Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship by Tom Ryan is published by William Morrow. It tells the story of my adventures with Atticus M. Finch, a little dog of some distinction. You can also find our column in the NorthCountry News.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Appalachia & Beyond Reviews Following Atticus

How sweet is this photo?
I consider it an honor when those I respect the most 'get' our story and enjoy it.  It means something more to me because they understand our love of nature and mountains and the bond between man and dog. 

In their review it says: "But let me warn you, this is not just a book about a dog. It's not just a book about adventure. The mystery is never rectified. But you will be left with a heart-warming sensation - a newly acquired approach to the way you view life - and probably even the lives of the pets you love."

The entire Appalachia & Beyond review
can be read here.  It also has a link to our fabulous book trailer created by Joe Carter.

(Oh, and by the way, don't you just love the accompanying photo?) 

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Letter from South Doublehead

"There are two ways to live your life - one is as though nothing is a
miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle." ~ Einstein
Dearest friend,

When we sat atop the ledges on South Doublehead the other day, I thought of you. You came to me when all the work of climbing was done and we were still. The air was chill and a hint of December blew in on us. It was late and dark clouds filled the sky and hung heavily over the mountaintops. Washington had snow on its cap and the rest of the peaks of the Presidential Range, and those of the Wildcats and Carters, sat in shadow as if they were deep in sleep and had no desire to get up.

To keep warm I put on my jacket and gloves and Atticus pulled himself off the cold stone and sat on my lap.

Not quite winter…not quite…

And yet there was a winter song in the air. It was carried in the wind that stirred the nearby trees, not enough to move them but instead to play music in them. It wove through branches twisted and time-tested and produced a mournful melody. With the waning light of day it could have been heartbreaking if it were not for the fact that I love the colder seasons up here, especially when we are high above the rest of the world and others are tucked home safe and comfortable and getting ready for supper. There’s something about being out where no one else is – just Atticus and me. Alone together in silence and away from everyone else, it’s like my beloved Emerson wrote, “Conversation enriches the understanding; but solitude is the school of genius.”

I think of such moments often when I take center stage on our book tour. I’m not a natural at public speaking and those who have sat in on one of my talks will tell you I’m definitely not polished nor am I practiced. Those who have been to more than one know I rarely say the same thing twice.

A friend recently asked, “If each night is different, how do you know what you’ll say to each audience?”

The truth is, I don’t know. I stand up in front of those gathered, whether it be a few or two hundred, with a lump in my throat I wonder what I could possibly have to say that will interest them. After what seems like minutes to me – it’s only a second or two to everyone else though – I leap. It helps that Atticus is with me just as he always been over the last nine years. It helps that I start out holding him, just as I hold him on top of each mountain. It helps that I know that we’ve seen things together that few will ever see, and have been tested as few have been tested.

I don’t always know where to start; I just know that when I’m in front of a room it’s not unlike being on a mountaintop when it’s cold and dark and we are alone and those in front of us are safe and comfortable in their seats. I think of the miles he and I have walked, the stars we’ve walked under, and I think of each of us being caked in ice and snow. I think about how we’ve both sank at the end of the day in exhaustion, how at times we used to get back to the cabin and how Atticus would hop lazily up onto the bed and of how I was literally so tired I fell asleep getting undressed. Or those time when I was so empty after more than 20 miles of hiking in below zero temperatures when the Lyme disease wore me down to nothing and my legs were heavy and my feet sore that I had to actually crawl to the bed to join him.

When I think of those times, when I think of always following him and where he’s taken me – well, standing up in front of people that’s when I realize that talking is nothing. Not after I take that leap of faith, it’s not. And not when I feel him in my arms cradled safely as he’s always been or feel his body rise and fall or hear his breathing or the way he will at times tuck his head under my chin. Those who see him do this surely think he’s looking for me to comfort him. What they probably don’t see is that it comforts me just as much. He’s a humble little being with a soul that was made to sing out loud, even if he never barks and sits as still as a stone.

What buoys me in the end though, what allows me to talk on and on to a room full of strangers is a simple little thing. Down deep I realize I’m doing something most others only dream about. I’m telling the story of the mountains we love, a father I loved, a little city we know so well, an unusually selfless breeder, and more than anything I think about how fortunate I am to be telling the story of a special little friend who has led me home again.

