Litterature 101 | Newberry

Litterature 101

The folks at abebooks have a fun feature on their website. It’s meant to help sell books, but even if you know that, it’s fun. They occasionally have experts prepare lists on “The Essential” and then pick out a genre and list forty or fifty books you MUST have read to say you know the subject area. Their latest is Political Thrillers, but they’ve done fantasy, dystopian fiction (a dystopia is the opposite of a utopia), baseball nonfiction, and so forth.

People love this, to judge by the comments, which often go on four or five times as long as the original article. They wail about the ridiculous selections, or cry out that their favorite has been left out, and it can go on for weeks.

I know I’m asking for trouble here, but I can’t recall, right offhand, whether they’ve even done cat books. We get cat books regularly at the Book Fair (besides which, I’m related to droves of cat people) so I know a little something about the genre. I don’t have room for fifty selections, either, but I can tell you that if you are a person who reads books about cats, you MUST own

THE SILENT MIAOW, by Paul Gallico. Paul Gallico wrote about cats fairly frequently, but this is his masterwork. It isn’t really ABOUT cats at all, when you get right down to it. It’s a care and training guide written by a cat to tell other cats how to handle their humans. It catches cats and humans perfectly, even down to the cat-hating editor who rushes the book into print to show catlovers who they’re being manipulated. Gallico tries to explain that cat people LIKE being manipulated by their cats, but of course gets nowhere.

THE CAT WHO CAME FOR CHRISTMAS, by Cleveland Amory. Once known for writing about TV and movie personalities, Cleveland Amory is remembered now mainly for his animal activism and his series of books about Polar Bear, the cat who adopted him in this book.

THE CAT MADE ME BUY IT! By Alice Muncaster. This is a collection of illustrations of how cats have been used in marketing products from replacement heels for shoes to jewelry. It led to a sequel, The Black Cat made Me Buy It! And, given the number of ads produced every year, is probably due for an update, as well as for a video supplement.

THE CAT WHO, by Lilian Jackson Braun. I wasn’t going to get involved with straight fiction, but to leave out this series of mysteries is like ignoring the eight hundred pound tiger in the room. I think she was kind of cheating to give her detective an unspellable name, and calling the cat detectives easy names (Koko and Yum Yum). For those who need more mystery cats, there are the Lockridges, whose mysteries were frequently solved by cats named Gin, Sherry, and Martini, the books by Sneaky Pie (and Rita Mae) Brown, the Gordons, whose cat was more of a James Bond type, immortalized by Disney as That darn Cat, and….

WORKING CATS, by Terry D. Gruber. And where do you start with books of cat photographs? Most Chicago cat collections, at least, seem to include this one, a study of cats who do things (to return to Lilian Jackson Braun.) Cats DO seem to be ideally suited for security work.

THE NEW YORKER BOOK OF CAT CARTOONS. My personal favorite is of the cat on the talk show, saying, “I know you’re thinking ‘Why another cat book?’” If you are interested in cat cartoons generally, there are plenty of other books available, but this is a good basic textbook to get you started.

THE CAT WHO WENT TO HEAVEN, by Elizabeth Coatsworth. Whether cats go to Heaven is a point of contention in more cultures than one. A person who had just opened a sixth can of cat food for her cat asked “Why would they NEED to?” Elizabeth Coatsworth tries to satisfy curiosity on this point. (We all know what curiosity does.)

There are thousands of others (we haven’t even mentioned Oliver Herford or Garrison Keillor) but this should get you thinking about the matter. And, yes, there are essential dog books, too. But that’s a whole nother blog.

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