Saturday, February 06, 2010

Book Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

I don't often have the time to sit down and read a book purely for pleasure, I read a lot of technical rags and a few dog related publications. If I'm preparing for an exam (Microsoft mainly) I have been known to pick up and read a thousand page technical exam preparation book - which is not fulfilling and pleasurable in the same way that a great work of fiction can be.

What I can do however, is to make use of the bits and bobs of available time that I spend driving to work, driving home from work, driving to waggles, driving to shows, to the grocery store, etc etc. So I've re-discovered audio books - I get the necessary (for me anyway) suspension of disbelief and it makes my commutes infinity more pleasurable too.

Off-topic but relevant: It was of course the philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge who once wrote “It is that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment which constitutes poetic faith.”. I need a certain dosage of poetic faith from time to time and don't we all?

"Somewhere the zebra is dancing.
— Garth Stein (The Art of Racing in the Rain)

I find that I spend a lot of time in the car every week - I tend to listen to about an hour of audiobook each day - spread over 2-4 sessions. I don't think I ever realized that I spent that much time in my car every day!

In the last couple of months half a dozen people have urged me to read Garth Stein's "The Art of Racing in the Rain". I looked at the Amazon description and never got past the "on the eve of his death" part. I've become sappy as I've aged and I've kept my audiobook selections to relatively upbeat works of fiction (Dan Brown, David Baldacci, Audrey Niffenegger, Douglas Adams and James Patterson are among the last few books that I've listened to). The peer pressure and all of the folks INSISTING that it really wasn't a sad book despite the death of the dog (and that's not a spoiler, btw - the dog narrates the end of his life within the first 10 minutes of the novel).

So I used an audible credit and purchased "The Art of Racing in the Rain". Written (and read) from the perspective of an old dog, Enzo details the story of his life and his family. Enzo's master is Denny Swift - a talented aspiring (struggling) race car driver, racing school instructor and BMW mechanic. He's a good master and a good man. Garth Stein's characters are vivid and likable. Enzo, our storyteller is simple and genuine - he is wise beyond his lack of opposable thumbs.

"That which we manifest is before us; we are the creators of our own destiny. Be it through intention or ignorance, our successes and our failures have been brought on by none other than ourselves"
— Garth Stein (The Art of Racing in the Rain)

While not a dog book per se (nor is it a car/racing book) there are so many parallels to the dog sports that I love. The zen vibe that runs throughout the book gave me pause as I decide my own path this season. From Enzo's firm belief (based on watching a documentary on Tibetan monks) that a when a dog dies, if he has learned all there is about being a dog, his soul returns as a man. There are nuggets of sports wisdom reminding the reader that "the race is long - in order to finish first, first you have to finish".

"Here's why I will be a good person. Because I listen. I cannot talk, so I listen very well. 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 being 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 Pele, 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 Tres Coracoes with Pele, 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 Pele. Learn to listen! I beg of you. Pretend you are a dog like me and listen to other people rather than steal their stories."
— Garth Stein (The Art of Racing in the Rain)

Enzo does listen and he does grow. He is loyal to a fault and infinitely lovable. I found myself looking at my own dogs for Enzo-like qualities. The ability to read my mind and impart their wisdom and zen on others. More than a little ironic because Teller does not embody the concept of zen .

I finished the book on my way to work on Thursday morning - I was tempted to sit in the car on Wednesday night to finish it, but I decided to wait. To stretch out the story just a little bit more. So as I drove to work Thursday morning, tears streaming down my face and occasionally chuckling to myself, crying again and then finally smiling it was clear that all of those folks who pushed me to read this book were right. It's worth the time and the tears.

"The Art of Racing in the Rain" audiobook is expertly narrated by Christopher Evan Welch - he becomes Enzo - he speaks as a dog and becomes transparent to the story - a virtue and a talent that is so hard to come by in narrators (or so it seems). The run time is just under 7 hours (6:58). The Art of Racing in the Rain is available from


Unknown said...

Hi Erica!
I bought this book at Costco a couple of months ago but just couldn't get started reading it. Now thanks to your review, I'll pick it up again. Rosalind

AudiobookDJ said...

Wonderful review of one of my all-time favorite audiobooks. The narrator does such a great job voicing the dog! Hope you don't mind that I posted a link to your review on my site -

Anonymous said...

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