Although there are a bunch of good novels out this October (notably The Fire, Katherine Neville’s sequel to 1988s The Eight; and Dennis Lehane’s The Given Day), my favorite new titles were non-fiction. Both music-lovers and animal-lovers are in for a treat this month.
Dewey: The Small Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron is the cat-lover’s response to Marley & Me. In January 1988, a newborn kitten was left in the public library drop box on one of the coldest nights of the year. When Vicki Myron, library director, found him in the morning, she wasn’t sure he’d survive, but after a warm bath the kitten was purring up a storm. His friendliness and accommodating nature saved him; he was soon named library cat of the Spencer, Iowa public library. Interspersed with stories of Dewey’s (named for the Dewey decimal system; his full name was Dewey Readmore Books) incredible cuteness is the story of Spencer, Iowa, a small farming town down on its luck when Dewey made his appearance. Myron doesn’t exactly credit Dewey’s presence in town for inspiring the ensuing economic upswing, but library patrons’ interest in Dewey undoubtedly made them more loyal to the library, and loyal library supporters tend to be more involved citizens, and more involved citizens tend to be hometown cheerleaders and movers and shakers, so who’s to say Myron is wrong? This memoir of small-town grit, gumption and pride starring an internationally famous cat (he appeared in a Japanese documentary!) is a winner. Warning: you’ll need a handkerchief or two for the end.
Whether or not you are a Beatles fan, the new biography by Philip Norman, John Lennon: The Life is worth reading. Best known for his earlier book Shout: The Beatles in Their Generation, Norman tackles the life of John Lennon in unsparing detail; at 800 pages, this will be the definitive biography for the foreseeable future. Although it is not an authorized biography, he researched and wrote it with the full cooperation of Yoko Ono. It wasn’t until she read the completed book that she refused to endorse it, feeling that the author had been mean to John. That may be, but Philip Norman tells the story of a fascinating, flawed man in such a way that 800 pages almost doesn’t seem enough. His childhood years are thoroughly covered, and his peculiar relationship with his young and irresponsible mother is explored in depth. The origin of the Beatles, including John’s first meeting with Paul McCartney, the formation of the band, and their wild stints in Hamburg before they hit the big time are delineated in great detail. Readers who thought the Beatles were more clean-cut than their contemporaries, the Rolling Stones, are in for a rude awakening. While much of the book is filled with John’s anger, cruelty and immature behavior coexisting with his sweetness and intelligence, his better side becomes more apparent when he meets and falls in love with Yoko Ono. Even before she made an appearance the Beatles were on shaky ground; touring and business disagreements were taking their toll on the group. Yoko and John’s relationship forced him to become an adult, something his first marriage failed to achieve, despite the fact that it produced a child. During the last 10 years of his life, post-Beatles, post-first marriage, post-groupies and post-drugs, John Lennon appeared to be getting his life in order—he was a devoted father who planned his music around his son’s needs. Norman’s biography makes it clear that John’s life and career were on an upswing when it was tragically cut short. The most bittersweet chapter is the postscript, in which Sean Lennon remembers his famous father. This book is an achievement that even a non-fan will find impossible to put down.
Susan Taylor has been in the book business, in one aspect or another, since 1982. She currently works at the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza. Stop by the store if you are looking for a good book—she’s read a lot more than she can talk about here!