The Cats’ New Toy & Three Literary Links


“Books are fine,” the cat said before the electronic mouse came to stay.

The cats have everything.

A pink 2016 calendar with a ribbon bookmark, a copy of a Beryl Bainbridge novel,  and their own personal  couch with a furry slipcover!

What more can they want?

While my husband was away on a business trip, I became their cat. They insisted on “Modern Family” reruns from 6-6:30, a lovely dinner of Whiskas, and then requested Shawn Colvin.  They prefer “Sunny Came Home” and “Window to the World!” to alternative rock.  Who knew?

Okay, we were fine.  I was a little tired after they figured out how to open the bedroom door, but then I barricaded the door.  I was in charge!

And then…

A friend brought a gift for them.  It is an electronic mouse, attached to a piece of yarn on a stick.  When you swing the stick, it chirps and its eyes blaze electronically.  I’m scared to death of it!

The cats want to see it move all day long!

Reading?  No way, Mom.

Play with the mouse! they say.

Cats with new electronic mouse!

Cats with new electronic mouse!

I’m not sure I approve of electronic toys for cats.  Is this how my mother felt about Chatty Cathy, the talking doll?  I pulled the ring over and over so she would chat:    “I love you,” “Can I have a cookie, “Take me with you” all day long!

And the mouse?  Chirp, chirp, chirp!

Moby on coffee table with mouse


Only the white cat is truly enthusiastic.  The others are slightly apprehensive.  They just like to watch the white cat play with it.

I plan to reinstitute kitty soccer this weekend.  I’m sure the plastic balls with bells in them are somewhere…


1 I enjoyed D. J. Taylor’s article in The Independent, “How the Books We Read Shape Our Lives.” He discusses the importance of the books we  read as children and muses on how our tastes develop.

…the sociological questions that lie behind what might be called the origins of the literary sensibility are a great deal less easy to answer. How do people learn to read? How do they fashion their own individual tastes? How do they establish why they prefer one type of book to another type? Where do they acquire the information that enables them to make these selections, and, having acquired it, what do they do with it? After all, there are no hard-and-fast rules about aesthetic choice and how it operates: it was Anthony Powell who, presented by an admirer of his novel sequence A Dance to the Music of Time with an ornamental clock on which the names of Poussin and Proust had been engraved, truly remarked that books “have odd effects on different people”.

2 In The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani reviews Tom Holland’s Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar, a fascinating history I immensely enjoyed and do plan to write about eventually. She writes,

Mr. Holland, the author of “Rubicon,” about the last years of the Roman republic, writes with great authority and relish. His book is less analytic and less panoramic than “SPQR,” Mary Beard’s excellent recent history of ancient Rome. By confining his study largely to the Julio-Claudians (as the dynasty of Augustus is conventionally known), Mr. Holland gets to tell the story of Rome through a series of portraits of some of its most notorious emperors, immortalized in seminal works by Tacitus and Suetonius as larger-than-life autocrats and monsters.

3 In The Weekly Standard, Joseph Bottum writes about Michael Dirda’s new book, Browsings.

… Michael Dirda is a reader, down at the root of his being. A man who gained his scholarly knowledge and critical sensibility from reading whatever came to hand as he pawed through the dusty shelves of used bookstores. Writing—well, yes: If you’re going to keep from starving as a reader, you’ve got to find a bookish job, and writing is one of the possibilities, especially writing book reviews. He is, really, only what he claims for himself: Bookman, plain and simple. “An appreciator,” he adds, “a cheerleader for the old, the neglected, the marginalized, and the forgotten. On sunny days I may call myself a literary journalist.”

Enjoy the links!

The Cat Collection, the British Library, & Wearing a Cat Sweatshirt in London

taintor crazy cat lady 36639_catladyI love cats.  I  am a crazy cat lady.  I have lived with cats for decades:  Chloe the wild Siamese, Grendel the laid-back black-and-white,  Miss Beethoven the explorer…the list goes on.  As a cat lady, I open cans of tuna, chat to them, and ensure the furniture is “cat-proof.”  I arrange tables and chairs where they can jump up and look out the window. I let them play in paper sacks.

Cats have distinctive  personalities.  Chloe was so wild she playfully batted my pens to stop me writing, ran up the curtains and hung there, and also once incredibly clawed her way across a fiberglass ceiling.  Miss Beethoven loved to explore bizarre unknown crawl spaces under the sink.  How many hours did we spend calling, “Miss Beethoven! Miss B!”  And then she would pop back out, and it turned out we needn’t have worried.

People give you cat stuff if you are a cat lady.  I have received many, many kitschy cat figurines, cat mugs, cat sweatshirts, a cat charm bracelet, and a cat fire screen.  Most of the cat collection is in the basement, but I do drink from cat mugs and like my wooden cat figures (which are seldom upright, because the cats like to knock them over).


