Before I say anything else, Barry has set up an Instagram page (well, probably not him, actually -- he states in the book he doesn't understand Instagram) for his dog, Lucy. You should absolutely check it out and then come back to read what I have to say about the book. Dog Pictures > my blog. Pretty near always.
With that out of the way . . . Dave Barry has been a dog person for most of his life, one of the many reasons I like him. I distinctly, and fondly, remember columns and/or references to Earnest and Zippy (the emergency backup dog) years ago. Those two make a brief appearance in this book, but they aren't the focus. The focus (if you can't tell from the title) is his dog, Lucy. At the time of writing, Barry and Lucy are the same age -- 70 (or 7 times 10 in her case), which means that both of them have many fewer days ahead of them than behind -- which sounds awfully morbid for Dave Barry to talk about, but he does so frequently and purposefully.
As they're at similar stages in life, Barry notices a huge difference between the two -- Lucy is far happier and seemingly better adjusted than he is. So he sets out to try to learn a few lessons about life from her, which he passes on to his readers. Things like Pay Attention to the People You Love; Don't Let Your Happiness Depend on Things; and Don't Stop Having Fun. None of these, Barry knows, are original or ground-breaking -- they're pretty much common sense. Yet, they're the kind of common sense things that he (like many/most humans) doesn't actually do a great job at.
The result is a mixture of a Self-Help book and a Humor book -- humor about himself, his life, as well as dogs. Sometimes the swing between the two genres can be jarring, but that's pretty rare. For the most part, he moves easily between the two, taking the readers along with him on this ride. I can't tell you how many times I went from grinning, chuckling or laughing out loud to getting misty-eyed within a couple of pages. It seems that Barry has learned a little bit about writing over the decades.
I've loved Barry's humor longer than either of us would probably care to admit. One of his strengths is finding a way to take an old joke, or at least a joke everyone's made before -- like, say, I dunno, dogs sniffing each other's hind-quarters -- and make it feel fresh and new. More importantly, funny. He's also able to make jumps from premise to punchline that no one expects. There is, for example, a Hugh Hefner joke where one doesn't even come close to belonging -- and it works perfectly. Even knowing that, you won't see it coming until you're snickering at it.
As for the heart-felt material? It works pretty well, too. I don't think anyone will walk away from this book thinking "Wow! That was insightful. I never would have thought of it on my own!" Nor do I think Barry was trying for it. But, readers will appreciate the reminders to live like Lucy (or their own dog), and the way Barry phrases things might add some freshness to the concept. Which is all anyone can really ask.
I really don't know if this is Barry's best -- but it's up there. The ratio of Attempted Joke to Funny Joke is pretty high, I'm not sure if I can think of a higher one in his ouvre. Lessons From Lucy is, without a doubt, his most mature, thoughtful and touching work (that's a pretty low bar, I realize -- a bar he's worked hard to keep low, too). Couple that with me being a sucker for a Dog Book -- even if it is a semi-Self Help book -- and I can't help but give it 5 Stars. This is a winner, no matter what.
Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Simon & Schuster via NetGalley in exchange for this post -- which is my honest opinion and pleasure to give -- thanks to both for this.