Wise dog wags ‘Tale for Three Counties’

Narrator of ‘The Art of Racing in the Rain’ has four legs, longs to be human
By Ben Beagle
bbeagle@batavianews.com
Tuesday, September 22, 2009 10:33 AM EDT
BATAVIA — On your mark, get set, read!

Garth Stein’s best-selling novel about an extraordinary mutt, The Art of Racing in the Rain, was announced Monday night as the 2010 selection for the “A Tale for Three Counties” community reading project.

The story of Enzo, a dog, and his owner Denny, a professional race car driver, is the eighth book to be featured in the reading program organized by libraries in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties. The novel is written from the perspective of Enzo, who is taking stock of his life on the eve of his death.

“It’s different from the other Tale books. I love dogs, so this sounds like a good book,” said Joyce Thompson-Hovey of Pavilion, who attended the Tale announcement party at Richmond Memorial Library, 19 Ross St.

Richmond, where about 35 people attended, was one of four libraries that made a simultaneous announcement shortly after 7 p.m. Other parties were at Alfred C. O’Connell Library at Genesee Community College, Batavia; Lee-Whedon Memorial Library, Medina; and Perry Public Library, Perry. More than 75 people took part in the informal gatherings.

“I’m always surprised (by the books chosen for Tale). I’ve read a lot of books that I wouldn’t have known about,” said Gloria Charles of Batavia, who has read most of the past picks. “I like to read, and this was a chance to come out and find out what the book would be, and to purchase my copy.”

Tale, which began in 2003, encourages readers in the three counties to pick up the same book, read it and discuss it, and then meet the author during a series of visits in each county. The goal is to foster literacy, promote discussion among all kinds of people and create a positive experience for the community.

Book discussions begin in January. The project, which also includes a book review contest, culminates during the author visits, scheduled March 11 to 13, 2010.

“It’s especially fun for a writer to connect with a community over his work,” Stein wrote in an e-mail to The Daily News. “I look forward to a spirited and lively conversation about my book, and about communities, relationships and personal responsibility as well.”

Several people from the small group that gathered at GCC had already read the book “and talked about it with real fondness and great excitement at the idea that it will be this year’s Tale book,” said Nina T. Warren, the college’s director of library services. “Those who had not read it yet were very enthused to do so.”

Each of the libraries was decorated with racing flags and paw prints. Treats included dog-bone shaped cookies and bags of “Muddy Buddies,” a chocolate snack mix also called “puppy chow.” The Buddies were served from dog dishes that will be donated to local animal shelters. Each event included a short promotional video for the book and giveaways such as Enzo pins and a copy of the book.

“One person commented that the video was enticing and made people want to read the book right away, which may account for the many sales tonight,” said Peggy Parker, director of the Perry library, where 20 people attended the announcement.

Sales of the book were strong and several people made individual donations to the program.

“I was touched by one donor who gave the donation in memory of her dog,” Parker said.

Three separate members of the Tale for Three Counties Council, the official name of the project’s non-profit organizing committee, recommended Stein’s novel during a spring meeting, said Leslie DeLooze, the reference librarian at Richmond credited with starting Tale in 2003.

“Their enthusiasm inspired others to read and we contacted the author immediately. We hope that enthusiasm carries over to you,” DeLooze said just before unveiling a poster of the book cover.

Stein’s novel, published in May 2008, has been on the IndieBound bestseller list since its release, currently entrenched around No. 5 on the trade paperback fiction list. It has been on the New York Times bestselling books list in both its original hardcover, and for the last 13 weeks as a trade paperback. The novel was the top BookSense selection for June 2008 and a Starbucks book selection for spring/summer 2008.

The Art of Racing in the Rain has been published in 23 countries and spawned a merchandise empire that includes GoEnzo caps and T-shirts sporting “Enzo-isms” such as “That which you manifest is before you” and “Somewhere the zebra is dancing.”

“Everyone was delighted at the good fortune to have an author who is already having such widespread success,” said Warren, from GCC.

Enzo, the dog, is portrayed as a deep-thinker who has learned much by watching television and listening to his owner’s musings on life and auto racing. He looks forward to returning to earth in human form — the dog believes in reincarnation — so that he can become a gifted race car driver.

“The first idea for this book came to me when I saw a film made in Mongolia called State of Dogs. It was about the belief in Mongolia that the next incarnation for their dogs is as people. There’s only one way to tell that story — from the dog’s point of view,” Stein wrote in his e-mail.

In the novel, Enzo recalls all that he and his family have been through, the sacrifices of Denny, the unexpected loss of Denny’s wife Eve, and the three-year battle with his wealthy in-laws over custody of his daughter Zoe.

But Enzo is frustrated that he can’t communicate with anything other than gestures — a bark, a tail wag for example. He looks forward to returning to earth in human form so he can become a gifted race car driver.

A film adaptation is in development, with Patrick Dempsey (Grey’s Anatomy) in the Denny role.

The Art of Racing in the Rain is Stein’s third book. A previous novel, How Evan Broke His Hand and Other Secrets, won a Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award and was a BookSense pick in both hardcover and paperback.

Stein, a Los Angeles native who grew up in Seattle, has also written a full-length play and produced a number of award-winning documentaries. (He earned a master of fine arts degree in film from Columbia University in 1990). He lives with his wife, three sons and their dog Comet in Seattle.

Stein has participated in several community reading projects. He has one coming up in Spokane, Wash., in a few weeks.

“I find it an energizing and exciting experience,” the author wrote. “Writing is a dialogue, not a monologue. Half the fun is the discussion!”

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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

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