You can’t have too many cat sweatshirts to wear in your freezing cold house in winter.  (Thanks, Mom!)

But a cat sweatshirt isn’t quite the thing in London.  It is like going out in your pajamas.

I’m pretty sure everybody at the British Library wore black the day I wore my cat sweatshirt. While I huddled at a table on the piazza  rereading Jane Eyre after seeing Charlotte Bronte’s “fair copy” in a glass case,  researchers indoors sat at tables in the halls staring at their computers.  What research, I wondered, could get them out of the hall and into the fantastic Reading Rooms?

Anyone can apply for a reader’s pass, though not everyone gets one.   I couldn’t think of any research I had to do.  If I wore my cat sweatshirt to apply for a reader’s pass,  I would probably have said,  “I am very interested in your, er, material on…cats.”

Cats, Kat?  Don’t you mean…Katherine?

Katherine Somebody…

Looking up Katherine at the British Library, I came up with Katherine by Anya Seton (a historical novel); “Katherine,” words and music by Osborne, Stuart James; or, this sounds promising, Katherine, notes from available only in our Reading Rooms.  But I went to the website and it just isn’t me.

My subject?  Oh, yeah, I do remember.  Classics…I taught it… .and to tell the truth I reread Book IV of The Aeneid in Latin recently.

How about a paper on Aeneas’s bad luck with women, or, more appropriately phrased:  “Aeneas and Women:  Relationships with Queens, Princesses, and Goddesses”? His mother is Venus, the goddess of love; but Juno, the queen of the gods, hates him.  He is unlucky with women:  he lost his first wife, Creusa, in the smoky chaos while escaping from burning Troy. Fortunately her ghost appeared and said it was all good.  Years later, he drove his lover Dido, the queen of Carthage, to suicide, and later in Italy, the middle-aged Queen Amata stirred up a war to prevent his marrying her daughter Lavinia.    Aeneas wasn’t a misogynist, but women had reason to hate him.  Was he a good husband to Lavinia?  One must read Ursula K. Le Guin’s Lavinia to find out.

Nice try, Kat, but this isn’t a British Library kind of thing, is it? They do have fragments of an illuminated manuscript of The Aeneid, but that won’t help.  You can do this at home.  You’d better go back to cats if you want to do research at the British Library!

P.S. I left my cat sweatshirt in London to make room for 15 paperbacks in my suitcase.

The Best of Packaging: Cat in a Box!

IMG_3247I love it when books arrive in the mail.

But there is a LOT of packaging. From an environmental point of view, that is bad.  From a reader’s point of view, it is exasperating.  Some boxes and mailers can opened with ease, others require scissors and swearing.  And what to do with the packaging?  When DH is away, I smuggle it out to the recycling bin, à la I Love Lucy.  Why?  He thinks everything should now be on the e-reader.

But there are others who revel in book mail days.

The white cat comes first to investigate.

IMG_3249Why would anyone throw that box out?  Hm, I could use that.

IMG_3250 Fascinated by a book mailer, the black cat wonders if she can tear off the tab of paper at the top.

The white cat continues her investigation with the black cat’s help.IMG_3251Oh, lord, they say of the smushed cardboard mailer in the middle.  That is  completely useless!

IMG_3252A black kitten joins them and pushes her way into the box..  She doesn’t know there is a hierarchy.

IMG_3253They watch with amazement as she hops into the box.

IMG_3257She is just adorable!

IMG_3258The big black cat walks away while the black kitten sits in the box and the white cat goes back to the other packaging.

IMG_3259Then the white cat lies down to take a nap.

IMG_3260Nothing has been recycled yet!  How could it be?  This is the only mailer not in demand at the moment!  (By the way, this one was easy to open.)

The New Kitten!

Kittens at the ARL

Kittens at the ARL

We went to the Animal Rescue League.

There are hundreds of cats pictured at the ARL website.  Naturally, I wanted to adopt them all:  Snickers, Ruffles, Ariel, Jasmine, Emma, Marley, Squeaks, Bella, Minnie, Ginger, Tippie, and the rest.

My husband was not interested in the new cat, so he sat in the ARL lobby, working on some papers.  “You’re getting a kitten, right?” He thinks it is easier to introduce kittens into a multi-cat household.

I wandered around the cat condos, peering into rooms full of cats, in love with all the cats: an adult tuxedo who sat on the floor with his nose to the glass, a gray kitten, a white kitten, a calico cat, a tabby, an orange cat…

The “hugs rooms” were full, so they told me I had to wait.  Well, I know how it is.  Potential adopters play with the cats, “trying them out,” sometimes for 20 minutes or so.

