My favorite book, The Art of Racing in the Rain, is now a film set to be released this August 2019. This book is the love of my life. I’ve learned so many things from it. And, in celebration of it finally becoming a film, I decided to revive this essay I wrote about it from a couple of years back. So, here. This is how a wise dog from a book I love changed my life.
DISCLAIMER: This essay contains quotes from the book itself. No major spoilers, though.
One dull summer day nearly six years ago, I found myself rummaging through several of the dusty shelves in my house looking for a book to read. In my search, and by some stroke of luck, I came across a particular book that caught my attention. The cover was blue, with blurry images of raindrops, and half the face of an adorable dog. In faded gold, the title read, The Art of Racing in the Rain written by Garth Stein. It was my dad’s copy of the book and was a gift from a friend. I’m an avid racing fan, so the title alone already had me hooked. Though the story itself, as I was just about to realize, is even more compelling.
The entire novel is narrated by a wise dog named Enzo, and it is about the journey of his race-car-driver-owner Denny through the challenges in his life. With the book in my hands, I felt a sense of excitement, simply because I had finally found something interesting to do in that uneventful summer. Little did I know that the book I was about to read would change my life in ways I didn’t realize I needed.
I found the novel the summer right before my freshman year in high school–one of the few instances in which timing was on my side. Truth be told, I was scared to start high school. I felt a lot of pressure to try a bunch of new things, to excel in everything, and prepare myself for my future, which was something I found difficult to think about. I was afraid to fail at all of it, and I hadn’t even started yet.
But, thankfully, before any of my fears could have gotten to me, I read The Art of Racing in the Rain. In the story, Denny has doubts about whether all of his struggles are going to get him his success. “What if I don’t win?” Denny asked. I will never forget the reply to that question.
“There is no dishonor in losing the race. There is only dishonor in not racing because you are afraid to lose.”
After reading this part of the story, I worked hard to put all my fears to rest. It took some time, and it wasn’t easy. But, I decided to face high school, and the rest of my life for that matter, head-on. Not worrying much about the outcomes of the challenges I’d have to overcome, and rather, focusing on the process. The struggle. Because I knew that the outcome would not matter anyway. The wins and losses in life are not important. What matters is that you always try and stand by the end results, regardless of what they look like.
It was a challenge to live by this new life rule I had given myself. In many instances, even until now, I still find myself still feeling afraid of things. I still get intimidated by new opportunities I want to take, and there are always moments wherein I nearly let my fears stop me from putting myself out there.
Just recently, I got the idea of joining my school’s publication. I wanted to be a sportswriter because I really love sports and becoming a sports writer would be nothing short of a dream. It had been something I always considered. But, the thing was I didn’t fancy myself as one to be technical enough about sports. I was scared of being inadequate about a position I really wanted. And then I looked at myself, and I thought, Just because I’m scared, does it really mean I’m not going to try?
And so, I did. I mustered up enough courage to go through the application process of becoming a sportswriter for the publication. I will say, however, that my fear never went away. My fear followed me to my tests for the application and my interviews. But, there are just some things you have to do scared, and, as I learned from that wise little dog, there is only dishonor in not racing because you are afraid to lose.
And with that, lo and behold, I got accepted. Something that would have probably never happened if I didn’t listen to Enzo.
This life lesson is one I have a hard time putting into action because the fears in my mind run quite wild, but I always force myself to do it anyway. Because with the track record I’ve had and with everything I’ve done in following this piece of wisdom, I know there is more in life to learn when you try.
My second year in high school was one of the hardest years of my life. Up until then, I was such a pessimist. A cynic. Yes, I was trying hard in everything I was doing, but for some reason, it all felt meaningless. I felt as though my life had minimal substance and that the world was perpetuating certain negativity upon me that I could not shake.
Halfway through that year, I decided to reread The Art of Racing in the Rain. And I am so lucky I did. After reading through Denny’s dilemmas once more, I again found myself in the story.
