11

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?

0

The Book Trail: The Vintage Children’s Books Edition

I am using a children’s book which I recently read for the first time, and very much enjoyed, as the starting point for this edition of The Book Trail.  As ever, I have used the ‘Readers Also Enjoyed’ tool on Goodreads in order to compile this list.

 

1. Just William by Richmal Crompton 26870242
‘In Richmal Compton’s Just William the Outlaws plan a day of non-stop adventure. The only problem is that William is meant to be babysitting. But William won’t let that stop him having fun with his gang – he’ll just bring the baby along!  There is only one William. This tousle-headed, snub-nosed, hearty, loveable imp of mischief has been harassing his unfortunate family and delighting his hundreds of thousands of admirers since 1922.
2. Uncle by J.P. Martin
If you think Babar is the only storybook elephant with a cult following, then you haven’t met Uncle, the presiding pachyderm of a wild fictional universe that has been collecting accolades from children and adults for going on fifty years. Unimaginably rich, invariably swathed in a magnificent purple dressing-gown, Uncle oversees a vast ramshackle castle full of friendly kooks while struggling to fend off the sneak attacks of the incorrigible (and ridiculous) Badfort Crowd. Each Uncle story introduces a new character from Uncle’s madcap world: Signor Guzman, careless keeper of the oil lakes; Noddy Ninety, an elderly train conductor and the oldest student of Dr. Lyre’s Select School for Young Gentlemen; the proprietors of Cheapman’s Store (where motorbikes are a halfpenny each) and Dearman’s Store (where the price of an old milk jug goes up daily); along with many others. But for every delightful friend of Uncle, there is a foe who is no less deliriously wicked. Luckily the misbegotten schemes of the Badfort Crowd are no match for Uncle’s superior wits.
8575973. The School for Cats by Esther Averill
Jenny Linsky, the famous little black cat of Greenwich Village, has never been to school before. When her master, Captain Tinker, sends her to a boarding school in the country to learn the special knowledge of cats—manners and cooperation—she is a little afraid, among strangers, and so far from home. As soon as she’s settled in, taking off the red scarf that makes her feel brave, another student named Pickles, the Fire Cat, is upto his usual mischief, chasing smaller cats with his fire truck hook and ladder. When he chases Jenny, she runs away from school terrified.  Jenny soon realizes that the Captain would be disappointed if he found out she had left school. It’s then that Jenny decides to stand up to Pickles. She returns to school and when Pickles next tries his tricks, he’s surprised at the “new” Jenny. Pickles learns his manners and Jenny learns that not only can school be fun, but the friendships she makes there will last forever.’
4. The Swish of the Curtain by Pamela Brown
The story of seven children who form The Blue Door Theatre Company, renovating a disused chapel and putting on plays. Despite opposition from parents and friends, they finally overcome all obstacles and win a drama competition. It is a tale of triumph over adversity.
5. Autumn Term by Antonia Forest 1379125
Twins Nicola and Lawrie arrive at their new school determined to do even better than their distinguished elder sisters, but things don’t turn out quite as planned.
6. A Kid for Two Farthings by Wolf Mankowitz
A six-year-old boy in the British immigrant community of Whitechapel believes he has discovered a unicorn for sale at the market. Though it looks to most people like a white goat with a bump on its head, young Joe is certain it will make the dreams of his friends and neighbors come true—a reunion with his father in Africa, a steam press for a tailor shop, a ring for a girlfriend. Others may be skeptical of the unicorn’s magic, but with enough effort, Joe believes he can make it all real.
26577847. Minnow on the Say by Philippa Pearce
‘David can’t believe his luck when a worn wooden canoe mysteriously appears on the banks of the River Say behind his house. With summer stretching endlessly before him, it seems too good to be true.  Soon there is another boy–Adam, the Minnow’s rightful owner. Adam wants his boat back…but something else, too: a trustworthy friend to help him find the long lost ancestral jewels that could save his family from financial disaste.  Can two boys find what history has kept an untouchable secret for hundreds of years? Or will they lose the race against time and against another treasure seeker lurking at the river’s edge.
8. The Ship That Flew by Hilda Lewis
When Peter sees the model ship in the shop window, he wants it more than anything else on Earth. But this is no ordinary model. The ship takes Peter and the other children on magical flights, wherever they ask to go. Time after time the magic ship takes them on different exciting adventures, to different countries, and to different times.