Me,  I never met a cat I didn’t bond with, so I didn’t need a hugs room.  I barged into a room full of cats and kittens in cages.  The sign said STAFF ONLY, but frankly I am a bit aggressive from my days as a freelance writer.  I once sidled into a room where Joyce Carol Oates was giving a reading, ignoring the usher who said it was full.  (I even found a chair.)

Fortunately, a middle-aged woman understood I couldn’t sit around all day.  She started taking kittens out of the crates, and at one point I was holding two black kittens.

“Oh, they’re both so sweet.”

“Two for $125,” she begged me.

“Oh, I’d love to, but my husband…”

He loves our cats, but doesn’t want too many.

Anyway, we adopted Polly, a skinny, lively black kitten.  She came home, popped out of her box, and immediately made herself at home.  “Wow, am I glad to be out of that cage!” she seemed to say.  We tried to keep her isolated awhile, as they suggest you do, but after 12 hours she ran out and made herself a member of the cat family.

She has spent some time in every room in the house.  She emerged from the basement with cobwebs on her face.  “Did you go to the cobweb store?”  I crooned as I washed her.

“Polly went to the cobweb store!” we say frequently.

She is curled up purring on my chest right now, and is interested in jumping on the keyboard, so I’ll say good-bye.

Our new camera isn’t compatible with my computer, so I can’t post pictures, but I think you can picture her.

P.S.   The ARL has a lovely TLC foster program, to “provide an interim in-home environment for pets who need special attention or a break from the shelter environment.”

If I lived alone, I would be a cat woman.  A friend lives with nine coddled, well-cared-for cats in an enormous three-bedroom apartment furnished with Adirondack chairs with cushions.  The idea is they can’t rip up the furniture.

Another friend used to have what I call a “cat house.”  Yes, she lived in one house, and worked in another house, where she also kept homeless cats.  It was a very peaceful place.  No idea how many cats she had.  Twenty?  It was very tidy and neat, not one of those houses on the news.

Well, our house isn’t big enough for that, but we are definitely cat people.

Have a great weekend!

My Tortoiseshell

My cat, Helen

My cat, Helen

My cat Helen is very sweet, but like most tortoiseshells, she has a strong personality.

She would like to be the only cat.

She doesn’t like her “sisters.”

We live in a multi-cat household.

She purrs sitting next to me, but hisses at the cats.

Yet they are fascinated by her and she is their role model.

She is a survivalist who drinks water from the tap.  She leads the other cats into the bathtub.  It is necessary to wipe out the tub before we take a bath.

It is her bathtub, her couch, her books, her TV…

She also decides when it’s time to dine.

She stares and taps me with her paw.  She rushes meowing into the kitchen. Then she decides who can dine with her.

One  of our cats must dine in the living room, because she is not in Helen’s clique.

If Helen went to an addiction meeting (she loves humans too much), she would have to say she loves me too much.

Her favorite activity?  Staring at me while I watch TV.

She is essentially a Kat-aholic.

If we take her to the vet, she doesn’t bond with anyone.

“She doesn’t show much interest in us,” they say when she has to be there overnight.

And now poor Helen has a thyroid problem.  She has to take pills.

For a week I hid the pills in huge amounts of wet food.

Then she got smart.  She knows the pills are there.  Today I fed her three servings  and she pushed the pill aside repeatedly.

She is very contented because she now eats several times a day alone.  This is her dream.  Today she tried three flavors of pâté.  (And she still wouldn’t take the f—g pill.)

Both my husband and I tried tonight to give her the pill.

If she could write, her letter would say,

Dear Kat-Mom,

I won’t take my thyroid pills!  You are completely crazy to think that you can hide a pill inside a cat snack and I won’t find it.  I can see through tricks like that.

Luv ya, XXXXX, OOOO,


Anybody have any tips?

I take my pills, but she simply won’t take hers.



The “third gen” of cats:  three on a bed.

We have raised three generations of cats.  All cats are different; even the different generations are different.

Our first cat, Chloe, was a Siamese.  She ate yogurt, balanced on the bathtub when I bathed (and often fell in), didn’t think much of books (why wasn’t I moving around?), and hung by the claws from a fiberglass ceiling in a cheap apartment.  “That cat’s crazy,” said a friend who looked after her over Christmas vacation.

She was very adventurous.

One day I came home from class and found a group of people gathered in front of my apartment building looking up at my third-floor window. Chloe was on the windowsill, having knocked the screen out.  There was much calling of “Don’t jump!”   She was doing one of her acrobatic feats.  She was, of course, fine.  I called the landlord and had the screen fixed.

Chloe and her gen loved dairy products and eggs.

The second generation of cats (the ’90s) and the third generation (the zips and teens) do not eat dairy or eggs.  Could it be the food is more processed?

One hates to speculate.

