Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Review: Following Atticus by Tom Ryan

As I sit here writing this my two miniature schnauzers are barking their little hearts out defending our house against any and all folks walking down the sidewalk, dogs who might be outside within a tri-state vicinity, and the audacious squirrels who think they can live and play in the trees in our yard. They will eventually tire of this guard dog status and retreat to the couch where they will do what I wish I could do all day long: snuggle down and nap. The life of schnauzers in my house. The last time I walked Daisy on a long walk (Gatsby hadn't joined the family yet), she tore her ACL so she clearly wasn't made for trekking. And that made the idea of a miniature schnauzer who, with owner Tom Ryan, climbs 4000+ foot mountains in New Hampshire all that much more intriguing to me so I definitely could not resist a book about their inspiration and adventures in the wilderness.

Tom Ryan was the owner, editor, writer, chief researcher, and even delivery boy of the newspaper The Undertoad in Newburyport, Mass. His paper was one designed to expose politics, the good, the bad, and the ugly, in this New England town and in the course of writing it, he uncovered some pretty shady doings. But he also made some wonderful friends who believed in his goal of cleaning up the local political scene thereby making Newburyport a better, less contentious place in which all could live together. Unfortunately, as much as he exposed, more underhanded dealings filled in the excavated bits and so the newspaper continued to earn its existence. A paper of the 'Toad's sort certainly doesn't make everyone around happy and Tom Ryan accrued his fair share of enemies. Just when he was at his breaking point, a small, older miniature schnauzer named Maxwell Garrison Gillis entered his life purely by chance. This little dog accompanied him on his daily rounds greeting his friends and acquaintances and finding out the rumors and the truths with which he filled his paper. Despite their unexpected love, Max was older when he arrived in Ryan's life and they had a mere year and a half together before Max died and Ryan was left alone again.

Touched by the love of Max, Ryan decided to get another dog, this time a puppy. And so he started looking for miniature schnauzer puppies on the internet. He found his match in a tiny puppy who, according to his breeder, was "different" and whom she had intended to keep herself. But she let the puppy go and he came to live with Tom Ryan in Newburyport. Atticus M. Finch had arrived. He and Ryan quickly became a family, tightly bonded and almost inseparable. So when Ryan and two of his brothers decided to go for a hike, it was without a second thought that Ryan took Atticus with them. And it was there, on the mountain, despite hard going, and being out of shape that Ryan and Atticus found something precious: they found where they belonged.

After a friend died of a very aggressive cancer, Ryan wanted to make a gesture in her honor so he decided to raise funds to fight cancer by hiking all of New Hampshire's White Mountain four thousand footers in one winter. It was an ambitious project and he and Atticus, while having continued hiking after his afternoon with his brothers, were in no means your typical hikers, plus undertaking the mountains in the winter was decidedly more dangerous than in more temperate seasons. As they hiked, Ryan watched and marveled at the uncomplicated drive of little Atticus, his confidence, his ability to live in the moment, and his perseverance even in the face of freezing temperatures and dangerously gusting winds. He learned to trust his little dog to know when the day or the weather would be too much and he learned from Atticus to take the time to simply sit and experience the mountain tops when conditions were right. And he and Atticus would not attempt the highest mountains just once, they would attempt them again. This time they wanted to climb all the highest mountains not once in a winter but twice, this time to raise money for the MSPCA-Angell that does so much for animals and saved Atticus from terrifying health complications.

Ryan learned a lot while climbing not only about and from Atticus but also came to understand and articulate so much about his own past, his unhappy and strained family relationships, especially with his father, and to experience spiritual growth and serenity on the often deserted trails and summits they hiked. His whole philosophy of life grew and matured, eventually sending his life in a far different direction than he could have ever expected when he founded The Undertoad.

Ryan and Atticus have accomplished amazing things and it was lovely to be able to accompany them via armchair on their journey. They truly have a special relationship and Atticus is certainly a special little schnauzer. But the reiterations that being prepared for the mountains in winter kept them both safe got a little old and seemed to imply that those who were injured or killed were careless, or at least not as careful as Ryan and that's rather unfair, especially as Ryan recounts harry moments he and Atticus faced when conditions changed on them or were not quite as expected or what have you. Also, and as the mother of schnauzers myself I get this instinct because I undoubtedly feel it myself for each of my two, continually reminding the reader of Atticus' one-of-a-kind status and lauding him over and over did get a tad repetitive. And sometimes the looks backward at Ryan's troubled relationship with his father, his childhood, and his disappointments were not as well integrated into the narrative as they could have been. However, the book in general is well written and Atticus is an appealing little dog. Fans of dog stories, nature lovers, and those who want to read about a quiet spiritual journey hastened by the trails and lonely summits of the White Mountains will find much to appreciate here.

For more information about Tom Ryan and the book visit his blog, his Facebook page or follow him on Twitter. Follow the rest of the blog tour or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.


  1. I'm a dog lover as well and thoroughly enjoyed this one :)

  2. I have two terrier mixes but my sister just adopted a miniature schnauzer - I'll have to get this book for her!

    Thank for being on the tour.

  3. Our little Bella is an RSPCA rescue so I think I'd enjoy this one in spite of the issues you mentioned. I'm a sucker for a dog on a cover lol


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