 

Have you read any of these?  Which are your favourite children’s books?

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2

Really Underrated Books (Part Four)

Today’s inclusions are largely works of fiction which sound absolutely wonderful.  For some reason, a large part of the list I am consulting is made up of fiction rather than non-fiction, so the oversight is not a deliberate one!  As always, have you read any of these books?

 

1. Winter Birds by Jim Grimsley 9780552996990
‘On a snowy Thanksgiving day in North Carolina along a stretch of rural highway, a dreamy eight-year-old named Danny Crell is caught in the middle of a violent quarrel between his parents. Danny’s father, Bobjay Crell, has been at the mercy of doctors, unforgiving landlords, and cruel farm bosses ever since he lost an arm in a farm accident. His subsequent fits of rage and drunken jealousy have taken their toll on his wife and five children. The two hemophiliac boys, Danny and his younger brother Grove, have been particularly vulnerable. Bobjay isn’t the same man that young Ellen Crell married years ago, but still she will go to terrible lengths to keep him home and sober and, failing that, to just hold the family together. In the midst of the worst violence, Ellen becomes a stranger to the children, as frightening in her own way as Bobjay in his worst rages. In a ramshackle cottage the children name “The Circle House” for its circle of rooms where one door opens on to the next in a dizzy escape leading nowhere, Ellen and the children must face at last the tormented man who terrorizes them all. Jim Grimsley’s brilliant first novel unfolds in a strikingly unconventional way – as Danny tells himself his own story – and brings to light a shattering story of heartbreak, violence, and the endurance of the spirit.’

 

2. The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia by Laura Miller
The Magician’s Book is the story of one reader’s long, tumultuous relationship with C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. Enchanted by its fantastic world as a child, prominent critic Laura Miller returns to the series as an adult to uncover the source of these small books’ mysterious power by looking at their creator, Clive Staples Lewis. What she discovers is not the familiar, idealized image of the author, but a more interesting and ambiguous truth: Lewis’s tragic and troubled childhood, his unconventional love life, and his intense but ultimately doomed friendship with J.R.R. Tolkien.  Finally reclaiming Narnia “for the rest of us,” Miller casts the Chronicles as a profoundly literary creation, and the portal to a life-long adventure in books, art, and the imagination.’

 

97815901764673. Turtle Diary by Russell Hoban
‘Life in a city can be atomizing, isolating. And it certainly is for William G. and Neaera H., the strangers at the center of Russell Hoban’s surprisingly heartwarming novel Turtle Diary. William, a clerk at a used-book store, lives in a rooming house after a divorce that has left him without home or family. Neaera is a successful writer of children’s books, who, in her own estimation, “looks like the sort of spinster who doesn’t keep cats and is not a vegetarian. Looks…like a man’s woman who hasn’t got a man.” Entirely unknown to each other, they are both drawn to the turtle tank at the London zoo with “minds full of turtle thoughts,” wondering how the turtles might be freed. And then comes the day when Neaera walks into William’s bookstore, and together they form an unlikely partnership to make what seemed a crazy dream become a reality.’

 

4. Disturbances in the Field by Lynne Sharon Schwarz
‘As powerful now as when first published in 1983, Lynne Sharon Schwartz’s third novel established her as one of her generation’s most assured writers. In this long-awaited reissue, readers can again warm to this acutely absorbing story. According to Lydia Rowe’s friend George, a philosophizing psychotherapist, a “disturbance in the field” is anything that keeps us from realizing our needs. In the field of daily experiences, anything can stand in the way of our fulfillment, he explains—an interrupting phone call, an unanswered cry. But over time we adjust and new needs arise. But what if there’s a disturbance you can’t get past? In this look at a girl’s, then a wife and mother’s, coming of age, Schwartz explores the questions faced by all whose visions of a harmonious existence are jolted into disarray. The result is a novel of captivating realism and lasting grace.’

