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Pyg: The Memoirs of Toby, the Learned Pig by…
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Pyg: The Memoirs of Toby, the Learned Pig (2011)

by Russell Potter

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Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
Pyg, by Russell Potter, promises much and delivers little. For a book that is supposedly the "memoir of a learned pig," a subject which sounds at first inclination to have the potential to be most amusing, the actual narrative is very dry and lacking in much plot development. Essentially, Toby the pig is rescued from the slaughter, learns to spell as part of a performing act, and when it is recognized that he can actually read and understand the words in front of him, he gets the chance to become more educated. Nothing else of interest takes place that is not articulated in the cover description. Pyg is neither a comedy nor is it a social commentary in the style of Animal Farm. It is simply a matter-of-fact narrative that, had its protagonist been human rather than animal, would have no interest to readers whatsoever. As it stands, Pyg might be more interesting to advanced middle grade readers, providing that they have the necessary vocabulary and sufficient patience to wade through this text. ( )
  KayMackey | Jan 7, 2014 |
Was there really a pig who could read and write English? Reading this finely-crafted narrative is like watching an expert magician perform. Deep down you know it couldn't be real, yet from the first page onward, there is a nagging feeling that maybe, just maybe, it might have really happened.

The book begins with an Editor's Note (Potter credits himself as the book's Editor, not its author), which in scholarly language states that the present volume is based on Toby the Pig's original published memoir of 1809. There was indeed a "miraculous sapient pig" named Toby, who toured the fairs and performing halls of late 18th Century England and Wales.

As he tells it, Toby begins life on a farm, has a narrow escape from the slaughterhouse, and ends up in the care of a traveling entertainer with his troupe of performing animals. His linguistic skills are developed subtly, from first hints of understanding to training in card tricks and onward to...well, no plot spoilers here. Toby's travels through England and Ireland are depicted with nicely drawn details of places, clothing and transport.

But this is not a cute, archaic "Babe the Pig". More like Charlotte's Web meets Stromboli's Circus in Pinocchio. The relationships between Toby and his human caretakers, and the portrait of the cruel world of late 18th Century traveling circuses, are touching, funny, sad and gut-wrenching, and often terrifying.

The real joy of Pyg is the language. At first the slightly archaic terms and spelling might seem off-putting, but by the second page they meld into the rich and sonorous voice of Toby, which sweeps you along for the next 230 pages.

The book ends with a generous section of historical notes. It turns out that most (or all) of the people and places which appear in the narrative actually existed. As did a short book published in 1805, entitled The Life and Adventures of Toby, the Sapient Pig.

At the end you'll feel happy at having just enjoyed a well-told, unique and eccentric story, and you'll be scratching your head wondering just how much of it was true.

Finally, if you can get your hands on the original British hardcover edition, you won't regret it. Rarely do you find books these days with so much craft put into the design. From the exquisite, tactile cover to the slightly yellowed paper to the typeface, which mimics the look of 18th Century metal type, the book is a treasure to hold and look at. ( )
  Feign | Feb 19, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
http://wineandabook.com/2013/02/19/review-pyg-the-memoirs-of-toby-the-learned-pi...

Premise: The author, Russell Potter, assumes the persona of “editor” is this novel, the (obviously) fictitious “found memoirs” of a sapient pig named Toby, the porcine embodiment of the phrase “knowledge is power.” The story itself is very sweet and follows Toby from his piglet-hood to adulthood. With the help of his human companion, Sam, Toby narrowly avoids the slaughterhouse and finds himself the main attraction of an animal circus where he is accidentally, then intentionally, taught to read. Over the course of his life, he trods the boards in London, studies at Oxford, and encounters luminaries such as Samuel Johnson, William Blake and Robert Burns. Not bad for a pig…I wish the “editor” himself were nearly as successful.

To really convey a sense of time and place, Potter appropriates the construct of historical diary. As I was reading, I kept having flashbacks to high school readings of The Dairy of Samuel Pepys…which was part of the problem. Historical diaries aren’t written to be read as novels; in Pepys’ diary, there are lots of entries that consist of events and descriptions of the day to day, which aren’t exactly the most riveting to read. Interesting: yes. Exciting: no. And unfortunately, Potters’ piece consists of a lot of listing of events, mostly of traveling. You know how there are entire passages of the Bible that read like “and ________ begat __________, who in turn begat ______ and _________”? I feel like there were entire stretches of the narrative that read like “from thence we traveled to __________ via _________, whence we happened upon the __________ Inn, and four miles hence is ____________, where we played but a fortnight ago.” I get it, Potter. You researched. You know stuff about English history. A little bit of that is fine to establish a sense of historical setting, but gets a tad tiresome after fifty pages or so. It became what the book was ABOUT, and the book was supposed to be about an intellectually curious pig.

