Nigel: My Family and Other Dogs by Monty Don
Okay, so this isn't your usual book review.
I will talk about the book (a bit), but I want to start by asking you a question - how well do you know your pet dog, or cat? If you don't have a pet, how well do you know the birds outside your window, or the green space outside your home, or the tree down the street that changes with each season?
Monty Don's book about his beloved Golden Retriever, Nigel, is about so much more than a dog, or the dogs in one person’s life. It is more than a tribute or a memoir of pets, gardens, or places in time - all of which are described in beautiful detail; I could read about his childhood in the country all day long. And whilst the book is peppered with gardening terms and Latin plant names, the heart of the story is love and a deep understanding of cherishing what you have in the here and now, because life changes in the same way a garden does. Things grow and bloom, are young and exciting, they mature and come into their own, but also have their time in the sun and fade as their time comes to an end.
When reading about Monty Don's childhood, the dogs he has owned, the gardens he has cultivated and his love of the countryside I couldn't help but question how well do I know my own dog, or remember those that have gone before her? This is why I ask you the same question. Through this book Monty brings such detail and understanding of his dogs, especially in the chapters dedicated to the descriptions of Nigel, and how he became a real and vital part of the garden at Longmeadow, I now look at Gwen, our beloved Patterdale Terrier, with fresh eyes.
Four years ago, I began reading the work of Brené Brown and was struck by a similar question. Brené writes on vulnerability and being authentic, true to yourself and allowing imperfections to be just that, imperfect and human. She describes in such great detail her own feelings, it challenged me to stop and question what my feelings were and how well I knew myself. The answer at that time in my life was crystal clear - I didn't know myself, what I stood for or what my values were. I was on autopilot and running the rat race at an incredibly mind-numbing speed. Her books The Gifts of Imperfection and I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn't) were the catalyst to a journey of self-discovery, of truly becoming aware of myself and what my feelings are, what I stand for and where my values lie.
Nigel: My Family and Other Dogs has also caused me to stop and smell the roses, to really take stock and notice - to look beyond myself and take in all the sights, sounds and smells of life, be it a pet, a plant or a larger space such as a garden. I sit here writing this with Gwen, curled up next to me. She has the tendency to look like a fuzzy black Labrador puppy and a cat, curled right in on herself, fast asleep. I watch her little body rise and fall with each breath, which is accompanied by a little snuffly snore. She will stay here as long as I do, always content by my side.
While Monty says this book is about love, for me, this book is also about noticing the little things and the power of being present. Being aware and awake to life around us and holding dear what we have whilst we have it is the ultimate antidote to our fast paced-tech saturated-keeping up with the Joneses on social media-way of life. This book brings this antidote to life through Monty's words and memories. Not everyone would pick up this book, possibly because they do not like dogs, or gardens, or this particular style of non-fiction. However, the central theme of looking around us, beyond ourselves, of knowing your loved ones, really noticing and understanding them - be they people, pets or plants - is, I believe, a message for everyone.
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