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Sylvie

Sylvie

Owner of Prudence

One chilly night my human and I cuddled up with a new book by Minnesota author Marcie Rendon, Murder on the Red River, intending to get a start on it before we fell asleep. We liked Cash right away, the 19 year-old protagonist, an Indian girl who drives truck for farmers during the day, plays pool and drinks beer at night. She’s quiet and tough, struck out on her own young to escape a chain of white foster homes. She’s also occasionally clairvoyant. Cash has a friend and mentor in the local sheriff, who has kept an eye out for her since he pulled her from her mother’s crashed car 16 years ago, and she proves to be invaluable to him as he seeks to solve the murder of an unknown Indian man found in a field. We tagged along with Cash in her pickup truck to the story’s end—it was 3am—and time well spent.


People! Truthfully, don’t you get a little tired of reading books about people? Well, let me tell you about two fabulous new books devoted entirely to animals. A refreshing change, I assure you!

Only the Animals is an extraordinary collection of stories by Ceridwen Dovey, each told by an animal caught up in human conflict: the French writer Collette’s cat accidentally left behind in the trenches of World War I, the pet tortoise of Tolstoy’s daughter smuggled out of revolutionary Russia, a mussel on a journey of exploration ala Jack Kerouac ending at Pearl Harbor. Wry, intelligent, moving…anthropomorphism that is entirely unsentimental and quite unlike anything I’ve read before.

Do Unto Animals: A Friendly Guide to How Animals Live, and How We Can Make Their Lives Better is by Tracey Stewart and it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if it’s inspiring vegetarianism around the world. Extremely informative, totally endearing and beautifully illustrated, this book will deepen your understanding and appreciation not just of your pets but ALL the critters that affect your life, from the backyard to the dinner table.


I like my size: not too little, not too big. I can squeeze through fences and under chairs, and I'm not too heavy for my human to carry when my feet get really cold. But in The Tiny Wish, Anya, the star of The Christmas Wish, becomes so small she can ride on a bird or a pinecone! The book is written by Anya's Mom and the gorgeous photographs were taken by her Dad in the mountain meadows of Norway. Your little ones will want to read it over and over again!


Seeing America by Nancy Crocker. Did I tell you that I love history? Odd, I know, as I am a dog and live completely in the moment. An author who lives right here in the Birchbark Bookstore neighborhood wrote a great story that takes us back to 1910, when cars were still a novelty and roads were primitive at best. It’s the tale of three boys who set out on an adventure across the prairie in a Model T Ford and become men along the way. They get into a little bit of adult-sized trouble so I recommend this book to everyone from older teens on up. This story of discovery, prejudice, and redemption has a lot of heart.


It’s here! Because we work in a bookstore, my human and I got to read an advance copy of Donna Tartt’s long-awaited new novel The Goldfinch and now I can tell you, come and get it! It’s a novel of epic proportions (almost 800 pages) and many reviewers are drawing comparisons to Dickens. Like her masterpiece The Secret History, the story is told by a boy/young man, in this case Theo Decker, cut adrift when his mother is killed in an act of terrorism. You won’t be able to help falling in love with Boris, Theo’s childhood pal, a severely neglected and eternally cheerful boy who reappears as an eternally cheerful Russian gangster in later chapters for some French Connection-esque international action/adventure scenes. While Tartt writes beautifully about art and what gives art its value, it’s her characters who will stay with you for a long time to come.


We woke up to yet ANOTHER cold gloomy day. My human said "let's make some tea, stay in bed for a while and start this book I brought home: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. Well, before we knew it, it was practically lunch time. Stories within stories, beautifully drawn characters from a masterful author with a dark, delicious wit. Every chance we got, we were curled up on the couch gobbling up a few more chapters, and by the time she switched the light off at bedtime, we’d come to the lovely end. Ahhh, another day given over to a book!


A dog reading Dante? Do you doubt it? I myself had always deemed Dante Alighieri's 14th-century epic poem too deep for this dog-noggin to decipher. But Mary Jo Bang's new translation of Inferno is for the modern age, and from the first stanza I was hooked: "Stopped mid-motion in the middle of what we call our life, I looked up and saw no sky—Only a dense cage of leaf, tree, and twig. I was lost." And from there, the adventure begins, until Dante and his teacher Virgil ascend from the depths of Hell "to once again catch sight of the stars." Dante delivers up a heaping helping of crazy critters—deep and demented? Decidedly, but doggerel it's not!


I love to sing! I'm a soprano and am especially fond of operatic music, though I'm happy to chime in on just about anything. You know that Jimmie Rodgers kind of yodeling? LOVE THAT! My human was always bragging that she "taught" me to sing, so I showed her the new book The Great Animal Orchestra by naturalist and musician Bernie Krause, all about how humans learned to make music from listening to US, the animals, the birds and insects, even the wind and water. I thought she ought to know. Now when we sit and listen to the music of the natural world, we'll both be listening with enlightened ears.


