I have grown up with cats, and despite not having a furry feline to call my own at present (boo, rented accommodation and its ‘no pets’ rules), I still very much enjoy reading about them. Imagine my delight, then, when I came across a list on Goodreads, quite at random, entitled ‘Great Cat Books’. I’ve chosen ten books which I haven’t yet read, and which really appeal to me. You can see the full list here.
1. Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron
‘How much of an impact can an animal have? How many lives can one cat touch? How is it possible for an abandoned kitten to transform a small library, save a classic American town, and eventually become famous around the world? You can’t even begin to answer those questions until you hear the charming story of Dewey Readmore Books, the beloved library cat of Spencer, Iowa. Dewey’s story starts in the worst possible way. Only a few weeks old, on the coldest night of the year, he was stuffed into the returned book slot at the Spencer Public Library. He was found the next working by library director Vicki Myron, a single mother who had survived the loss of her family farm, a breast cancer scare, and an alcoholic husband. Dewey won her heart, and the hearts of the staff, by pulling himself up and hobbling on frostbitten feet to nudge each of hem in a gesture of thanks and love. For the next nineteen years, he never stopped charming the people of Spencer with this enthusiasm, warmth, humility (for a cat), and, above all, his sixth sense about who needed him most. As his fame grew from town to town, then state to state, and finally, amazingly, worldwide, Dewey became more than just a friend; he became a source of pride for an extraordinary Heartland farming town pulling its way slowly back from the greatest crisis in its long history.’
2. The Fur Person by May Sarton
‘This enchanting story and classic of cat literature is drawn
from the true adventures of Tom Jones, May Sarton’s own
cat. Prior to making the author’s acquaintance, he is a fiercely
independent, nameless Cat About Town. Growing tired of
his vagabond lifestyle, however, he concludes that there
might be some appeal in giving up his freedom for a home.
Finally, a house materializes that does seem acceptable and
so do the voices that inhabit it. It is here that he begins his
transformation into a genuine Fur Person. Sarton’s book is
one of the most beloved stories ever written about the joys
and tribulations inherent in sharing one’s life with a cat. It is
now reissued in a gorgeous edition featuring David Canright’s
3. I Am a Cat by Soseki Natsume
‘”I am a cat. As yet I have no name.”So begins one of the most original and unforgettable works in Japanese literature. Richly allegorical and delightfully readable, I Am a Cat is the chronicle of an unloved, unwanted, wandering kitten who spends all his time observing human nature – from the dramas of businessmen and schoolteachers to the foibles of priests and potentates. From this unique perspective, author Sōseki Natsume offers a biting commentary – shaped by his training in Chinese philosophy – on the social upheaval of the Meiji era. I Am a Cat first appeared in ten installments in the literary magazine Hotoguisu (Cuckoo), between 1905 and 1906. Sōseki had not intended to write more than the short story that makes up the first chapter of this book. After its great critical and popular success, he expanded it into this epic novel, which is universally recognised as a classic of world literature.
4. On Cats by Doris Lessing
‘Doris Lessing’s love affair with cats began at a young age, when she became intrigued with the semiferal creatures on the African farm where she grew up. Her fascination with the handsome, domesticated creatures that have shared her flats and her life in London remained undiminished, and grew into real love with the awkwardly lovable El Magnifico, the last cat to share her home. On Cats is a celebrated classic, a memoir in which we meet the cats that have slunk and bullied and charmed their way into Doris Lessing’s life. She tells their stories—their exploits, rivalries, terrors, affections, ancient gestures, and learned behaviors—with vivid simplicity. And she tells the story of herself in relation to cats: the way animals affect her and she them, and the communication that grows possible between them—a language of gesture and mood and desire as eloquent as the spoken word. No other writer conveys so truthfully the real interdependence of humans and cats or convinces us with such stunning recognition of the reasons why cats really matter.’
5. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
‘Japan’s most highly regarded novelist now vaults into the first ranks of international fiction writers with this heroically imaginative novel, which is at once a detective story, an account of a disintegrating marriage, and an excavation of the buried secrets of World War II. In a Tokyo suburb a young man named Toru Okada searches for his wife’s missing cat. Soon he finds himself looking for his wife as well in a netherworld that lies beneath the placid surface of Tokyo. As these searches intersect, Okada encounters a bizarre group of allies and antagonists: a psychic prostitute; a malevolent yet mediagenic politician; a cheerfully morbid sixteen-year-old-girl; and an aging war veteran who has been permanently changed by the hideous things he witnessed during Japan’s forgotten campaign in Manchuria. Gripping, prophetic, suffused with comedy and menace, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is a tour de force equal in scope to the masterpieces of Mishima and Pynchon.’
6. The Tribe of Tiger: Cats and Their Culture by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
‘From the plains of Africa to her very own backyard, noted author and anthropologist Elizabeth Marshall Thomas explores the world of cats, both large and small in this classic bestseller. Inspired by her own feline’s instinct to hunt and supported by her studies abroad, Thomas examines the life actions, as well as the similarities and differences of these majestic creatures. Lions, tigers, pumas and housecats: Her observations shed light on their social lives, thought processes, eating habits, and communication techniques, and reveal how they survive and coexist with each other and with humans.’
7. The Hotel Cat by Esther Averill
‘One wintry day a lonely stray cat wandered into the Royal Hotel. He chased mice so well that he was given the job of Hotel Cat. Tired of always spending time in the cellar Tom ventured upstairs and met the gentle Mrs. Wilkins, a longtime hotel resident who had the ability to communicate with cats. She encouraged Tom to keep an open mind about the hotel guests. One night, during the winter of New York City’s Big Freeze, Tom detected three cats in one of the rooms. It turned out that due to a boiler breakdown in his house, Captain Tinker had brought Jenny Linsky and her brothers Edward and Checkers to stay at the hotel until the boiler was fixed. Other homes experienced boiler breakdowns too and soon other members of the Cat Club could be found staying in rooms at the Royal Hotel. Before long, plans were underway for the Cat Club Stardust Ball, with the help of Tom, who had proved himself helpful and considerate after all. Soon he became a “friend for ever” of Jenny and her pals.
8. Mrs Chippy’s Last Expedition: The Remarkable Journal of Shackleton’s Polar- Bound Cat by Caroline Alexander
‘When Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance became trapped in the Antarctic ice, all twenty-nine members of the crew were pushed to their limits of survival, including Mrs. Chippy, the ship’s estimable cat. Fortunately for posterity, Mrs. Chippy left a diary of the ordeal. Closely based on the true events of Shackleton’s heroic journey, and illustrated with authentic photographs taken by Frank Hurley, expedition photographer, Mrs. Chippy’s Last Expedition is a firsthand account of one of the greatest adventures in history–from a unique point of view.’
9. The Big New Yorker Book of Cats
‘Look what The New Yorker dragged in! It’s the purr-fect gathering of talent celebrating our feline companions. This bountiful collection, beautifully illustrated in full color, features articles, fiction, humor, poems, cartoons, cover art, drafts, and drawings from the magazine’s archives. Among the contributors are Margaret Atwood, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Roald Dahl, Wolcott Gibbs, Robert Graves, Emily Hahn, Ted Hughes, Jamaica Kincaid, Steven Millhauser, Haruki Murakami, Amy Ozols, Robert Pinsky, Jean Rhys, James Thurber, John Updike, Sylvia Townsend Warner, and E. B. White. Including a Foreword by Anthony Lane, this gorgeous keepsake will be a treasured gift for all cat lovers.’
10. The Tiger in the House: A Cultural History of the Cat by Carl Van Vechten
‘“A god, a companion to sorceresses at the Witches’ Sabbath, a beast who is royal in Siam, who in Japan is called ‘the tiger that eats from the hand,’ the adored of Mohammed, Laura’s rival with Petrarch, the friend of Richelieu, the favorite of poets”—such are just a few of the feline distinctions that Carl Van Vechten records in this glorious historical overview of humanity’s long love affair with the cat. As delightful as it is learned, Tiger in the House explores science, art, and history to assemble a treasury of cat lore, while Van Vechten’s sumptuous baroque prose makes every page an inexhaustible pleasure. ‘
Which are your favourite books featuring cats? Do any of these catch your interest?