 

5. England, Their England by A.G. Macdonell 9781781550007
‘Set in 1920s England, this book chronicles the life of a young man forced to live among the English, rather than in his native Scotland. What follows is a series of interesting and satirical observations about English life, including fox hunting, domestic politics, and most famously, village cricket.  This classic book remains a hilarious look into everyday British life in the interwar years.’

 

6. Vanishing Point by David Markson
‘In the literary world, there is little that can match the excitement of opening a new book by David Markson. From Wittgenstein’s Mistress to Reader’s Block to Springer’s Progress to This Is Not a Novel, he has delighted and amazed readers for decades. And now comes his latest masterwork, Vanishing Point, wherein an elderly writer (identified only as “Author”) sets out to transform shoeboxes crammed with notecards into a novel — and in so doing will dazzle us with an astonishing parade of revelations about the trials and calamities and absurdities and often even tragedies of the creative life — all the while trying his best (he says) to keep himself out of the tale. Naturally he will fail to do the latter, frequently managing to stand aside and yet remaining undeniably central throughout — until he is swept inevitably into the narrative’s startling and shattering climax. A novel of death and laughter both — and of extraordinary intellectual richness.’

 

97806700258247. One for the Books by Joe Queenan
‘Joe Queenan became a voracious  reader as a means of escape from a joyless childhood in a Philadelphia housing project. In the years since then he has dedicated himself to an assortment of  idiosyncratic reading challenges: spending a year reading only short books, spending a year reading books he always suspected he would hate, spending a year reading books he picked with his eyes closed.   In One for the Books, Queenan tries to come to terms with his own eccentric reading style—how many more books will he have time to read in his lifetime? Why does he refuse to read books hailed  by reviewers as “astonishing”? Why does he refuse to lend out books? Will he ever buy an e-book? Why does he habitually read thirty to forty books simultaneously? Why are there so many people to whom the above questions do not even matter—and what do they read? Acerbically funny yet passionate and oddly affectionate, One for the Books is a reading experience that true book lovers will find unforgettable.’

 

8. Esther Waters by George Moore
Esther Waters (1894) was one of the first English novels to defeat Victorian moral censorship. George Moore’s story of a mother’s fight for the life of her illegitimate son won Mr Gladstone’s approval and was admitted, unaltered, into those bastions of Victorian conformity, the circulating libraries.  Esther Waters is forced to leave home and become a servant in a well-to-do household. Seduced in a moment of weakness she has to leave her position and the novel charts her poignant story of poverty and hardship: first the lying-in hospital, then service as a wet-nurse, and even the workhouse as she struggles to look after her child. Adapting the French literary practices of sexual frankness and social exploration to the British climate, Moore produced his masterpiece in Esther Waters. A landmark in publishing history, it is also one of the finest of naturalistic novels.’

 

9. Jenny and the Cat Club by Esther Averill
‘In Greenwich Village an orphaned black cat lives happily with her master, a sea captain. Still, the gentle Jenny Linsky would like nothing more than to join the local Cat Club, whose members include Madame Butterfly, an elegant Persian, the high-stepping Macaroni, and stately, plump Mr. President. But can she overcome her fears and prove that she, too, has a special gift? Join Jenny and her friends, including fearless Pickles the Fire Cat, on their spirited downtown adventures and discover why The Atlantic Monthly called Jenny “a personality ranking not far below such giants as Peter Rabbit.”‘

 

10. Sheppard Lee, Written by Himself by Robert Montgomery Bird 902287
‘Sheppard Lee, Written By Himself is a work of dark satire from the early years of the American Republic. Published as an autobiography and praised by Edgar Allan Poe, this is the story of a young idler who goes in search of buried treasure and finds instead the power to transfer his soul into other men’s bodies. What follows is one increasingly practiced body snatcher’s picaresque journey through early American pursuits of happiness, as each new form Sheppard Lee assumes disappoints him anew while making him want more and more. When Lee’s metempsychosis draws him into the marriage market, the money market, and the slave market, Bird’s fable of American upward mobility takes a more sinister turn. Lee learns that everything in America, even virtue and vice, are interchangeable; everything is an object and has its price.’

 

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