Check it out: 'Maddie on Things' is a photo journey across U.S.

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Review

"Maddie on Things: A Super Serious Project About Dogs and Physics"

By Theron Humphrey; Chronicle Books, 159 pages

One day Theron Humphrey woke up and realized that he wasn't making a difference in the world. It wasn't as if he hadn't accomplished great things. He had been an Eagle scout, attended college and then graduate school, and landed a good job working as a photographer at a corporate photo studio. As he says in the introduction to "Maddie on Things," his job "was the sort of job your mom would be proud to tell other moms about."

Despite these successes, he felt empty. Even though his job allowed him to pursue his passion -- photography -- his days were spent taking pictures of products that would be sold to people he would never meet.

In other words, not very fulfilling work. Then two significant events took place that caused him to reevaluate his life: the death of his grandfather, and his soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend's pronouncement that he was "the most disappointing human being ever." Now, I don't know about you, but in my opinion, those three experiences -- the death of a loved one, a broken heart, and a soulless job -- would crush the spirit of just about anybody.

Theron, however, pushed back that potential wall of despondency and came up with what he calls This Wild Idea.

His "wild idea" was a simple one: recapture his enthusiasm for life and photography by hitting the road, visiting all 50 states in 365 days, and meeting one person a day for a year. What he didn't know at that moment was that an amazing shelter dog named Maddie would be his traveling companion during his year of discovery.

Including man's best friend on a journey across America is not a new idea: John Steinbeck did this with his dog Charley and wrote about their adventures in his best-selling travelogue, "Travels with Charley: In Search of America."

What makes Theron and Maddie's account unique is that the majority of their story is told through Theron's extraordinary photographs. But that's not all.

Maddie, as Theron soon discovered, has a talent for standing and perching on a variety of objects. He found this out when he decided to put her on the roof of his truck and take a picture of her. As he describes the moment, "she just stood there and smiled at me." A "small thing" he calls it, but ultimately the beginning of a wonderful, surprising talent that Maddie, a coon hound from the pound, displays brilliantly on every page of this delightful title.

I found myself smiling through the entire book as I looked at photos of Maddie standing nonchalantly on soup cans; straddling shopping carts; hanging out in the crook of a tree, relaxed and happy; perched atop a plastic bear's head, her mouth curved up into what has to be a big, canine grin. Maddie appears to be enjoying every odd experience, looking into Theron's camera as if to say, "This makes me happy. What do you want me to do next?"

Don't be put off by the word physics in this week's title. "Maddie on Things" is truly about a dog and her owner exploring the world around them, and staying happy while doing small but remarkable things on their journey across America.

Jan Johnston is the Collection Development Coordinator for the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District. Email her at readingforfun@fvrl.org.