too. Never another Dewey! Of course; there is only one Dewey but….just think of all the unlucky kittens and cats out there waiting for someone to save them.

  8. 8
    Jack M. Knight

    “Dewey” charmed me from the beginning page, and then Dewey captured my heart, as did the people of Spencer, Dewey’s mom and author of this NYT #1 bestseller! I’ll always have a place in my heart for all in this story, but none more than the one and only; Dewey! Jack Knight. 03.26.09 / 19:25 CDST.

  9. 9
    Anna Sviridova

    I read a book on my way to vacation during 5 hours. I was crying. We need to know about such stories. I have two cats of ginger color. Such stories make us softer and let us think about love…Just one thing I did not like: Dewey could die without any injections but a natural way, I could never do this with my life fried…And I would help him with all my efforts to spend his last days the easiest way possible….


  1. [...] has a guest review of Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World. Hmm, that’s one I haven’t read [...]

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