The first time I ever spoke with Atticus in my arms it was at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and the crowd was filled with Beacon Hill money. Millionaires and billionaires filled the biggest fundraiser of the year for the MSPCA. And there Atticus and I stood, blinded by lights, in a room full of the wealthy, composed, and polished. I wore an ill-fitting sport coat, new shirt, pants, belt, socks, and shoes and when we started I thought about how we didn’t fit in with that crowd at all. And yet the strangest thing happened. Thinking of our experiences together and telling the story of my little friend Atticus – well, by the time that was all done I had the distinct impression that we were the only ones who did fit in. We had brought the mountaintop with us to Boston and we shared it with those who had never been.

So when we were sitting on top of the ledges on South Doublehead the other day and winter was so close to being there and the sky was dark and foreboding and others might have felt loneliness I knew we were where we belonged. It was then that I looked over towards the shadowy outline of the Montalbon Range and just above that long snake of mountains the clouds parted and those wonderful crespular rays reached down and illuminated the valley below like the hand of God.
And there you were.

The journey means everything. Getting away from the comfortable, the typical, and the routine, being tested, having to endure unimaginable experiences that threaten to take everything away – and then somehow, someway finding our way back home again. That’s where the meaning lies. And if we are fortunate we not only find ourselves at journey’s end just as we’d always once dreamed we could be – we often also find those who mean the most of us.

A hike for me has never been simply to a mountaintop and back again. It’s always been more about where it leads you . . . and who it leads you to.

Your friends,
Tom (& Atticus)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Myrna Milani Reviews Following Atticus

A rare sight: Atticus following Tom. (We do this when breaking trail.)
Myrna Milani is a vet, blogger, and author who reviewed Following Atticus.  The entire review can be read here.  Here's but one paragraph of the review.

"But if the human and canine relationship with the mountains sometimes seemed more like the dance between prey and predator, Ryan’s and Atticus’ relationship with each other is more like a game of physical and mental developmental leapfrog, with each of them raising the bar for the other like two kids playing “I double-dog dare ya!” In fact, some of their heart-stopping, laugh-generating, what-were-you-two-thinking (!) escapades so reminded me of the behavior common to younger male mammals of all species that I’d forget that they weren’t members of the same one. I think Ryan would have made a hell of a dog and Atticus would have made a hell of a human. But the human-canine unit they form together is better still."

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Following Atticus Reaches No. 7 On NEIBA Non-Fiction List This Week

New England Independent Booksellers Association
(NEIBA) Hardcover Nonfiction Bestseller List
1. Boomerang
Michael Lewis, Norton, $25.95, 9780393081817
2. Killing Lincoln
Bill O'Reilly, Martin Dugard, Holt, $28, 9780805093070
3. The Swerve
Stephen Greenblatt, Norton, $26.95, 9780393064476
4. Unbroken
Laura Hillenbrand, Random House, $27, 9781400064168
5. That Used to Be Us
Thomas L. Friedman, Michael Mandelbaum, FSG, $28, 9780374288907
6. In the Garden of Beasts
Erik Larson, Crown, $26, 9780307408846
7. Following Atticus
Tom Ryan, Morrow, $25.99, 9780061997105
8. The Greater Journey
David McCullough, S&S, $37.50, 9781416571766
9. Confidence Men
Ron Suskind, Harper, $29.99, 9780061429255
10. Rin Tin Tin
Susan Orlean, S&S, $26.99, 9781439190135
11. Go the F**k to Sleep
Adam Mansbach, Ricardo Cortes (Illus.), Akashic, $14.95, 9781617750250
12. Jacqueline Kennedy
Caroline Kennedy, Michael Beschloss, Hyperion, $60, 9781401324254
13. Seriously... I'm Kidding New
Ellen DeGeneres, Grand Central, $26.99, 9780446585026
14. Destiny of the Republic
Candice Millard, Doubleday, $28.95, 9780385526265
15. The Better Angels of Our Nature New
Steven Pinker, Viking, $40, 9780670022953

From the Top of South Doublehead on Monday

Monday, October 10, 2011

USA Character Approved Blog Writes About Following Atticus

The USA Character Approved Blog focuses on Following Atticus today.  The blogger, Ben Hogan, writes: "Ryan is a compelling narrator, balancing his personal revelations with careful observations of Atticus's behavior; when the dog's health takes a turn for the worse, readers feel the anxiety and frustration as keenly as Ryan himself must have. Despite all the adversity life threw at them, the two continue to push forward, buoyed by the beauty of the mountains. (Ryan is still posting regular updates on his blog, even during their book tour.) Following Atticus will inspire not just dog lovers, but anyone who's looking for that extra little bit of courage it takes to break away from the non-essentials and start a simpler, happier life."

