HomeBooksDewey the Library Cat

Update January 1, 2009: The author was interviewed today on the Diane Rehm show on NPR. It was a very interesting interview and I found it interesting that the three men that called in didn’t talk about Dewey but all of the women did. At the end of the show, Diane informed her audience about Iron Frog, a website that has listings of library cats all over the world. I had no idea that there were so many library cats!

A good friend gave me Dewey, the Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World, for Christmas. Since I’m a cat person, I figured that I would have a hard time reading it without falling in love with Dewey. I did fall in love with Dewey, but there is a larger story in the book besides Dewey.

Here is a video featuring Dewey:

The book is also a story about the small town of Spencer, Iowa (where Dewey lived) and how the larger world affected it. In the book, the reader finds stories about farm life, the Moneta School before consolidation took effect, the re-building of Spencer after a disastrous fire on June 27, 1931, and how the farm crisis of the mid-1980s affected the town. The story of the farm crisis was a mirror image of the financial crisis we are going through now, except the trigger was soaring land prices instead of soaring house prices. Land started out at $300 an acre and went to $1,000 an acre, then $3,000 an acre and then $4,000 an acre. Farmers took out loans to buy land, figuring that they could make a killing by selling a portion of the land as prices went higher yet.

“Farmers borrowed up and bought more land. Why not, when the price was going up forever and you could make more money selling off land every few years than you could farming it?

“Then the economy took a downturn. The price of land began to drop and credit dried up. The farmers couldn’t borrow against their land to buy new machinery, or even new seed for the planting season. Crop prices weren’t high enough to pay the interest on the old loans, many of which had rates of more than 20 percent a year.” (p.23)

Sound familiar? It is very hard not to draw parallels between our current financial crisis and the story of the farm crisis in the mid-1980s. There is also the story of the Moneta School, where the author went to school as a child. It was closed when Iowa consolidated the schools in the state in 1959. There is the story of how the author’s parents sold the family farm in 1961, giving up the struggle to make a living on the land. The new owner tore down the farmhouse, chopped down the huge trees that sheltered the house, and even straightened the creek that ran through the farm. The only thing that remains of the farm, according to the author, is four feet of the dirt driveway that used to lead to the house.

The book is an absorbing read – Dewey is mixed into a larger story about farming, community, and the social networks that have been destroyed by predatory capitalism. I haven’t finished the book, but there are lessons to be learned from the story that is told, lessons that readers of the previous post, about Dennis Kucinich and decentralized economics, should recognize.


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