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david-sedaris1It might seem to you readers that Jesse, Devin and I can’t be on this blog together.  However, I can assure you that despite our Clark Kent/Supermanness, we are indeed different people.  Though with our glasses and our geekiness I can’t imagine which one of us would be Superman.  Jesse is more like Charles Xavier in his (sometimes scary) ability to read people. Devin is quite the enigma – she’d probably be the Invisible Woman.  And personally I have always leaned more toward being the Hulk.  But I digress. . .

I waited a while to post since I wanted Devin and Jesse to have some time center stage.  Recently and not so recently this blog has been entirely too much about me and my reading.  But now that they’ve had their fifteen minutes I’m stealing back the spotlight.  If they want it back they’ll have to read.  And post. 

Fitting then, that my post should be about David Sedaris, someone entirely self involved and constantly focused on where the spotlight is (and attempting to get it back where it belongs – on him). 

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Book CoverFull disclosure:  I read Marley and Me (hey, it has a dog on the cover doesn’t it?) and I enjoyed the book immensely.  I laughed at all the funny parts, cringed when required and even cried at the end (come on, you knew it was coming!).  I’ve read that Walking with Ollie is Britain’s answer to Marley and I agree with that in many ways. I also think that both men adore and love their dogs and any judgments that follow are solely in their roles as responsible dog owners, not as good people.

I have four rescue animals – two cats and two dogs.  They are all wonderful creatures, affectionate and loving.  They don’t know they are supposed to be thankful that I rescued them and often act quite cavalier about their living situation (they are, plain and simply, spoiled).  Three of them have stable personalities with no issues that need managing. 

One of them doesn’t. 

He came to us as a four month old puppy and the first time I took him to the vet (the second day I had him) she said “He’s a bit timid isn’t he?”  I wouldn’t realize her understatement until many months later.  By then I had come to realize the little guy was afraid of the car (he puked once he got in), strange men on the street (or boys past the age of 15 or so), my father (even after he’d known him for months), statues of people, holiday decorations, the vacuum cleaner, nail clippers (the dog version and the human version), baby gates, cats, and inexplicably, the Stop N Shop Peapod truck.   Unlike Ollie, he was not afraid of his owner (me) but he did give Tim the fish eye occasionally, just to make sure he wasn’t up to no good.

When I began reading Ollie, I couldn’t help but remember the despair I felt when I realized my dog was not normal.  I felt that I had failed.  I thought that my first dog attempt was a disaster and it was all my fault (did I make him this way?).  That I couldn’t help this poor creature who was just terrified of the world.  I felt for Mr. Foster, I really did.  I’ve been there. 

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I was worried about one of my pets, as I always do, when my mother said to me in frustration “Why don’t you just give away all your pets and. . .”

“Be miserable?” was my reply.  Because despite my anxieties on their behalf (are they sick, are they happy, are they getting all that they need????) I can’t imagine living a life without the little critters. 

Though I am not one of those delusional people who thinks of my pets as kids, they are certainly an important part of my family.  I smile even while getting mauled by the dogs each day when I get home (what human would ever greet you with such happiness?).   When away from home I cannot sleep, ironically, because it’s too quiet.  Though a purring cat can be loud, it sure is comforting.  Being flanked on either side by warm felines bodies leaves some folks cold, but I’ll take the subsequent crick in the neck for a few glorious moments of a group cat nap. 

Though I spend a lot of time attending to my pets’ needs, as an chronic worrier, it’s nice to have a respite from my own issues, even if it means worrying a little about someone other than myself.   When the dogs need to be fed or walked or the litter box cleaned, there is no time for self involvement – and that’s ultimately healthier than the alternative.

I’m not the first to delight in the soothing affect of pets. Ask any pet owner and you’ll get a litany of reasons why their pets are good for them (you may even get melodramatic or just highly dramatic accounts of noble acts and miracles, depending on the pet owner).  And more recently science has supported such anecdotal evidence with studies that show pets lower blood pressure, decrease depression and increase feelings of social support in those who live alone.

