To kick off 2013, I decided to re-read my favourite book, The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. Aside from just really, really enjoying the story, I knew it was a book that provided a lot of great life perspective and I felt like I was in a place where I could really use that. ARR (aside from having a fun acronym) is the kind of book that challenges you to sit back and reflect and, in my opinion, leaves your mind in a great place. It seemed to me like a good way to start a new year.
I don’t generally feel inclined to re-read many books, but maybe I should try to do it more often. It’s amazing how much you pick up that you missed the first time through. It’s also interesting to compare your thoughts on what you’re reading now to how you felt about it in the past. I last read ARR in 2009 and I was in a very different place life-wise. In some ways, different elements of the book mean different things to me now than they did back then. It’s helped me to see how much I’ve grown.
Still, while certain elements may hold different meanings and significance to me now, my overall take-away and impressions don’t seem to have changed. When I first finished reading the book, I wrote a review about it and put it on a dog-focused blog I used to write called Just Jasper (I haven’t updated said blog since 2010 but it was kind of neat to go back and re-read it as well after all of this time). I remember slaving over the review as I tried desperately to accurately express my feelings. To read it now makes me smile but I must have done something right in conveying my passion because shortly after publishing it I received an e-mail from Garth’s publicist telling me that Garth had not only found my review but that it had really moved him as well.
Won’t lie – that was a pretty proud day.
For old time’s sake, I’m resurrecting my review. If you’re looking for a good read, consider picking up The Art of Racing in the Rain. If you do (or you’ve already read it) definitely let me know what you thought of it!
[Ed Note: I obviously had a different intro to my review post back in 2009. It's not really relevant now though so I'm going to skip it and just jump right to the review itself. Enjoy! (Or don't. See if I care.)]
The story is told by Enzo, a dog who is determined to become human in his next life. Beginning at the end only to come back around full circle, we are treated to the story of Enzo’s life with the Swift family in a way that only a dog could tell it.
Now, first and foremost, I want to point out that I do my best not to assume that dogs think the way humans do, care about things the same way we do or even reflect on life the way we do. I’m not saying that they don’t in some capacity, I’m just saying that if they do, they do it in their own way. A dog’s thought processes are completely different. The way they identify with the world around them is something I don’t think we’ll ever completely understand and their priorities are, for the most part, elsewhere all together. Still, for the purposes of enjoying this book, I let myself be taken in by the novelty of a dog who was different than the rest and therefore appreciate Enzo’s observations of life as we think we know it.
The most interesting part about Enzo’s story for me is how it succeeds in being deeply philosophical and yet perfectly simple all at the same time. Enzo is a great thinker (Seeing as he cannot speak, he’s an excellent listener. He also has all the time in the world to come up with his theories). But at the end of the day, Enzo is a dog. He is a dog and therefore an observer and he a dog who tries his best to decode human behavior as best he can. We know from the outset that his intellect is far superior to other dogs (He does watch a lot of TV), but even he will admit that there is only so much he is capable of grasping where the subtleties of human emotion are concerned. Why do we hurt each other just for the sake of doing so? Why must we always complicate issues far more than necessary? Why can’t we just let things be?
The result is an account of life that is both detached in a way I’m just not used to and yet fiercely loyal, brimming with pure and unconditional love but also committed to the facts and being rational. Suddenly even the most complex interactions and most painful circumstance seem natural and meaningful. When you look at life through the eyes of a dog, everything seems to make a lot more sense. The “Enzoism” we find ourselves reminded of again and again is “that which you manifest is before you”. It’s funny how the things that make the most sense are sometimes so difficult to comprehend. Enzo makes it all a little bit easier.
Enzo’s story also made me take a much-needed step back from my life and inspired me to reassess pretty much everything about what I am doing, how I’m feeling and why I’m doing/feeling any of it in the first place. You see, this story isn’t really supposed to be about Enzo. It’s about his family and his person, Denny. Enzo isn’t witness to every moment of Denny’s life, but he is witness to a side of Denny that the man wouldn’t necessarily share with anyone else. Through their time together, Enzo sees Denny at his best and at his worst and yet his loyalty never wavers. A dog’s loyalty is based on trust – trust that you will always care, even when it doesn’t necessarily seem that way.
The bond of trust between Enzo and Denny is magnificent and it is beautiful. To Enzo, Denny is always a champion, but not just because he’s the hand that feeds – Denny is a champion because everything does, every choice he makes, makes him one. He is that which he manifests.
It got me thinking: What am I manifesting? Even when he thinks no one is watching, Denny acts like champion. That is the legacy he leaves with Enzo. Yeah, Enzo is his dog. But does it really matter who we’re leaving that legacy with? No, not really. It doesn’t matter and it shouldn’t matter. We need to be the incredible people we are capable of being through all things and not just because we want to make an impression.
So, I’m thinking about my legacy. I’m thinking about what’s before me and what I need to do to get there. As Enzo also never tired of stating, “your car goes where your eyes go”. I’m paying more attention to the road now. Also, I love that dog.
The Art of Racing in the Rain is the type of book that you lose yourself to in a perfectly peaceful way. It’s the kind of book that you feel like you would be sad about being over, but instead you feel like everything is the way it should be. The final thing it succeeds in doing is letting you know that it’s okay to move on and move forward. I for sure feel okay and I feel like I too am moving forward.