The nicest cat we’ve ever had, Emma, was a black cat of the second gen.  She escorted the elderly cat, Boss, to her food bowl, because the other cats picked on her.  Emma liked being read to, I swear.  When one of the cats was sick, I read a couple of pages of  whatever I was reading and she listened avidly.  She loved to “read,” in that whenever I read lying down, she would lie on top of me with her head facing the book.

The cats in the pictures are third-gen cats. They are very sleepy. Hullo, is it time to eat?  Time to play?  Unless it’s time to eat or play, they would rather be sleeping.

The third gen on their couch.  (Yes, it's a mess, but it's theirs.)

The third gen on their very own cat couch.

I try to shut them out of the bedroom at night, because they wake me up.  They like me to stay up till 3 a.m. and play what I call “kitty music” on the CD player.   Crosby, Stills, and Nash, that kind of thing.  They’re not too “rock”ish:  they like a softer tone.  The only R.E.M. song they really like is “At Your Most Beautiful.”

“Come on, guys,” I say.  “Time to leave.”

They meow: Oh, Mom, really?; why not let us stay in?; one sticks to the bed with her claws; another loves to play hide-and-seek.

I am glad to be the beloved, but I don’t like to wake up to find them purring next to my head.

So our schedule goes like this.

Midnight:  We close the “gate” in the hall to keep the  cats out.  Only Miss A is allowed to sleep with us, because she also sleeps.

12:30:  I can’t sleep, so I get up to get a glass of water.  Another cat, Miss B, runs into the bedroom and adorably hides under the bed.

12:35:  I go back to sleep. Miss B gets bored under the bed and decides she would prefer to go out into the living room.  Much scratching at the door.

12:40:  Miss A decides she wants to go out the gates and be with the other cats. This is the influence of  her sister, Miss B.

1:05.  I have just fallen asleep when I hear scratching on the door.  Miss A wants to come back in.


6 a.m.  Meow!  I can’t remember if Miss A left in the middle of the night or not, but I think this is she howling.  No, Miss B is back!  She decided she would much prefer to be in here with Miss A.

6:30 a.m.  Miss A has sensed movement in the living room and is now fully awake.  Meow!  She needs to go out immediately.

8 a.m.  I wake up and Miss B is adorably sleeping.

I wonder:  Do I get any sleep at all?

That’s why I recommend Advil P.M.

Cute Cats! & Colette’s Cats and Cats of Paris

Cats Take Over Bedroom!

The house was quiet.

Husband:  business trip.  Friends:  banned (temporarily).

A few days of solitude.

You’re not alone if you have cats.

Thirty years ago I adopted my first cat, a free Siamese kitten.  Since then we’ve had tabbies, black cats, calicos, tortoiseshells, white cats…

All are from the “pound” or the APL.

Very laid-back!

Very laid-back!

This adorable cat came from the APL:  endless paper work and very expensive, but a sweetheart. Black cats are  always laid-back. She has a lovely temperament and likes everybody, though she was so wild as a kitten that she destroyed the living-room curtains and two computer cords. (Really.)  She likes UPS packages, birds, and The New Yorker (delicious!  she chews bits occasionally).  Her favorite person: me.  Her second favorite person:  the white cat below.

A hippie cat.

A hippie cat.

Like the black cat, the white cat is a hippie.  She looks as though she ought to wear a beret, doesn’t she?  When we brought her home she didn’t know how  to jump.  We worried that perhaps she had been in a cage too long.  Anyway, she learned from the others.  They learn EVERYTHING from each other.

Smart:  likes computers!

Smart: likes computers!

See this darling tabby?  She is the matriarch.  In our fax days, we would wake up in the night and hear her faxing in the study.  God only knows whom she was calling.  She is VERY smart.  Her hobby is  computers.

The beautiful tortoiseshell (below) was, according to the “pound,” picked up walking down the street with a Siamese and a calico. She has survival skills.  She drinks out of the tub.  The tap isn’t on:  she just licks it.  Now all the cats prefer to drink out of the tub or out of one of my cups.  Their cat bowl doesn’t interest them!

Our beautiful tortoiseshell!

Our beautiful tortoiseshell!

If your cats tell you it’s time to watch TV (they’re very fond of Master Chef), line up by the CD player to hear their favorite record (James Taylor’s “Fire and Ice”), bring their feather-toy-on-a-stick to you, and insist on their meal an hour early, you are probably a Cat Person.

Now how do the cats fit into a book blog?  Well, today I read Colette’s Creatures Great and Small, a collection of dialogues, vignettes, and essays about animals.   I have very much enjoyed the sections, “Cats” and “Cats in Paris.”

Here is a very short vignette,”The She-Cat in the Mirror”:

Is she prettier than I am?  I don’t think so.  Come to that, what cat is?  I should like to have a good look at this interloper when she has her back turned to me.  But eery time that happens, just at that very moment, at the exact same time as I…she turns round again and looks at me.”

What are your favorite cat books?