Denny was sitting in a small room alone, and in those moments, Enzo wondered if Denny was in despair because of the lonely, confining room he was in.
“That which around me does not affect my mood,” Enzo narrated. “My mood affects that which is around me.”
Reading this line changed the way I view the world. Admittedly, it was not easy to get into a more positive state of mind considering the negative state I got so used to being in.
I remember this one week in high school that made me feel like it was just about the worst week of my life. I was getting bad grades in my tests despite trying so hard and investing so much of my time studying, I got into an argument with one of my good friends, and to cap it all off at the end of the week, I got stood up at a date.
It was awful, and that week, I almost physically felt my heart sink. It put my mind in a dark place, and it didn’t help the pessimist mindset I was still struggling to let go of. The following week, I remember feeling irritated about everything–every small, unimportant thing. And I blamed it on how I felt the previous week. I was so irritable. I’d get frustrated over such minor things. And when I finally realized how ridiculous I was being, I remembered.
Mindset is everything.
After throwing about twenty fits over twenty insect-sized problems, I found that the only reason so many things were bothering me was that I was looking for things that bothered me. The previous week made me feel like I was in a bad spot in my life, and that only bad things were happening to me. And the result: I could only see the bad. I barely noticed the good, even if they were there, right under my nose.
I came to realize that my mindset puts a filter upon my eyes and alters the way I see and feel about the world. So, I decided to start using brighter filters. A happier, healthier mindset. And my life has been a more colorful place since.
Another race down. But the season runs long.
Junior year and senior year of high school. The two years you are expected to make some of the biggest decisions a teenager can make. I entered these years with a lot of confusion–all I really knew was that I had to work extra hard to get into a good college for a good future. The problem was, I still did not know where all of my hard work was aimed at.
Early in senior year, I decided to read The Art of Racing in the Rain yet again. I must admit, this book had become my therapist. And, like twice already before, I found myself in the words of the book.
“Your car goes where your eyes go.”
Upon reading this, it became clear to me that I didn’t have any specific goals. I didn’t know what I really wanted to do with my life, and to compensate, I put my energy into everything–organizations, student council, varsity, my studies, my social life–and I worked so hard that I was spreading myself too thinly across too many different things. My focus was split. And when your eyes are on several different roads, you end up getting nowhere.
I finally came to see that I needed to take a long, hard look into myself. I needed to find my passions, dreams, strengths, and weaknesses. Because I did not know these things for sure. This time in my life was very mind-opening for me. I started to really learn about myself, and nail down what I really wanted for my future.
When it comes to the hard parts of life, it’s important to know where we want to go, and where we want to end up. This focuses our minds. It enables us to filter through unimportant things and choose the challenges that are actually worth fighting for.
I’ve also learned that it’s perfectly fine to shift our directions at times and change our sights. The road is rarely straight, and life is hardly ever that simple. The important part of it all is really seeing where we’re going and where we want to be, and not driving down the road blind. The car goes where the eyes go.
For a third time, this novel somehow saved me. I never knew so much of me could exist within the pages of a fictional book.
This novel, I came to realize, is more than just a novel to me. It’s a collection of life lessons as only Enzo the dog could tell it. Sara Gruen put it perfectly in her review of the book:
“This old soul of a dog has much to teach about being human.”
And I completely agree. Enzo has taught me so much about life and really living. But the main thing I’ve learned from the countless times I’ve gone back to this story is that it is all about control.
We are in control of our lives. Sure, there’s no way to stop the rain from coming down or prevent mishaps and mistakes in racing. But, the good news is that we are in control of everything else. Courage, mindset, focus–those are all on us. We are behind our own wheels. As Enzo says in the trailer of the adapted film, “If a driver has the courage to create his own conditions, then the rain is simply rain.”
And that’s true. No matter what conditions we are forced to endure, with our willpower, they can only ever be what they are, and nothing more.
This article is a revised version of an application essay I wrote in 2016 for a few universities that I applied to.
© 2019, A. Carrera. All Rights Reserved