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Friday, October 9, 2009

Marley and Me

Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog by John Grogan

What I learned from this book: John Grogan is a jackass.

I listened to this book on audio CD for two reasons: one was that it was about the only thing I had available to listen to recently, and I was sick of surfing the radio. The other was that several people I knew had spoken highly of the book to me. It was a bestseller (of course, so was the Da Vinci Code)! It got made into a movie (so did the Da Vinci Code. There was a clue here...).

Marley and Me starts with a simple premise. John and Jenny Grogan are happily married newlyweds living in Florida, when they get a plant. I don’t remember what kind of plant, but it hardly matters, because the plant dies. Jenny waters the thing to death.

Now, planticide is not a punishable offence in Florida, nor is a Federal Crime, but Jenny Grogan is nevertheless distraught. After all, the Grogans want to have children some day. If they cannot care for a sessile organism that requires nothing more than light and water for survival, how will they care for a mobile, sentient, organism that requires food, drink, play, education, and so on? It seems so discouraging! But then, Jenny his upon a solution. The Grogans will get a DOG!

Let me go over that thought chain again: I cannot successfully raise a plant, so I will raise a dog instead. That’s sort of like saying; I cannot successfully pick up a fifty pound rock, so I will deadlift 500 pounds as practice. Or, to paraphrase the Internet: sense. This thought process makes none.

But hey, fine, they want a dog. At least they go out and carefully research and plan to acquire their new family member, right?

Wrong. Rather than actually learning anything about what they’re getting into, the Grogans decide that they can just flip through the classifieds until they find something that catches their eye. They chug off to buy their AKC purebred Labrador retriever without the foggiest idea of what a purebred Labrador retriever actually is. Once they arrive, they are delighted to learn that the breeder is willing to part with one of the puppies that shows interest in them at a $50 discount! Why, that’s wonderful. They not only got a new dog, but they got him at a bargain! (Never, apparently, does it cross their minds that there might be a REASON why this dog is being offered so cheaply, and that it might not be a good one.)

What follows is less a litany of the struggles of the Grogans with a bad dog, and more of a litany of the Grogans failure to properly raise and care for a very difficult animal. While the book cover makes much of Marley’s faults, the faults are most Grogans.

The book cover tells us that “Obedience school did no good. Marley was expelled”. Which is true, except that “obedience school” consisted of the cheapest class that the Grogans could find, run by amateur dog trainers in a parking lot. When the woman running the class proves unable to control the dog, the Grogans simply give up. It apparently never crosses their mind to seek out a professional dog trainer to help them. Rather, they just decide to take matters into their own hands. The gouged drywall and tranquilizers mentioned on the book cover are both related to Marley’s psychotic fear of thunderstorms, which is apparently quite bothersome to Grogan, but not so bothersome that he bothers to find a solution other than leaving the dog locked in a metal grate and cleaning the blood off when he gets home. (And the tranquilizers, but those don’t help).

At every turn in this book, I’m consistently amazed by the ability to not only be ignorant, but to remain ignorant. According to the book, Grogan is a journalist, but apparently, it never occurred to him to actually do anything resembling research either before or after getting his dog. It takes him years to read anything on the Labrador retriever, or learn that there are actually two varieties of the dog. He is completely unaware of the existence or possibility of bloat until Marley has a case of it (which nearly kills him). It’s absolutely disgusting. He ties the dog up to a table at an outdoor restaurant, and is shocked that the dog drags the table off when chasing a poodle (despite the dogs habit of chasing after damn near everything).

To be fair, Grogan is not deliberately malicious. This isn’t Michael Vick’s autobiography, and Grogan does honestly seem to want to help Marley a better, happier dog. He’s just to ignorant to know how to, and to arrogant to ask for more than the cheapest help.

Are there some cute stories about Marley here? Certainly. But honestly, they are a lot of the same kind of cute stories you’ll get out of any friend that owns a Labrador retriever. They’re really not particularly wild.