The USA Character Approved Blog has this to say about itself: "The Character Approved blog celebrates the people, places and things that are making a mark by positively influencing our cultural landscape. They're Character Approved - recipients of USA Network's seal of approval."

To see the entire blog post click here:
USA Character Approved Blog Climb Every Mountain with Tom & Atticus.  (And I must say that's it great to see Joe Carter's wonderful book trailer get this much play!)

Atticus Rocks (According to the New England Library Association)

Some of the librarians who met Atticus M. Finch
before the start of the NELA luncheon.
Last week Atticus M. Finch and I joined 200 enthusiastic librarians at a luncheon in Burlington, Vermont.  After eating I spoke to them about our story - most of the time while Atticus was sitting up, riding in the comfort on my elbow.  Here's their blog post regarding our visit with them.  It was part of the annual meeting of the New England Library Association (NELA).  And what a great audience they were!


As our book, Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship, makes its way into the hands of readers across the country, reviews continue to come in and on occasion I am humbled.    Mark Twain wrote that "The public is the only critic whose opinion is worth anything at all."  I understood this during my newspapering days with the Undertoad and as a first time author who is often overlooked by many professional reviewers it's a lesson taught to me on a daily basis. 

So you can imagine how it feels when perfect strangers who have nothing to gain, no paid review to write, nor any need to pad their reputation by voicing their opinion on our story have something to say.  While I don't always read reviews, one woman who posted both on Amazon's and Barnes and Noble's websites wrote something that has left me humbled.  And while I'm not sure we are worthy of her kind words I thought I'd share them with you nonetheless.  It follows below. . . .

What we all need right now is (to be) Following Atticus

This is definitely the best book I've read in a long, long time. Tom Ryan takes the reader on an achingly personal yet amazing journey with "Following Atticus". This is not just a typical dog memoir, and it's not just a story about the adversities of hiking the White Mountains of New Hampshire. This book shares with us wonderful life lessons taught by a little dog. live in the moment, be close to nature, reflect, persevere when things get tough, give selflessly, love unconditionally. Atticus gently leads Tom to discover his true self, and as Tom shares this story, the reader experiences all emotions encountered along the way. You will laugh out loud, you will shed tears, you will feel the exhilaration of triumph, and cheer for this unlikely pair. Tom writes in such a way that the reader can't help but feel a personal connection to his experiences. By the end of the book, Tom has changed... and the reader probably has too. This book couldn't come to us at a better time - in a world where we are constantly barraged with bad news and negativity, this book will remind the reader of all that is good and right and possible. Tom Ryan and Atticus are an inspiration, and we would all do well to follow them.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Some Reflections from Our Book Tour

From our Lincoln, New Hampshire appearance. (Photo by Ken Stampfer.)
Over the last two weeks Atticus and I have driven more than 3,000 miles during the first leg of our book tour. We’ve been taken far from the land we love.

We’ve traveled from the bucolic countryside of northern New Hampshire down through many of the more urban areas of the northeast. We’ve been to the ocean, stuck in smoggy traffic in the bowels of the highways coursing through New York City, walked the cobblestone streets of old Richmond, Virginia, and driven through the farmlands of southeast Pennsylvania. Along the way we’ve visited spirited independent bookstores and met audiences of all sizes: from more than 200 to less than 10. The audiences have been wonderfully receptive and on most occasions we had more than 50 people in attendance, even in places where you would think there wouldn’t be many. It’s been a pleasure telling them about our journey. It’s been a privilege to tell them about these mountains.

Six years ago when Atticus and I first started hiking we befriended Steve Smith, a long-time White Mountain scribe, author of several books, and owner of Lincoln’s Mountain Wanderer Map and Bookstore. During our conversations about writing and these mountains we share a love and wonder of I let him know that it was my dream to write about them the way the artists of the 1800s painted them. It was my wish to portray them accurately and to reflect their magnificence and when I was done I wanted people to look at them the same way they did when the White Mountain artists shared them with the rest of the world. I like to think that I have succeeded. As people read our book I hear many things but the one that pleases me the most is when they say, “I need to see the White Mountains.”

Mike Dickerman, Steve Smith’s co-author of the Four Thousand Footers of the White Mountains, and an equally legendary scribe who has written about these peaks for more than two decades, recently said that Following Atticus is “an instant regional classic.”