She was leaving me home alone AGAIN. "But you've been gone all day" I pleaded. She said she had to work at a Birchbark book event-- "Somebody's got to put kibble on the table." Ooh, that hurt. I would have gainful employment if there was any to be had. There just aren't a lot of sheep to herd in the middle of the city. I do my best on squirrel patrol but my efforts are underappreciated. Well, at least she brought home an interesting book. Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota is the beautiful new book from the MN Historical Society Press by Gwen Westerman and Bruce White, all about the Dakota people, who lived here before anyone else and who gave this land its name. It turns out the island where I live was once covered in maple trees and was a popular place for the Dakota to come and make maple sugar. The more I read, the more I wish I had lived back then with the Dakota, before asphalt and tall buildings, running on the prairie and drinking from the pure river. THEY would have had plenty of important work for me to do.


I love to sing! I'm a soprano and am especially fond of operatic music, though I'm happy to chime in on just about anything. You know that Jimmie Rodgers kind of yodeling? LOVE THAT! My human was always bragging that she "taught" me to sing, so I showed her the new book The Great Animal Orchestra by naturalist and musician Bernie Krause, all about how humans learned to make music from listening to US, the animals, the birds and insects, even the wind and water. I thought she ought to know. Now when we sit and listen to the music of the natural world, we'll both be listening with enlightened ears.


How many lonely afternoons have I spent longing for a brother or sister!?! Oh, we'd romp and wrestle, run and tousle, sniff and snuggle--I'd be the perfect big sister, a veritable font of wisdom and guidance! I began leaving pictures of cute puppies and Humane Society brochures lying around. My human took the hint. "OK", she says, "it's an interesting idea but what if your new sibling wants to be the boss, doesn't want to do things your way?" Well, I hadn't even considered THAT possibility. So we read Kevin Kling's new book for children about this very problem: Big Little Brother. The illustrations (by Chris Monroe) are wonderful, and I love to read it over and over again. (It's perfect for two- and four-leggeds with short attention spans.) I've begun pleading again with renewed vigor...and more realistic expectations. Keep your fingers crossed for me, ok?


There are advantages to having a human who works in a bookstore. We got a sneak-peak at Danielle Sosin's debut novel The Long-Shining Waters (Milkweed Editions) and is it wonderful! We read it in one fell swoop, only taking breaks for fetch and treats. It follows three women living on the shores of Lake Superior in very different times but I think the main character is the Lake itself, which Danielle describes in a thousand vivid ways. (THEN I got to visit the author in her home overlooking that big blue expanse, and I liked her so much I couldn't decide whether I'd rather sleep with her or my own human—so I traded back and forth all night.) Snatch it up--it's beautiful and haunting, and will make you want to head north to the Great lake to play in the waves.


Oh, the boredom! The snow's too deep, it's too cold to play outside—and to make matters worse, I can't get my human interested in indoor play because she's got her nose buried in a book! Well, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. So I cuddle up next to her and her copy of When Everything Changed: the Amazing Journey of American Women From 1960 to the Present by New York Times columnist Gail Collins. While the subject of my reading has previously been limited to my own kind—four-leggeds, that is—this history of her kind over the last 50 years is thoroughly engrossing and enjoyable. She says Collins' venture into social history reminds her of David Halberstam's—can't-put-it-down story-telling as addictive as good fiction. She's complaining that it's distracting her from all the work she has to do. "You'd better get busy," I say. "Just leave me the book."


Squirrels! Endlessly engrossing, thrilling to chase. I do my part to keep them in line because you know their ultimate goal, don't you? World domination. And chipmunks? Even more fascinating for being less ubiquitous and able to disappear like magic. So when my human companion brings home a new collection of stories by David Sedaris, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk---double whammy! But there are actually all kinds of animals featured in this collection of parables, and......they're talking and acting a lot like humans. My companion chuckles as we read them, using words like "droll" and "sardonic," "deliciously wry". This is definitely not for the kids, she says, but a yummy helping of Sedaris humor for adults and dogs.


My human companion is sweet and all, really I love her a lot. But trying to communicate with her can be SO frustrating. It's like we're from different species or something...oh.. wait.... Anyway, she understands a few simple signals but most of the time I can wear myself out with penetrating looks, firm paw touches, wags, whimpers; she gives me that sappy clueless look. "What do you want, Sylvie? I don't understand." If I turn it up a notch and bark, jump around a little, she cracks herself up with " What?! Timmy's trapped in the old mine again?" Time for serious measures. I showed her this book, Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz. I tell you it's as if the author found a window into my psyche. My companion was skeptical at first, but the quote on the first page pulled her in: "Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read."


Sylvie spends a lot of time in the store lately and she's noticed some intriguing titles: What the Dog Saw, Walter the Farting Dog (haha), Neither Wolf Nor Dog, Eating Animals (scary!). But based on the pure joy she experienced reading Kevin Kling's The Dog Says How, she has settled in with Kevin's new collection of stories, Kevin Kling's Holiday Inn. No mention of dogs in the title this time, but perfect for sending her off to dreamland with a smile on her face.