Wednesday, October 31, 2007

New Release Spotlight: The Dog Says How

The Dog Says How by Kevin Kling

Before I read Kevin Kling’s collection of autobiographical essays, I didn’t know much about him except that he’s an NPR commentator. While reading The Dog Says How, I discovered that Kling is a talented storyteller. His childhood stories and his clever observations of his surroundings are told effortlessly. And within all the humor there is wisdom. Humor and wisdom seem to go hand in hand throughout this book; one paragraph had me laughing out loud and the next had me pausing for deeper reflection. And though this is a common pattern in Kling’s book, I was constantly—and pleasantly—surprised by it. This is not a book to skim. Every line must be read because Kling will throw in a bit of perception if you’re not looking.

Kling instantly hooked me in from the beginning when he said that “we are all made up of a little Goofus and Gallant.” For those unfamiliar with the Highlights Magazine, Goofus exemplifies bad behavior, and Gallant good behavior. Kling creates examples such as this one to explain universal experiences and to bring further understanding to human behavior—and he does it brilliantly. Not many people can tell a story of joining a circus at age twenty-six (a story that involves performing in towns down the Mississippi River for $25 per week, a captain in the process of changing genders, their boat sinking, and friends bribing him back to work with ribs) and reveal a deeper meaning: one must live life with an adventurous spirit and an open mind. If there’s a risk you’re not willing to take, ask yourself why not?

Kling's stories are the kind of adventurous tales everyone wants to hear: Russian boar hunting, stowing away in a boat; and performing his banned play in Czechoslovakia. Though some of his decisions seem foolish—and something you would never do—he meets people that have a lasting impact on his life and learns valuable lessons, all because he is open to the possibility of being shaped by his environment and the people he encounters.

Although many of his tales seem out of the ordinary, I found myself nodding in agreement and able to relate to many aspects within these stories. However, there is one big part of his life that I can’t identify with—facing and rising above the challenges that come with being disabled. Six years ago, Kling was given another chance at life after a serious motorcycle accident that left him with nerve damage to his right arm. His left arm has a congenital birth defect; he describes it as three-quarters the size of his right arm with no thumb or wrist. Depressing and frustrating? You bet. But Kling has a determined, can-do anything attitude that is refreshing and inspiring. We all have had our share of bad experiences. We have all suffered. Yet, Kling conveys that we can learn and grow from these experiences; we can heal and move forward with greater perception.

Review by Valerie Zogas, Indigo Editing, LLC

The Dog Says How
Publisher: Borealis Books
ISBN: 978-0-87351-599-3
Hardcover, $22.95

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