And then there was the Random Capitalization. Once and a while, the Author, would choose to Capitalize important Nouns and Verbs, with the occasional Italics thrown in for good Measure. It felt real Schtick-y, real Quick.

Finally, the themes that Potter references are not new (what it means to be intelligent, man’s inhumanity toward man and nature, the danger of ignorance and assumption, etc). Which would be fine, if Potter had anything new or unique or particularly compelling to add to the subject. Unfortunately, he does not. I requested to read and review this book because, as a former teacher myself, I saw in the premise a lot of potential for classroom use in maybe 5th or 6th grade…it seemed like the type of piece that may serve as a side door into history, a piece that might complement some of the established classics. Alas, Potter has explored nothing in this book that Charlotte’s Web or Animal Farm hasn’t already tackled, and tackled FAR better. It felt to me like Potter got so caught up in the Style of the narrative that Substance suffered.

In all, I feel like he really just scratched the surface of the story he meant to write. Toby, as a character, was flat. Underneath all the name-dropping, the Ye Olde English-y font, and the excessive historical referencing, and damned TRAVELING, there really wasn’t much Story there.

Rubric rating: 3.5. ( )
  jaclyn_michelle | Feb 19, 2013 |
I'm more than a little confused by this book. I understand there were "learned" animals touring Europe in the early 19th century, but beyond that, I'm not sure how much is fact and how much is fiction.

By that, I mean that I've found some reference of an autobiography of Toby the pig and his opinions on men and manners, but a wikipedia entry does not a fact make. I found other references as well, but I can't determine if they're just clever seeds sown by the author or a publicist, or if there was indeed a purported "autobiography" written nearly two centuries ago. I don't believe a pig wrote an autobiography at any time, but I'm wondering if someone pushed a purported autobiography out to the public way back and inspired this book. I guess the backstory is more fascinating to me.

Regardless, the book seems true to what an account written by a celebrity of the time might provide - a little dry, almost exciting, maybe worth a quiet chuckle or two. I liked it just well enough not to dislike it, but that's about as far as it went. Of course, it fails in some ways in authenticity. . . I didn't bother to check dates to names, but there were many famous people from way-back-when making appearances in the book. I'm not sure if the timeframe is correct for all of them - but then, I didn't care enough to figure it out. Also, the style of writing is definitely modern, I think the author fell a little short on that effort as well. ( )
  Sean191 | Feb 9, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Summary: Pyg is the autobiography of Toby, the world's first genuine Learned Pig. Toby was born and raised as a prize-winner, but after the fair, he escapes from his destiny in the butcher's yard with the help of his young human friend, Sam. Together they find their way to the traveling show of Mr. Bisset, who trains Toby to recognize subtle cues and respond by selecting the proper letters, so as they might amaze village fairgoers with Toby's knowledge. But Mr. Bisset does not realize that Toby is in fact learning to read, again with the help of Sam, and thus begins Toby's adventures across Britain, studying at Oxford and meeting such great thinkers of the day as Robert Burns and Samuel Wilberforce.

Review: This was a very interesting conceit for a book, and Potter pulls it off remarkably well. I had known of the existence of this kind of sideshow act before I picked up this book - horses that count by stamping, that sort of thing - but I don't think I realized how detailed the acts got, nor how popular the "sapient pig" was in Britain back in the day. I really enjoyed the fact that this book let Toby speak for himself; because this is a (putative) autobiography, Toby gets to muse on his existence, and what it says about the human (and porcine) condition, in such a way that is both insightful and more genuine-feeling than it would if this were a book about Toby, rather than by him. As I said, Potter manages it really well; it took surprisingly little suspension of disbelief to believe that I was reading a book pieced together one letter at a time by a very intelligent pig. Potter also captures the style of the time very well, with somewhat haphazard capitalizations and italics, that could have been intrusive or obnoxious, but which I thought helped give the book an appropriate period flavor.