Grogan himself reads the book, which is a poor, poor, choice. He narrates the entire story in the same jovial tone, with no variation in his voice except for some poor attempts at an Irish accent, and one dog owner who transitions from southern hick to surfer dude in the space of a chapter.

I don’t doubt that Grogan really loved Marley, but I can’t help but be annoyed at the way he treated him. For all his talk of the lessons he learned from Marley, it seems to me that he missed the most important one: dogs are a whole lot of friggin responsibility, and you ought to think very carefully about how you go about getting one.

I wish I could recommend this book, but I can’t, except maybe as a “how not to” guide for future dog owners. Take what Grogan did, and do something different. Otherwise, the only person to blame is you.

My American Journey

My American Journey My American Journey
Colin Powell

Again, I'm going to try and keep this short and sweet.

This book was a bit outside my usual reading habits, but Tony Blauer had it on his list of recommendations, so I thought it would be worth checking out. And I was right. It was worth it.

As the title implies, My American Journey is the story of how Colin Powell went from sub-average school student of Jamaican immigrants in the Bronx to being the commander of the one of the most powerful militaries in the world. It is a quintessential rags-to-riches sort of story that many Americans enjoy as children and dismiss as propaganda as teenagers (adults fall on all sides of the debate, of course). This is all nice, of course, but not necessarily worthwhile reading on its own. There are plenty of books that tell a similar kind of story, either factual or fictional, and if all you want is a feel good read, this isn't necessarily what you want.

Powell works his way through the story of his life with a level of introspection that might surprise readers who expect him to be a military-minded thug. His voice comes across as honest and genuine, and he is more than willing to admit when he thinks mistakes were made--especially if they were his own. This may be a success story, but it's not one where the author is gloating; Powell acknowledges when he screwed up, if he feels he does. And he acknowledges when OTHER people thought he screwed up, even if he doesn't think so.

And that, really, is what makes the book so fascinating; not just the life Powell has lived, which is admittedly impressive an interesting, but the way he thinks about that life. The book is a fantastic insight into the thinking of a very successful man. Even if you find his politics abhorrent, his thought processes are still worth understanding and thinking about. This is a man who knows how to succeed, and there's a lot to be learned from this.

Dragon and Liberator: The Sixth Dragonback Adventure

Dragon and Liberator (Dragonback, #6) Dragon and Liberator
Timothy Zahn

Okay; I am way, way, WAY behind on this thing. I'm taking advantage of a trip out of town to try and catch up, but I'm trying to catch up on a couple of other things as well. So, while I will do my best to provide you with my usual scintillating reviews, I will also apologize in advance if some of them seem a bit rushed.

On with the show.

Dragon and Liberator is the final volume in Timothy Zahn's Dragonback cycle, a six-book science fiction series aimed at young adults. I started reading it because I'm a huge Timothy Zahn mark, and kept reading the series because I discovered I actually enjoyed it. It's not deep literature, but it's enjoyable in the usual Zahn fashion: interstellar conspiracies, action, mystery, and more plot twists than you can shake a stick at. In short, it's fun.

Dragon and Liberator is the endgame of the long plot which Zahn has been building over the last six books. The K'Da fleet is on its way, and Jack and Draycos need to make one final, desperate push to stop the conspiracy that plans to kill them--and is tied into the one that killed Jack's parents.

Like any Zahn series, this one has a lot of plot threads kicking around that need to be wrapped up. Zahn manages to tie everything together, and even to give readers introductions to a few new characters along the way (we finally meet the Valahgua who have been lurking menacingly in the background for the whole series). The new additions don't create any new plot strands, fortunately, and the whole series manages to tie up in a nice, neat, but satisfying way (while still leaving some room for more, if Zahn really wanted to do it).

Of course, there's all the action and adventure that the previous entries into the series promise. And there's the shades-of-grey morality as well. This series is very much a coming of age story, and is as much about Jack's growth from a selfish, immature thief into an honorable, mature young adult. Not always entirely subtle, but satisfying nonetheless.

If you've been following this series, finish it. It's worth the wait.