When we receive much in life, it is our duty to repay it in kind. Perhaps not to where it came from but instead to others who are in need of what we have. I have never been motivated by money or fame. I’ve always been driven by my passions and passion is what brought Atticus and me north. It’s what drove me to write our book. In the process I wanted to share this sacred place with others who have never seen it, just as I once wrote about it in letters to my father. He had been up here many times, but always as a windshield tourist. And so when I saw sights that would have brought tears to his eyes and brought him to his knees in awe I didn’t think about what I’d seen, but rather how it made me feel and then tried to capture that feeling in words so he could feel it as well.

I don’t think when I write – I feel. Because of this I will never be considered a great writer, I imagine. I’m far from an intellectual. But to hear those who have never been here say “I need to stand on top of one of the White Mountains,” well, I feel I’ve succeeded at least in some small way in capturing their grandeur.

A friend of mine weighs at least 350 pounds. Recently he noted he was on a diet and had started visiting a personal trainer to help him lose weight. I congratulated him and asked him what motivated him.

“I want to see the Bonds one day.”

He had just read our book. Nothing filled me with more gratitude than hearing this.

As we’ve traveled far from our home in Jackson, I’m happy to report that Atticus carries himself as he always has: with a great sense of self and without a leash or collar. He’s walked city streets and country lanes on our book tour just as he always has – some twenty feet in front of me. And when I speak he’s either sitting in the crook of my elbow or lying on a comfortable blanket on a table. Sometimes he sleeps. He doesn’t look much like a mountain dog. But then again he never has. Just as I’ve never looked like much of a hiker. But I think that’s what makes our message all the more intriguing. People look at us and say, “If those two did it, so can I?”

They are correct.

And yet there’s more to it than that. I’ve seen these mountains and looked up at them with delight and fear and respect and reverence. But the only reason I have is because a little dog led me. I’ve been a lucky participant in this marvelous journey simply because I followed an extraordinary little dog. And why did I do that? Well . . . sometimes you just need to follow your friends. You just never know where it will lead you.

Where it’s led me is to the top of the world. At least that’s the way I see it. After more than a thousand miles of sharing the trails with Atticus M. Finch I’ve been scrubbed clean by nature and brought back to see innocence once again. I’m a fortunate man.

It all goes to show you that anything is possible – especially here in these magical Mountains.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The Book Tour

Don't let the bottle from one of our hotel mini bars fool you...
Atticus was not driven to drink during the tour.  He had a great time!
Our book tour has had us on the run for the past two weeks and now we get to sleep in our own bed for the next week.  We have a few upcoming events this week but they are relatively local.  Then, next week we head out on the road for a few nights again.  Much to catch up on regarding our tour and hopefully the next couple of days will deliver some sunny days so that Atticus and I can go find a perch on top of a mountain somewhere here in the Whites where the world will come round to us again. 

We're doing well, but I know it's time to find our center again and let nature recharge us. 

As for Atticus, he's been a great sport throughout the tour.  He's fine so long as we are together and people treat him well, which they've been doing.  And I'm quite sure that while he sleeps through most of the talks I give (you have to forgive him since he's heard me talk so much as of late and already knows how the story ends - the dog lives!) he enjoys the stimulation of meeting people.   

Over the past two weeks we've put in 3,500 miles of driving, met many interesting folks, saw some great independent bookstores, and spoke at several interesting libraries.  The experiences themselves have added color to pass along during our speaking engagements and part of me wishes we could keep going.

But the other part longs to be home alone with my friend where life is quiet and private and the bears and moose and fox are never too far away.  And wouldn't you know it, the wonderful fall foliage that I've been missing up here as we've headed away from the mountains has held out and is just now starting to turn.  It really is the best time of the year up here and we are doubly blessed.  Not only do we get to live and walk in these mountains, we get to tell the world about them. 

This Thursday morning we'll be on WMWV, the North Conway radio station we listen to every morning.  We'll be interviewed by Roy Prescott at 8:20 am and it can be heard on if you are not in the Mount Washington Valley.  On Friday night at 7:00 pm we'll be in Newington to speak at the Barnes & Noble.  And on Saturday we'll be appearing in Littleton, NH at the Village Bookstore at 4:00 pm. 

More news to follow as we rest up for a few days and climb a mountain or two. 

Onward, by all means,
Tom (& Atticus)