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May 23, 2010

The Art of Racing in the Rain



The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
Fiction
2009 HarperAudio; Unabridged edition
Reader: Christopher Welch
Finished 4/29/10
Rating: 4.75/5 (Terrific!)



Your car goes where your eyes go. Simply another way of saying that which you manifest is before you.

I know it's true; racing doesn't lie.

Product Description

Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human soul, he has educated himself by listening to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver. Through Denny, Enzo has gained tremendous insight into the human condition, and he sees that life, like racing, isn't simply about going fast.

On the eve of his death, Enzo takes stock of his life, recalling all that he and his family have been through: the sacrifices Denny has made to succeed professionally; the unexpected loss of Denny's wife; the three-year custody battle with his in-laws over their daughter, Zoë. In the end, Enzo comes through heroically to preserve the Swift family, holding in his heart the dream that Denny will become a racing champion with Zoë at his side. Having learned what it takes to be a compassionate and successful person, this wise canine can barely wait until his next lifetime, when he is sure he will return as a man.

A heart-wrenching but deeply funny and ultimately uplifting story of family, love, loyalty, and hope, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a beautifully crafted and captivating look at the wonders and absurdities of human life . . . as only a dog could tell it.

As I've mentioned in previous posts, I'm really becoming quite a fan of audio books. I have one book on my iPod (for listening while walking or during the first two hours of my shift at work—before the store is open to customers) and one in my car—in spite of my short commute! I especially like being able to give a book a second chance, as was the case with The Art of Racing in the Rain. After reading numerous reviews praising Stein's creative novel after it hit the shelves, I decided to give the book a try. I didn't get very far. I don't even think I posted a DNF blog entry for the book. It wasn't the premise of a story narrated by a dog that bothered me, but rather the auto racing aspect, which early on appeared to be a large part of the novel rather than the backdrop I had hoped for. Having never had an interest in auto racing, it was easy to call it quits and read something else.

A year passed and Stein's book (now in paperback) was still selling very well and I wondered if I had been too quick to dismiss the novel. While browsing the shelves of audio books at the library, I noticed a copy of The Art of Racing in the Rain and decided to give it a second chance. I am so glad I did!! I fell in love with Enzo and found myself looking into my own dog's eyes, wondering if she understands me more than I think she does. I know dogs are intelligent, but I couldn't help but wonder if she, like Enzo, feels almost human.

I've always felt almost human. I've always known that there's something about me that's different than other dogs. Sure, I'm stuffed into a dog's body, but that's just the shell. It's what's inside that's important. The soul. And my soul is very human.

Does Annie wish to communicate with me and Rod in a more sophisticated manner than simple gestures?

Gestures are all that I have; sometimes they must be grand in nature. And while I occasionally step over the line and into the world of the melodramatic, it is what I must do in order to communicate clearly and effectively. In order to make my point understood without question. I have no words I can rely on because, much to my dismay, my tongue was designed long and flat and loose, and therefore, is a horribly ineffective tool for pushing food around my mouth while chewing, and an even less effective tool for making clever and complicated polysyllabic sounds that can be linked together to form sentences.

I found myself laughing out loud as I drove around town, listening to Enzo's story. There's an entire chapter about his hatred of crows and I kept wishing my husband were in the car so he could enjoy the humorous anecdote along with me. Christopher Welch does a remarkable job as the reader of this audio book. At first, I thought he was too dramatic, over-emphasizing the end of each sentence, but I quickly grew to enjoy his voice—Enzo's voice, actually—and now as I reread passages (yes, I bought a copy as soon as I finished listening to the audio), searching for quotes, I hear Enzo's voice in my head. There are so many beautiful passages I wish I had taken the time to note as I listened. Stein's writing is exquisite! I can't wait to reread this book.

This is what I love to do: I love to run through a field of wet grass that has not been mowed recently, I love to run, keeping my snout low to the ground so the grass and the sparkles of water cover my face. I imagine myself as a vacuum cleaner, sucking in all the smells, all the life, a spear of summer grass. It reminds me of my childhood, back on the farm in Spangle, where there was no rain, but there was grass, there were fields, and I ran.

and

Here's why I will be a good person. Because I listen. I cannot speak, so I listen very well. I never interrupt, I never deflect the course of the conversation with a comment of my own. People, if you pay attention to them, change the direction of one another's conversations constantly. It's like having a passenger in your car who suddenly grabs the steering wheel and turns you down a side street. For instance, if we met at a party and I wanted to tell you a story about the time I needed to get a soccer ball in my neighbor's yard but his dog chased me and I had to jump into a swimming pool to escape, and I began telling the story, you, hearing the words "soccer" and "neighbor" in the same sentence, might interrupt and mention that your childhood neighbor was Pelé, the famous soccer player, and I might be courteous and say, Didn't he play for the Cosmos of New York? Did you grow up in New York? And you might reply that, no, you grew up in Brazil on the streets of Três Corações with Pelé, and I might say, I thought you were from Tennessee, and you might say not originally, and then go on to outline your genealogy at length. So my initial conversational gambit—that I had a funny story about being chased by my neighbor's dog—would be totally lost, and only because you had to tell me all about Pelé. Learn to listen! I beg of you. Pretend you are a dog like me and listen to other people rather than steal their stories.

The Art of Racing in the Rain is so much more than simply a story about a family and its dog. While I enjoyed Marley and Me (click on the title to see pics of my first dog, Sidney), Stein has taken the run-of-the-mill dog tale to the highest level. I can't imagine any dog-lover not finding pleasure in this insightful story of man's best friend. Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants, said, "The Art of Racing in the Rain has everything: love, tragedy, redemption, danger, and—most especially—the canine narrator Enzo. This old soul of a dog has much to teach us about being human. I loved this book." Perhaps that's why I fell in love with Enzo. He's an old soul... just like my Annie-dog.




