I was lucky enough to be given Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched The World by my boss for Christmas. We share the bond of true cat appreciators.
I admit, I wasn’t that keen to get started on it. And, as I had suspected, I found the sentimentality hard going. In the opening scene, the library director, narrator, and authoress Vicki Myron discovers a tiny ginger kitten, negelected in the drop box with the books. Bless her soft heart, she nurses him to health and that small library in Spencer, Iowa, becomes the cat’s home for the next nineteen years.
The book is (auto)biographical, telling both the life stories of Vicki and Dewey.
Everyone who meets Dewey falls in love with him. He raies the profile of the library and the morale of the town. He is a special friend to so many. He becomes famous all over America, and then moves on to British and Asian shores. Japanese documentarians travel to Spencer to film him.
All the way through I maintained an ironic distance. Yes, Dewey was undoubtedly beautiful, sweet, and special. And Vicki’s writing brought him to life on the pages.
The cards for the catalogue came in small boxes about the size of a pair of baby shoes. Dewey liked to cram all four feet inside, sit down, and let his sides ooze over the edge. If the box was a little bigger, he buried his head and tail in the bottom. The only thing you could see was a big blob of back fur sticking out the top. He looked like a muffin. One morning I found Dewey sleeping beside a box full of cards with one paw resting inside. It probably took him hours to relcutantly admit there wasn’t room for anything else.
Soon after, I watched him slowly wind his way into a half empty tissue box. He put his two front feet through the slit on top, then delicately stepped in with the other two. Slowly he sat down on his hind legs and rolled his back end unyil it was wedged into the box. Then he started bending his front legs and working the front of his body into the crease. The operation took four or five minutes, but finally there was nothing left but his head sticking out in one direction and his tail stickking out in the other. I watched as he stared half-lidded into the distance, pretending the rest of the world didn’t exist.
Somewhere along the way, between finicky meal-times, warm lap curls, and book case races, I too was swept up in the world wide phenomenon that was Dewey. My cynicism melted away. I laughed along with everyone else as Dewey Readmore Books won more hearts and opened more minds.
And then came the nineteenth year. See, while Dewey had been winning my heart, I hadn’t noticed. As far as I was concerned, I had a duty to read the book because A) It was about a cat and I adore them, and B) It was about a library and I work in one.
Then, after the inevitable decline of old age, Dewey took a turn for the worse. A trip to the vet revealed an incurable tumour. And, throughout those last ten pages, I cried and cried and cried.
I could feel it coming on. And I thought, nope, no way. I’m not sucked in my this story about the plucky orannge Library cat. I’m not a member of the fallen masses. But the tears rolling down my face begged to tell otherwise.
Dewey passed peacefully in Vicki’s arms. And I closed the book, and cried. And then I smiled. Because, look at this cat. Even now, years after his death, he’s effecting people. Making them open up. Making them love him. Making them realise things about themselves.
Like, maybe I am a sentimental fool after all.