So it’s not surprising that Bruce Goldstein’s therapist suggested that Goldstein, a manic depressive, get a dog.  Where medicine and therapy failed, a tiny black lab puppy named Ozzy succeeded. 

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I would have bought this book for other reasons – it has a cute dog on the cover, it’s about veterinary medicine – but the real reason I bought this book is a little more selfish.  The author, Nick Trout is a veterinarian and he did surgery on my childhood dog almost 20 years ago.  That dog was 5 years old and for a while my parents thought they would have to euthanize him.  But the surgery was successful and he lived another 9 years.

A small part of me wanted to see him in print, but his was not a sensational surgery or an emergency one.  This book features both types of surgery, after all, who wants to read about the routine and mundane?  That’s just not exciting and probably doesn’t sell many books.

The format of this book condenses 25 years of experience (including many patients and owners) into a “day in the life” of Dr. Nick Trout.  It’s an exhausting day for him, but a vastly interesting one for the those of us reading.  Of course you must have an interest in all things veterinary.  This book is not for mere animal lovers; it’s not James Herriot (though he never shied away from the gross).  There is some technical jargon which, if it’s confusing, you can probably skim, but for those of us who love anatomy it’s very intriguing.

There is one particular patient whose overarching story connects the book and you will get attached to her and her owner.  In between there are dozens of other patients and scenarios, some lighthearted, some tragic, some funny and some just plain sad.  Dr. Trout’s experience is vast and though he has the brain of a surgeon he has a heart big enough to hold all the patients he cares for.

“The Middle Place is about calling home. Instinctively. Even when all the paperwork — a marriage license, a notarized deed, two birth certificates, and seven years of tax returns — clearly indicates you’re an adult, but all the same, there you are, clutching the phone and thanking God that you’re still somebody’s daughter.”

So yeah, those little blurbs on the book jacket are supposed to make you buy the book.  But I’m stronger than that.  Maybe for most books, but this one pulls you into a big bear hug, like I imagine the author herself would do if I met her on the street.

I’m a huge fan of memoirs of “regular” people, by which I mean not Burroughs or James Frey but instead people like  Judy Blunt, Alison Smith or Abigail Thomas.  Woman with complicatedly simple lives which they live with extraordinary ordinariness.  Real people.  With real problems. 

I read memoirs because they contain that spark of surprise – someone is like me!I like reading things that feel instinctually right, even though when I hear them in my own head I fear they are oftentimes weird or wrong.  Call it my need for external validation but to see oneself in another is comforting, no matter who you are.

I was drawn to Kelly herself, but more importantly I was also drawn (as she said I would be; she’s so smart) to her father, George.  He reminded me a lot of my late grandfather or at least how I like to remember him.  At least I know that my mother felt similarly about her parents, her kind, easy going and fun-loving father and her capable, tough and pragmatic mother.  As Kelly suggests, if you want to feel good or need twenty bucks, go see George.  If you want something done, go see her mother.   I remember thinking the same about my grandparents.  My grandfather always had candy, though he was diabetic.  My grandmother always had advice, usually of the unwanted variety.

While my relationships with my parents are quite different, I do feel Kelly’s need to be someone’s daughter.  To know, that even when you are a parent yourself, there is someone in your corner willing to help you out.  That you don’t need to have all the answers because someone else does.  She thinks of this as a delaying of growing up, of staving off adulthood.  But I think it gets to the heart of familial relationships.  It’s certainly hard for parents to see their children as adults, but I think perhaps it’s harder for children to see themselves as such.  It’s such a relief to let someone else take control, to know that someone else is in charge.  It’s a dynamic that all children and parents work through.

Kelly’s story of her family and her life is inspiring and I don’t say that lightly.  She’s a real person with real fears and needs and triumphs.  I won’t tell you any specifics, because I expect you to go out and read it.  Now.  Because it was with regret that I put down this book. 

Jessica’s Reading

Jesse’s Reading

Jesse and Jessica are Both Reading

Devin’s Reading

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