A Seattle Times Best Book of the Year

A Pacific Northwest Book Award Winner

A Publishers Weekly Listen Up! Award Winner for Fiction

An AudioFile Magazine Best Fiction Book of the Year

An IndieBound Bestseller

A Hudson Bookseller's Best Book of the Year

An Amazon Customer Favorite

and...

soon to be on Lesley's Top Ten List for 2010. This is a great book, folks!

Annie's Photo Gallery





19 comments:

  1. This book has been on and off my To Read list more times than I can count. Thanks to your review, it's back on the list. Loved the Annie-dog pictures!

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  2. I don't own a dog or know anything about auto racing; but I do enjoy well-written dog stories. I'll have to keep this one in mind.

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  3. Aw, Annie's beautiful! I loved this book, too, because I know my dog has thoughts just like Enzo's.

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  4. Told you so! :)

    Lee

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  5. I love Annie!! You've convinced me to get this one in audio!! Thanks!

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  6. Gee whiz, Lesley, this is a book I've never even considered reading. If it's going on your top-10 list I better start considering!

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  7. I can't tell you how much I loved this book. Like you I was reticent reading a book from a dog's POV. Clever, probably. But likely not my cuppa. Fate intervened though when I found a brand new hardcover in the "Free" box at our local antiquarian/collectible/used book store. So I grabbed it, much for the Seattle locale if nothing else. Enzo's description of Seattle locales were spot on. Believe me, not everyone gets it right - either thru poor research or an uninformed editor.But what a lovely, speciall read. I am trying to get John to read it but he is reticent for the same reasons I was at first. I can hardly wait to see what Stein comes up with next!

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  8. I've been waffling back and forth with this one, but you've convinced me! Think I'll go with the audio. It's probably good timing, too... we're expecting our retired greyhound any time now.

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  9. I am so glad you gave this book another try. I loved it so much that I got the audio version for my husband to listen to on his way to work. He enjoyed it also. Now he is on a business trip and had to drive to Boston, so is listening to Dan Brown's newest book.

    BTW, just wanted you to know that you are in my thoughts at this time...

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  10. I bet the crows are so upsetting because they seem more animal-like than bird-like. The book is not for me, but you, of course, already knew that. Love that Annie girl, and it makes me miss our own late Annie, the Chinook.

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  11. Marcia - If you struggle with the book, give the audio a try. It won me over.

    Annie says thank you! :)

    Framed - This is a gem. I think you'll enjoy it.

    Kathy - Aww, thanks. She's a good girl and we're very lucky to have her in our lives.

    Wasn't Enzo wonderful?! This is definitely one I want to read again.

    Lee - I know. I know. ;) And I thank you. Knowing how much you loved it is the reason I went back to it after all this time.

    Staci - And I'm sure she'd love you. She loves people!

    Yes, go for the audio. I think it may be better than the printed version--at least the first time around.

    Booklogged - Please do!! It really is a remarkable story. Again, the audio is what did it for me. Maybe try it before the printed version, if you have a choice between the two.

    Maudeen - I loved the setting! I recognized a lot of the locations and was happy to spend some time in the PNW. I hope John enjoys it. I couldn't get Rod to read it. He hates anything with a sad dog ending. I keep telling him it's a hopeful ending, but he isn't buying it. :(

    I'm curious about Stein's other book, Raven Stole the Moon. Now that it's out in paperback, I'll probably give it a try.

    JoAnn - I'm glad I convinced you. And yes, go with the audio! I think it made a huge difference to get inside of Enzo's head by listening rather than reading.

    Congrats on your new dog!! Do you have a name picked out yet?

    Nan - Yes, they are very animal-like, aren't they? I knew this wasn't a book for you, but you would love some of Enzo's philosophical opinions. :)

    I know you would fall in love with Annie girl. She is such a gentle soul.

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  12. Stephanie - Lucky you! My husband didn't want to read or listen to this book. He loves dogs, but really doesn't like to read about them. They never end well, ya know?

    Thanks for your kind words. We're heading to San Diego on Friday to spend the holiday weekend with my brother and his family. It will be good to get away and be with loved ones. Five years... hard to believe, you know? Thanks again. Rod & I both appreciate the warm thoughts.

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  13. Hi Les,
    Our new dog's name is Zelda - that was her track name and we decided to stick with it. She arrived yesterday and we love her already! She's going to be a great walking buddy!

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  14. I really enjoyed this book when I read it last year!

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  15. While I thought Stein sometimes pulled a little too hard on the heartstrings and that the in-laws were a little too stereotyped, I did love Enzo and often forget I was getting the story from a dogs point of view.

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  16. I am SO glad you gave this book a second chance, Les...I LOVED this book too :) And I also just adore those great photos of Annie ... thanks for sharing them.

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  17. JoAnn - That's a great name! Have fun with her. :)

    Kailana - I'm still thinking about Enzo. It was a great book!

    Lisa - Yep, there was a bit of a cliche to those awful in-laws, not to mention the whole situation with the accusation brought forward by the young girl. A bit predictable, but Enzo was so loveable, it was easy to overlook those flaws.

    Wendy - Me, too! :) Glad you enjoyed the pix of Annie-girl. Wish you could meet her in person. She's a love.

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  18. LOL This is one book that we are on opposite ends of the spectrum. I gave it a fair shot, but it just wasn't for me.

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  19. Joy - How can I ever forget your review? "The dog is the narrator. Enough said." You certainly made me laugh! But I wound up loving the book. Guess we can't always agree on what we've read, right? ;)

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