My main complaint about this book is that it sort of ran out of steam about 2/3s of the way through. The early story, about Toby's escape and education, were very interesting, and the trials of his time on the stage and his struggle to be accepted in a world of men were equally compelling, if a little slower. But after that, the action sort of started to peter out, and there's not much drama or conflict to sustain the last section of the book. It's a shame, because while I enjoyed the book as a whole, the ending kind of left me feeling as though I wasn't entirely sure what the point of the story actually was. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: If you like early 19th-century literature, or stories set in that time (or Charlotte's Web), or even if you think a book narrated by a pig sounds like fun, then this book should be worth checking out. ( )
  fyrefly98 | Feb 4, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
Non ho mai sentito parlare di Russell Potter. L’editore Einaudi, che ha pubblicato Toby, racconta che e nato nel 1960, che vive a Providence, nel Rhode Island e che insegna Letteratura, communicazione e storia delle esplorazioni artiche in non so quale università degli Stati Uniti. Nel 2007 ha pubblicato il volume “Arctic Spectacles: The Frozen North in Visual Culture.” Non e dunque uno scrittore di professione, ma un dilettante, che ama squisitamente la letteratura e gioca con a letteratura. Con quale arte gioca: dal principio alla fino de suo libro, non finiamo di divertirci con quello smisurato piacere, che sola la letteratura riesce a darci: piacere che fonde e assorbe in se stesso quello del cibo, dell’alcol, del sonno, dell’eros e dell’intelligenza, e li moltiplica migliaia di volte. Ogni riga e una delizia, ogni metafora un’esultanza, ogni pagina una gioia.
added by rapotter | editCorriere della serra, Pietro Citati (Dec 22, 2013)
 
"In spite of the archaic prose, the story is engaging enough. Even if reading it starts to feel like torture (and it does), Toby's journey inspires much holding forth upon the relationship between pigs and people."
added by WeeklyAlibi | editWeekly Alibi, John Bear (Nov 22, 2012)
 
"Toby the Learned Pig is a vibrant and amazingly alive and TRUE character that only comes once in a while in the very rarest of books and I simply do not have the words adequate to thank Mr. Potter for this book and for that magical pig's entrance into my own imagination. He lives there now at the side of Peter Pan, Nicholas Nickleby, Harry Potter, and any other number of adventurous souls of fiction. I just loved Toby the Learned Pig. I loved every page of it."
 
"In Russell Potter’s magical rendering, Toby’s story is both a travelogue and a sometimes unsettling inquiry into the nature of animal intelligence … Potter’s Toby is not only a prescient pig but also a reflective one, with a Swiftian eye on mankind’s mores."
 
"An immensely readable, clever, and fun novel."
added by rapotter | editPublisher's Weekly (May 14, 2012)
 
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For Karen Carr il miglior fabbro
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When in Rome, do as the Romans.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0143121189, Paperback)

A heartwarming debut introduces readers to the adventures of its overachieving porcine narrator

Blending the sophisticated satire of Jonathan Swift with the charming exuberance of a Pixar film, Pyg tells the story of Toby, a truly exceptional pig who lived in late eighteenth-century England. After winning the blue ribbon at the Salford Livestock Fair and escaping the butcher's knife, Toby tours the country, wowing circus audiences with his abilities to count, spell, and even read the minds of ladies (but only with their permission, of course). He goes on to study at Oxford and Edinburgh—encountering such luminaries as Samuel Johnson, Robert Burns, and William Blake—before finally writing his own life story. Quirky, beguiling, and endlessly entertaining, this memoir of a "remarkable sapient pig" is a sharp and witty delight.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:00:03 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Blending the sophisticated satire of Jonathan Swift with the charming exuberance of a Pixar film, Pyg tells the story of Toby, a truly exceptional pig who lived in late eighteenth-century England. After winning the blue ribbon at the Salford Livestock Fair and escaping the butcher's knife, Toby tours the country, wowing circus audiences with his abilities to count, spell, and even read the minds of ladies (but only with their permission, of course). He goes on to study at Oxford and Edinburghencountering such luminaries as Samuel Johnson, Robert Burns, and William Blakebefore finally writing his own life story. Quirky, beguiling, and endlessly entertaining, this memoir of a "remarkable sapient pig" is a sharp and witty delight.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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