Great Cat Books

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.


32571361. 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 20663754
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
beautiful illustrations.’


627723. 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 4794097
‘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.’


112755. 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 64807
‘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.’


7643047. 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- 128731Bound 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.’


173165859. 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 328186
‘“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?


Flash Reviews (23rd January 2014)

Diamond by Jacqueline Wilson ****
April very kindly sent me this beautifully sparkly book for Christmas.  I have adored Jacqueline Wilson since I was very small, and was lucky enough to meet her when she did a signing at my local bookshop whilst I was still in junior school.  Ever since, even though I no longer fall into the bracket of her young teenager intended audience, I have made sure that I read everything new which she releases.  Diamond begins in 1891, when Ellen-Jane, the book’s narrator, is sold to the circus by her poor alcoholic father.  As with all of Wilson’s novels, this is great in terms of characterisation, but there was one thing which did not quite ring true throughout – the dialogue.  It felt as though it was far too modern a lot of the time, and a few of the phrases within the narrative gave the same impression too, and consequently did not fit with the era.  As a whole, Diamond is a very enjoyable novel, and it certainly works well as part of the Hetty Feather series.

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‘The Call of The Weird’ by Louis Theroux

The Call of The Weird: Travels in American Subcultures by Louis Theroux ***
I originally purchased this as part of my boyfriend’s bookish advent calendar, not realising that he already had a copy.  It was given back to me, as he thought I would enjoy it.  I happily took it off his hands.  I began reading it on my way to Suffolk to visit family over Christmas, and was reminded almost immediately of Jon Ronson’s great The Psychopath Test

Throughout, and much like Ronson did, Theroux has gone in search of oddballs across the United States of America, as a follow-up to a television series which he brought out some years previously.  He meets a great range of unusual people, from those who refuse to pay their income tax in the belief that it is their right to do so, and porn stars, to neo-Nazis and those who hold cult seminars for the masses.  Theroux states that his aim was to ask ‘what “weird people” have to tell us about our own human natures’.  It was scary in part, and I am surprised that some of the beliefs which Theroux outlines exist in our twenty-first century society.

I really like the way in which Theroux writes, and the wit which he manages to weave into almost every single page.  I think I would have got more out of the book if I had a) watched the original programme and knew of its participants, and b) if I stopped comparing it to the aforementioned The Psychopath Test.  Nonetheless, it was an interesting book, and one which raises a lot of questions which we as humans really should be addressing.

Purchase from The Book Depository

Cats by Delia Pemberton ****

‘The Cat at the Window’ by Utagawa Hiroshige

April sent me this beautiful little British Museum book for Christmas (thank you!), and it looked so adorable that I am surprised I didn’t begin it as soon as I parted it from its pretty glittering paper.  Such care has been put into its presentation, and as a result, it is very aesthetically pleasing.  The entirety has been so well considered, down to the use of images within to complement the particular text which it sits beside.

There are so many paintings and illustrations by a wealth of different artists which have been included – Leonardo da Vinci, Theophile Steinlen, Goya, Sir John Tenniel – and lots of feline artefacts housed in various museums too.  Many extracts from a host of different sources can be found within its pages too, from haikus and poems by authors like Charles Baudelaire, to the letters of Sylvia Townsend Warner to William Maxwell.  Cats is a gorgeous little book, which will grace the shelves of any cat lovers.

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Flash Reviews (9th August 2013)

The Dogs and The Wolves by Irene Nemirovsky
I love Nemirovsky’s novels. The way she writes is just sublime, and I am so glad that her translators respect this and reflect it in their work. Everything about this story is exquisite – the writing style, the descriptions, the characterisation, the dialogue, the way in which characters forge relationships with one another, the settings… I absolutely adored the author’s portrayal of the sharp divide between opulence and poverty, and how it has the power to affect an entire family. Ada, the protagonist, is just adorable, and it was a real pleasure to see her grow as the book progressed. The Dogs and The Wolves is certainly my favourite of Nemirovsky’s books to date.

Homer’s Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale by Gwen Cooper
I can’t resist a good cat story, as April knew when she sent me this lovely book, and this one is particularly adorable. I loved Homer from the first page, particularly for the way in which he rallied against his disability and learnt to do things that cats able to see take for granted. Cooper’s writing is so nice. I don’t like using the word ‘nice’ at all and try to avoid it in my reviews, but it is wonderfully applicable here. Her prose is so gentle and patient, and she really gave an insight into adopting a pet with a disability.

Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster
I spent the weekend just gone in France, and got through rather a lot of books. I did take some paperbacks with me – of which I read and very much enjoyed two and abandoned one – but I did a lot of my reading on my Kindle. I filled it with classics when I got it as a graduation present, and it’s nice to be making my way through them at my own pace. I have read a few of Forster’s books before, but this was the August choice for my Goodreads book group, and I thought I ought to join in. My review of it is rather a mixed one, despite the fact that I did enjoy it overall.

Let us begin with the positives first. I really like Forster’s writing style, and the sense of place was well crafted. The mixing of cultures and the sharp differences between them was well portrayed.

And now for the negatives. I know that this book was written around a century ago and it was something which was sadly rather common at the time, but I still struggle to see how any mother could leave her child for a year whilst she travelled around Italy. I found that a lot of characters were introduced at the beginning of the novel, and as such, it was a little difficult to keep track of them at first. I didn’t much like any of them either. The plot was interesting enough but it did feel a little thin on the ground at times, and the ending was incredibly odd and unexpected. All in all, it feels quite mediocre in comparison to Howards End and Maurice, and it is nowhere near as well developed as A Passage to India.


‘The Poetry of Cats’ – edited by Samuel Carr

The black cat yawns,
Opens her jaws,
Stretches her legs
And shows her claws.
Then she gets up
And stands on four
Long still legs,
And yawns some more.
She shows her sharp teeth,
She stretches her lip,
Her slice of a tongue
Turns up at the tip.
Lifting herself
On her delicate toes,
She arches her back
As high as it goes.
She lets herself down
With particular care,
And pads away
With her tail in the air.
– ‘Cat’ by Mary Britton Miller


Sleeping Cat by Renoir (1862)

We adore cats here at The Literary Sisters, and when I spotted a book entitled The Poetry of Cats on the book stall in Cambridge market, I knew I just had to buy it.  In the book, a marvellous scope of poets has been included, from Edward Lear and John Keats to Ted Hughes and Francis Scarfe.

The edition has been beautifully produced, and whilst my edition’s dustjacket is faded with age, it is still a lovely collection to add to my bookshelf.  The artwork included, from an equally wide range of sources, complemented the poetry perfectly.  Carr’s introduction too, whilst rather short, was informative and wonderfully written, and his love of felines shines through from the outset.

My favourite poems in the collection were ‘The Song of the Jellicoes’ by T.S. Eliot, ‘Esther’s Tomcat’ by Ted Hughes, ‘Five eyes’ by Walter de la Mare, ‘Cats’ by Eleanor Farjeon, ‘Last words to a dumb friend’ by Thomas Hardy, ‘The Cat and the Moon’ by W.B. Yeats, ‘Cat’ by Lytton Strachey, ‘The Cat’ by Richard Church, ‘The Singing Cat’ by Stevie Smith, ‘Choosing Their Names’ by Thomas Hood, ‘To a Cat’ by A.C. Swinburne, ‘On the death of a cat’ by Christina Rossetti, ‘Cat’ by Mary Britton Miller (shown above), ‘Cat’s Eyes’ by Francis Scarfe and ‘Marigold’ by Richard Garnett.

The Poetry of Cats is an absolutely lovely book, and one which is sure to be treasured by every cat fan.