Book Review: Following Atticus- Forty-eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship by Tom Ryan

Following Atticus Slim

The 2014 good book streak continues with Following Atticus, a story combining winter survival skills with an adorable dog that seems like he can handle just about anything life throws at him. This book is nonfiction, capturing the real adventures of Tom Ryan and his best friend, Atticus M. Finch, who just so happens to be a miniature schnauzer. When we first meet Tom, he was not a dog person in the slightest, and definitely not a small dog (which he equated with yappiness) person.  However, helping a friend out, he took in an older mini schnauzer and after spending just one day with him he was completely hooked on his newfound companion. Unfortunately, being an older dog, he didn’t have many years left. When he passed away, it wasn’t long before Tom brought home a new puppy, Atticus.

From the start, Tom took a unique approach with Atticus. He wanted his puppy to make all of his own decisions (as long as he wasn’t hurting anyone or being a nuisance), and he took Atticus everywhere. He quickly became a fixture in Tom’s small town, and everyone knew who Atticus was. Apparently though, Atticus was capable of so much more than small town living; he had a wild sense of adventure just waiting to be harnessed. Luckily for him, Tom had grown tired of the constant politics he encountered in his job as writer and publisher of his own paper exposing the truth and corruption in his small town, and despite being overweight and having little experience with hiking, he decided to hike forty eight of New Hampshire’s four thousand foot White mountains first in summer, and then again in winter.

When you think of a dog that climbs mountains, a twenty pound miniature schnauzer is not the first (or second, third or even thirtieth) dog that comes to mind. Yet, somehow Atticus silenced the nonbelievers by hiking 20+ miles up the side of mountains in dangerous conditions with a swagger in his step like it was no big deal at all. It is amazing to hear about all the things this little dog has accomplished, and I am completely in awe of this little guy.

That being said, there were some things that prevented this book from a five star rating. For one, although I am sure Tom was well suited to the type of writing his newspaper required, this book wasn’t always the best written. He seemed to get a little overly sappy at times, although I can cut the guy a break there; who doesn’t get sappy talking about their pet? I found myself at moments noticing the writing itself distracting me from being fully immersed in the story. However, there were other times when Ryan so perfectly captured a moment that I would catch myself smiling from ear to ear. In one such instance, Tom had come home after kenneling Atticus to find that he had pooped in his cage and rolled around in it so that Tom saw not a dog, but a tootsie roll with little legs and huge, unblinking eyes staring out at him, as if he were saying, “screw you…this is your fault for sticking me in this box and then abandoning me. Yet, these moments were few and far between.

To me, Bill Bryson was much better able to capture the beauty and brilliance of nature in his A Walk in the Woods, but I guess this particular story wasn’t supposed to be about the mountains as much as it was supposed to be about Atticus. I think overall Bill Bryson is the better story teller and better able to capture a moment in words. In the end, people that aren’t dog lovers like I am will likely enjoy A Walk in the Woods better. Following Atticus, though, will definitely hook those who are crazy for their four legged friends, and Atticus will be sure to capture your hearts.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

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