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Following Atticus is the story of Tom Ryan (the author) and his dog, Atticus M. Finch.
I tend to avoid true-life books about animals, particularly dogs, as they make me cry; Marley and Me being a perfect example of that. However, I had read about this book online and just had to buy it because the dog in it is a miniature schnauzer. As I've mentioned in (many) other reviews, I have my own 1 year old mini schnauzer called Sawyer. I have fallen in love with the breed since getting him, and I am always eager to read about these mischevious little dogs.
Tom is a newspaper editor in a small town. While he's a well known public figure, he seems to lead quite a solitary existence and does not have much in his life aside from work. Things begin to change when he unwittingly becomes the owner of a rescue dog named Max. Max is a miniature schnauzer, and while sadly he passes away, he inspires Tom to go and get another dog of the same breed. Cue Atticus, a puppy whose breeder Paige wants to keep, but sells as she feels that Tom needs him more.
When one of Tom's close friends dies from cancer, he decides to climb all of New Hampshire's peaks that are over 4,000 foot twice in one winter as remembrance, and also to raise money for charity. This journey across the 48 mountains forms the main story of the book.
Tom's father also features heavily in his writing - his sometimes fractious relationship with him, and also how climbing the mountains helped to bring him somewhat closer to his siblings. These parts of the book can be moving at times, because it shows how animals can improve our lives and relationships purely by being themselves and giving unconditional love, like all dogs do.
About three quarters of the way through the story, Atticus gets sick. I won't say how in this review; however the blurb on the back cover of the book gives this away, which is really annoying. Because of the back cover, I was waiting for that to happen with a sense of impending dread as I was reading the book. It spoiled the drama and suspense of what happened. This isn't the fault of the the writer of course, and it's only a slight criticism. This part of the book made me tear up several times, and hug Sawyer a little bit tighter.
There is also a bit of a 'twist' at the end of the book regarding Tom's personal life. I have to say I picked up what was going to happen fairly early in the book, but it was nice to have my prediction confirmed.
There are small black and white photographs of Atticus at the beginning of every chapter, however I would have loved there to have been glossy colour photographs in the middle of the book, not just of Atticus but also to show off the beauty and scale of the mountains that Tom and he spend so much climbing. Tom has a Facebook page and he regularly posts photographs of where they are, and what Atticus is getting up to - it would have been lovely to have had the same kind of insight in the book.
This is a life-affirming book and I sped through it in 2 days or so. You don't have to have a dog or even like them to enjoy this inspirational story. It demonstrates how a little dog can transform your life against all the odds, and can inspire you to get out there and try things which you may have been reluctant to do. It's made me want to grab Sawyer and head to the Mourne Mountains for a hike once he gets older (and I get fitter!)
I would absolutely recommend Following Atticus. I laughed at the descriptions of the typical schnauzer stubborness, and I cried when Atticus' life was put at risk. I have leant this book to my dad now as I know he will love the descriptions of the Great Outdoors, and when I get it back, I will for sure be reading this again in the future. Atticus has become a bit of a celebrity now because of this book, and he very much deserves it!
A lovely read.
It's not often I am drawn to a book purely on the basis of the cover. However I was browsing the books in Sainsbury's last month and was drawn to a book called "Following Atticus" due to the picture of a thoughtful looking dog on the cover.
I was surprised to feel this way as I have never owned a dog and if I am honest I am not really much of a fan of them but a combination of the dog and the title suckered me in and I bought the book.
Tom Ryan owned and edited a newspaper in the Massachussets town of Newburyport called The Undertoad for several years. The paper made him a well-known figure in Newburyport as he revealed corruption at City Hall and in the local Police Department in his paper along with less onerous local news.
His job led to an unhealthy lifestyle but in one of life's more serendipitous moments, he was virtually press ganged into adopting a miniature schnauzer which he named Max. Ryan only had Max a year before he sadly passed away but he had such a profound effect on Ryan that he moved to find a replacement dog almost immediately.
Through a breeder in Louisiana he found his second dog, who he called Atticus M Finch, referencing the hero from Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and his first dog. Through the book we learn more about Ryan and how Atticus changed his life for the better.
If you love dogs and the great outdoors you will love this book. I love neither and I still really liked this book so clearly Tom Ryan has done something right.
The book describes Ryan's fraught relationship with his father and a yearning he has to be closer to his siblings. On a trip to Vermont with two of his brothers not long after Atticus' arrival, he is surprised by how much he enjoys hiking in the mountains and how much Atticus enjoys it. This brings on an epiphany in Ryan and from then on climbing in New Hampshire's White Mountains becomes a passion shared by man and dog.
The book is about relationships with the relationship between Ryan and Atticus taking centre stage, along with those shared with his father, siblings and Atticus' breeder, Paige. When I first started reading I have to say I struggled a little - there is a danger with these books that they can stray into the territory of self-indulgent, and I did find Ryan's writing fell into that territory in places.
Fortunately by the time the story had moved on to climbing with Atticus, much of that had subsided and I enjoyed the descriptive prose Ryan wrote as he brought the peaks and the views of the area to life.
Following the death of a good friend in Newburyport, Ryan decides to climb the 48 highest peaks in New Hampshire in winter - twice - in order to raise money in her memory. This is when the book gets really interesting and Ryan's writing is really enjoyable, whether it's describing how climbing in winter can change from a beautiful and solitary experience to a terrifying one purely on the whim of Mother Nature or describing Atticus' initial disgust at having to wear a snowsuit.
I think another reason why the book comes to life here is due to the fact Atticus' character comes through so much stronger from this point in and the self-indulgent musings from the early chapters vanish.
Ryan views Atticus as a special dog and it's a view shared by the woman who bred him. The bond between man and dog is palpable in the prose and when word spreads about the little dog who climbs mountains making him a bit of a celebrity on the mountains, Ryan finds himself admitting that the climbs he enjoys the most are those he does purely with Atticus.
Ryan has included many photographs of Atticus inside the book, as well as the picture of him on the cover, and these help the reader get to know him better. Ryan frequently mentions how Atticus can happily sit at the top of a mountain and enjoy the view for long periods of time, along with descriptions of his facial expressions, his behaviour and his eyes. There is something incredibly touching about the relationship he shares with his dog and his memories are a joy to read.
Much as I did enjoy the book overall, there are a couple of criticisms. Ryan isn't very good at keeping things from the reader and as a result there were several life events I could see coming several chapters prior them appearing in print which is a little unfortunate. Had Ryan opted for fewer teasers at the end of several of the book's 34 chapters I think it may have made for a more pleasant read.
My second criticism isn't necessarily one of Ryan's writing, however the back cover gives away a pretty major part of the story and having bought the book without actually reading the back cover as the front cover and first few pages had already sold the book to me, I was dismayed when halfway through the book I discovered this information. So my advice would be "don't actually read the back cover of the book if you want to read a story without any prior revelations".
This is a heart warming read and I found myself enjoying it in spite of myself. I am an overtly cynical person who is a certified couch potato and mother to a child who runs a mile at the sight of dog but there's something incredibly genuine and touching about Ryan and Atticus' story that got to me.
If you are seeking a gift for someone who loves dogs, then this could well fit the bill. Having said that, you don't have to love dogs to enjoy this book because Ryan's love for Atticus - and for his first dog Max - is contagious and leaves the reader firmly on the side of the "little dog" as Ryan calls him, and leaves the reader wanting to learn more about him.
So whether you love or loathe dogs, climb regularly or prefer a more sedentary lifestyle, this is an enjoyable book and one which surely has "film option" written all over it. My advice is read the book before Atticus becomes a global superstar - he's rather famous as it is thanks to this book!