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The Art Of Racing In The Rain: The Bookalopnik Review

Illustration for article titled The Art Of Racing In The Rain: The Bookalopnik Review

We do a lot of reading around here, but if often consists only of a few short paragraphs on a timely subject. What you need is some culture and, lucky for you, I am here to provide it. Together, we'll explore some longer reads (read: books) with automotive subject matter and rate them on a completely objective and infallible scale.

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Now, I know what you're thinking. "El-Verde, this sounds like some liberal/academic gobbledygook designed to turn me into an Obama apologist. Books are for yellabellies!", or "oh great, some well-read jerk is here to brag about all the books he's read. He'll probably even reference Nietzsche."

Well, friend, let me put these concerns to rest. I am registered to vote as an independent but rarely actually vote and I sincerely promise not to quote Nietzsche. In fact, I've never read Nietzsche and never will as long as I keep meeting insufferable dolts at parties who find his writing to be something of enough significance to justify sucking the life out of said parties with related conversation. I intend only to help you find something good to read and avoid wasting your time with a bad book. So, without further ado, here is the very first Bookalopnik Review.

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(Full Disclosure: HarperCollins wanted me to read The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein so bad, they didn't even ask me to. I was forced to buy the book on Amazon.com and wait 2 days for Prime shipping before I could even get started. I promise this will not cloud my judgment.)

This book has won all kinds of awards, if you believe the text in the first few pages. Prestigious awards, such as "A Sunday Oregonian Top 10 Northwest Book of the Year." I'm not kidding about that. This is the second award listed, so I'm assuming it is a fairly prestigious award. When I finally get around to writing the next great American novel, I sure hope it is recognized as "A Sunday Oregonian Top 10 Northwest Book of the Year." That newspaper is only published on Sundays, I presume, making the real estate on its pages particularly valuable. The fact that it was in the "Top Ten" in the "Northwest" section is very admirable as I've heard the "Northwest" section has some of the toughest competition, unlike that wimpy "Southeast" division.

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I understand this praise in the first few pages is designed to build up some hype before I buy in, but come on. Leading with "A Sunday Oregonian Top 10 Northwest Book of the Year" did the opposite, and I was seriously filled with doubt on this one. I was expecting a stinker, but came out pleasantly surprised.

Cover - 6/10

I know you're never supposed to judge a book by its cover, but that's exactly what we all do when we walk into the bookstore or scroll through Amazon. This "Limited Edition" paperback comes in just the cutest shade of aqua, which will surely delight some of you. At the risk of offending our friends over at Jezebel, I must say I find it to look somewhat…feminine. However, it does grab your attention.

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Illustration for article titled The Art Of Racing In The Rain: The Bookalopnik Review

My wife was absolutely delighted that it is the exact same color as this stupid little tray thing that sits on our coffee table, and the clock on the wall, and the little ceramic bunny rabbit on a shelf next to our TV. I awarded a bonus point because this thing has been displayed on my coffee table since I finished it due to color alone. That's staying power!

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However, I had to take away several points because there is literally no information on this cover. I've got to open the book to get any information about it other than the title, and the fact that it apparently features a dog. Also, no hint of cars at all, and I was promised cars.

Story – 5/10

The story is one that will certainly draw you in. The main character, a man named Denny, is a fairly well accomplished racing driver. He has various stints in various different types of cars, and he dreams, of course, of one day working full time as a driver. In the meantime, he works in customer service at a local auto dealership part time around his racing schedule. He goes through some really tough times, including his wife suffering from a severe illness, being falsely accused of "relations" with a minor, a nasty battle with his in-laws for custody of his beloved daughter.

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Through it all, he is accompanied by his trusty companion Enzo, a mutt who desperately wants to be human. More on that in a moment.

All in all, nothing about the story itself is all that remarkable. It has ups and downs and keeps you very engaged. What makes this book truly remarkable is the way it is told.

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Uniqueness/Novelty – 9/10

Illustration for article titled The Art Of Racing In The Rain: The Bookalopnik Review
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DID I MENTION THAT THE ENTIRE BOOK IS TOLD FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF ENZO? THE DOG? Oh my gosh, guys, this is so cool.

The entire book is told in the first K-9, and it makes everything feel much more meaningful and sincere. Now, I think it is worth noting that you may only have such a strong connection to this book if you actually love dogs. If you don't actually love dogs, you probably won't like this book as much as I did, and we probably shouldn't be friends anyways.

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Enzo is a dog that desperately wants to be a human, and has ever since he saw a documentary about a group of people in Mongolia who worship dogs and believe they are to be reincarnated as humans. This is Enzo's second favorite televised program ever, after the 1993 Grand Prix of Europe, "in which Ayrton Senna proved himself to be a genius in the rain." That's actually a line in the book. Enzo loves motor racing as much as, or maybe even more than, Denny.

He is fiercely loyal to Denny and sometimes comes across as very "human" in his own right. However, the author is careful to frequently remind you that Enzo is a dog, and dogs have limitations. As Enzo often says: "I am a dog. All I have are gestures." Enzo's gestures lead to some of the best moments of the book.

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At one point, to show his displeasure with Denny's father in law, Enzo deliberately ingests a very spicy pepper known to upset his stomach specifically so he may make a show of taking a huge, wet, stinky dump on the guys doormat. It will make you laugh, I assure you.

Minus 1 point just in case you don't like dogs and, by extension, have no soul.

Relevance to Automobiles: 5/10

As much as this story revolves around racing, it is not really about racing. Denny drives some seriously cool cars, and Enzo recounts many famous races with a strong emphasis on Formula 1. You will not read about any of Denny's races as they happen. You will only relive them as Enzo does, watching an on board video of a recent race Denny has run in the family's living room.

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While this does not provide much in the way of "racing action", it does come off as very authentic. Nothing is overly simplified or sounds like something written for someone who knows nothing about auto racing. Denny or Enzo will reference a famous race or strategy with enough information to make a point to the uninitiated, but leaves something more for those "in the know" to fill in themselves. It's subtle, but very well crafted in my opinion.

There is a climactic scene where Denny drives an F430 around a track very quickly to impress a very important man, but again, it is far from play by play driving action. I think that it comes off as very genuine, however, as this story is much more about the dog and his man than it is about the cars or racing.

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Value – 7/10

Illustration for article titled The Art Of Racing In The Rain: The Bookalopnik Review
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This book is available on Amazon Prime for less than $10. It is a paperback, not hardcover, but there is no doubt that this book is worth the price tag. Note that it will still be under $10 without Prime, but it will take longer to arrive.

It is a quick read and fairly addictive. I finished it in just a few evenings, and depending on your dedication I would expect a similar sort of timeframe. It will keep you plenty entertained and might score you some points with your interior decorator as well. If you love dogs it will almost certainly make you cry, even if you're really really manly and don't normally cry except when the air is really dusty.

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I'm not sure if it is one I'll revisit and read again, like I would something with more pictures or historical significance, so it loses a couple points there. Also, it's a paperback.

All in all, I would recommend this to you if you love dogs and you're a fan of fiction in general. The consistent racing references will hold your interest, and you'll likely find an intriguing perspective and story lurking beneath.

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Total - 64/100

What book should I review next? If there is something you've been thinking about reading but aren't sure, make me read it first! Or, if there is something you think everyone should read, please recommend it and I'll review it for everyone else.

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