Dewey: The Small Town Library Cat Who Touched the World

My note: This true story about a library cat by Vicki  Myron with Bret Witter is a perfect book to celebrate National Library Week*

Dewey is a delightful story of a real cat adopted by library director Vicki Myron, the Spencer Iowa Library in the small town of Spencer, Iowa. Actually, the entire library adopted Dewey, but it was author Myron who found the kitten on a very cold morning on January 18, 1988 and considered the cats hers on permanent loan to the library.

This down-to-earth story about a wonderful cat who loved the library could almost be a children’s story, if written just about Dewey. But the book also includes Vicki’s story of growing up in Iowa, her trials and tribulations with her divorce, and the ups and downs with her daughter Jodi, to whom Dewey was extremely attached.

All the staff fell in love with Dewey, who had a personality perfectly suited to a library. They named him Dewey Readmore Books. He would sit on children’s as well as adults’ laps when they came to the library to read or for a meeting. As a kitten he would jump on high shelves, desks of the staff, on top of the copy machine where it was warm, or ride in the book cart. He was rambunctious and gregarious!

Dewey became a star cat, written up in every cat magazine as well as newspapers. A team even came from Japan as part of Japanese Public Television. As people learned about Dewey, they would make a detour when they were within a few hours’ driving distance just so their children could meet him. Dewey loved the attention and was a perfect gentleman!

Author Vicki Myron also wrote about Spencer, so readers could get a clearer picture of the kind of town she lived in. Her struggles with obtaining more amenities for the library, as well as her personal struggles are part of the story. She personally took care of Dewey when the library was closed for any length of time and she made sure he went to the veterinarian when he was having health problems.

For almost two decades Dewey was king of the Spencer Public Library. The patrons loved him, as did the staff. When he became too ill and in too much pain from a tumor, Vicki was the one who took him to the vet, holding him while Dewey took his final breaths in Vicki’s arms.

At the end of the book, author Myron noted that she had no idea how far the word of beloved Dewey’s death had traveled. It was on CBS afternoon newsbreak as well as MSNBC as well as in local news and local radio stations. Businesses touched by Dewey’s life also responded with gifts and flowers. People in Spencer received calls from relatives and friends about Dewey’s death. He was a celebrity!

I loved this book. In a world where we are faced with terrorism, extreme weather patterns, high taxes, and all the other issues of the 21st century, this book reads almost like a story from an earlier time, one less fraught with stress and focused more on loving one small creature who made a difference in so many lives.

Dewey was on the bestseller list of the New York Times and is published by Grand Central Publishing. hardcover costs $19.99. It makes a perfect gift for cat lovers.

*From the American Library Association site:

First sponsored in 1958, National Library Week is a national observance sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA) and libraries across the country each April. It is a time to celebrate the contributions of our nation’s libraries and librarians and to promote library use and support. All types of libraries – school, public, academic and special – participate.

Celebrations during National Library Week include:

  • Monday, April 11: State of America’s Libraries Report released, including Top Ten Frequently Challenged Books of 2015.
  • Tuesday, April 12: National Library Workers Day, a day for library staff, users, administrators and Friends groups to recognize the valuable contributions made by all library workers.
  • Wednesday, April 13: National Bookmobile Day, a day to recognize the contributions of our nation’s bookmobiles and the dedicated professionals who make quality bookmobile outreach possible in their communities.

Beyond Hummus and Falafel: Social and Political Aspects of Palestinian Food in Israel by Liora Gvion

Before reading Beyond Hummus and Falafel I defined the politics of food within the realm of agribusiness, i.e. manufactured foods made by huge food corporations whose bottom line is profit, profit, profit and also the loss of family farms to agribusiness. After reading this book I have an additional definition: For Palestinians living in Israel, preserving their ethnic and regional dishes is a form of political protest. The Palestinian women write no cookbooks, nor do male restaurant owners serve their traditional Palestinian dishes to Israeli Jews. Cocooning their dishes in the safety of their kitchens and community, they preserve their distinct identity as a minority within a larger, majority society, which has already appropriated hummus and falafel as Jewish-Israeli food. (When I lived in Israel, I thought hummus and falafel were uniquely Jewish to Israel.)

If you are as fascinated with food as I am, you will find this book enlightening. The author, a Jewish sociologist at Kibbutzim College of Education in Tel Aviv, interviewed many Palestinian-Israelis living, working, shopping, and cooking in Israel. Professor Gvion sat in their homes, ate their foods, and learned about the role women play in their communities via their domain, the kitchen. The women learn to cook at an early age in preparation for her role in marriage, so learning to prepare traditional food is very important.

Now that many Palestinian women work outside the home, they use modern conveniences, such as the microwave and pressure cooker to make their traditional dishes in less time. They also buy processed Palestinian dishes and use canned goods while operating in the arena of basic, but less complicated, Palestinian recipes, which vary depending on what part of the country they live.

As a sociologist, author Gvion delves into Palestinian life in great detail. In fact, one could easily become overwhelmed in the details, but by investing the time to read all the chapters, the net result is a much greater understanding and appreciation of Palestinian society through their kitchen windows and restaurants.

I especially liked the last chapter on why there are no Palestinian cookbooks written by Palestinians. After reading the chapter, I extended my definition of the politics of food, because the decision not to write a cookbook is a way to keep Israelis from usurping their food culture identity and adopting it as their own. Many minorities adopt the foods of the majority culture, but this is less prevalent among Palestinian Jews, according to the author’s research.

Two sections of the book that I found quite helpful are the extensive glossary of Palestinian culinary terms that are found in italics in the text and also the author’s detailed notes of each chapter.  For example, here is the note on complicated traditional dishes on p. 175: “The disappearance of complicated traditional dishes is typical of kitchens encountering modern technology.”

If you are a foodie, as I am; if you enjoy learning about the culinary traditions of other cultures, as I do; and if you also happen to be a Jew who lived in Israel, as I did; you will love this book. And even if you didn’t meet the last of the three criteria, like the Levy’s rye bread campaign many years ago on New York subways: You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy Beyond Hummus and Falafel by Liora Gvion. It has broadened my concept of preserving recipes from another culture so that it remains a way of defining that culture’s roots, both social and political.

Cost: The book is $26.95 on their website (; also available from Amazon and other book stores.

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