A Cat by Leonard Michaels (Tin House Books, $18.95, 128 pages); illustrated by Francis Lerner, introduction by Sigrid Nunez
“A cat is content to be a cat.”
A Cat is a nicely illustrated re-release of a book originally published in 1999. The book was written by the late Leonard Michaels, who taught as a Professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley. The line drawings for the original and this edition were by Francis Lerner, and they well represent the relaxed yet athletic nature of cats.
A Cat is both an examination of and a tribute to felines. Each page contains a parable-like statement about the nature of cats, although Michaels noted that we can never truly capture the essence of these creatures: “A cat reminds us that much in this world remains unknown.”
Michaels certainly loved cats: “Looking at a cat, like looking at clouds or stars or the ocean, makes it difficult to believe there is nothing miraculous in the world.” Cats remain in the present moment, making the most of life. In Michaels’s words, “For a cat just to live is splendid.” And cats show us that sometimes it is best to get out of one’s mind: “To be quick as a cat you must not think.”
Cats live on their well developed instincts, “However a cat looks or behaves, it is what it is, a small and intensely serious being, a cat.”
Well recommended for anyone who is willingly owned by a cat.
A review copy was received from the publisher. This new edition of A Cat was released on November 13, 2018. (Sasha the cat decided this was a great book to sit on top of.)
Wild Cats of the World by Luke Hunter, Illustrated by Priscilla Barrett (Bloomsbury, $40.00, 240 pages)
Wild Cats of the World is a coffee table sized book that at first glance looks like it would be the perfect gift for any feline lover. The book examines 38 species of small and big cats, augmented with beautiful photos and sketches. It also imparts interesting information, like the fact that female cats are actually more efficient hunters than males – since they don’t stalk things they can’t kill, and that wildcats can live a full 19 years in captivity. It’s also repeatedly stated that wildcats can and do interbreed with domestic cats.
Unfortunately, this book has several weaknesses. Hunter is far too concerned with what each type of cat kills and eats; there are too many photos of cats with their prey – which deems it unsuitable to be kept around children; and the book over-emphasizes the issue of extinction of species. What could have been a joyful celebration of the world’s most successful mammal – one that exists in both large and small forms – becomes a depressing, dragged-out, textbook-like read.
There’s not enough attention paid to the 43 breeds of domestic cats, which are far from extinct with 500 million of them serving as beloved pets, and an additional 500 million living as feral creatures. (500 million feral versions of Felis catus/Felis silvestris definitely equals a very successful type of wild cat!) And the high-priced book is poorly edited (“[a] survey must… continue for a long enough to sample…”).
Overall, a miss instead of a hit.
A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on October 13, 2015.
Note: There’s another book titled Wild Cats of the World, authored by Mel Sunquist and Fiona Sunquist (Chicago University Press).
Old Faithful: Dogs of a Certain Age by Pete Thorne (Harper Design, $19.99, 144 pages)
Missy isn’t good with math and has no idea of what “senior” means, so she still often behaves like a puppy, running and playing, which makes us and her, happy, and even though playtime isn’t as long as it once was, she’s still up for it every day.
The picture that accompanies this text shows a sweet fifteen and a half-year-old miniature poodle with large bright eyes and a gray muzzle. What’s not to love? Puppies are cute and wiggly but if you want a real buddy, go for one with wisdom and character written across its face. Missy loves everyone, even cats.
Pete Thorne, a professional photographer, became fascinated with older doggies. His online post featuring one at his grandma’s birthday party touched many folks. Seventy-five of the many biographies sent to Thorne have been gathered into an elegant, coffee table-style book. His full-page headshots taken while meeting with the owners and small versions placed next to the biographies fill the book.
I doubt you will leave Old Faithful sitting on a table or shelf. The furry face on the cover seems to be ready to bark. “Open the book and see what we’re all about.” Unlike many elegant books featuring photos accompanied by small blurbs of explanation, this one is filled with heartfelt joy and wonder. I dare you to resist running to the nearest shelter to adopt a dog of a certain age! (And let’s hope that Thorne proceeds to put together a similar book about cats of a certain age. Meow.)
A review copy was provided by the publisher.
A review of Masters of Their Universe: Business (and Life) Secrets Taught by Four-Legged Professors by Robert B. Haas.
Hero: The Paintings of Robert Bissell (Pomegranate, $65.00, 140 pages)
“Mystical” and “engaging” and “riveting” are words that only begin to describe the spectacular bear painting gracing the cover of Hero. This is obviously a lush coffee table book. More than that, it is a journey into the world of painter Robert Bissell. Bissell is a master at photorealism with a marvelous twist. Rather than slavishly reproducing the likenesses of creatures in the wild, he grants his subjects an intimate aura.
The bears and rabbits (his favorites) have startling anthropomorphic qualities in their eyes, gestures and positioning. These creatures are caught in Zen-like moments. Bissell has provided disarmingly open statements about his works and their inspiration in the paragraphs that accompany most of the paintings reproduced on the pages of this big impressive, high-quality book.
Unlike many of the books of this genre that include explanatory historic notes, the text in Hero serves to draw the reader in and add depth to the paintings. The reading experience is captivating, so much so that the many pages are clearly not meant to be flipped through; rather, they must be savored and revisited to grasp the full meaning of Bissell’s work.
Mr. Bissell, who currently lives in Oregon, was born in the United Kingdom. He was a professional photographer prior to committing to being a painter. The composition of his paintings is impeccable and his photographer’s eye flawlessly translates a mix of fantasy and reality into pictures that hold the viewer’s attention.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.
Cat Telling Tales: A Joe Grey Mystery by Shirley Rousseau Murphy (William Morrow, $19.99, 384 pages)
Just in time for the holidays, this Joe Grey mystery dishes up a warm serving of human kindness. Of course there’s plenty of evil and mayhem for the team of kitties and their humans to get their teeth into. There are human victims in the mix, old and young, dead and alive. (Please see the prior review of Cat Coming Home on this site for background on the story line. The review, “Dead Man’s Curve”, was posted on November 17, 2010.)
As with prior books in this series, Cat Telling Tales provides an opportunity to champion the victims of crime. Rather than a specific victim, in this tale the focus is on the pets that have been dumped by folks made homeless by the economic meltdown in recent years. Author Murphy provides ample evidence of how pets are abandoned and what can be done to put their lives back together. She champions the townsfolk who take the time and make the effort to gather the resources to give the abandoned pets a fresh start. Readers who love cats, and dogs for that matter, can use the ideas presented for fundraisers in their own communities or join their local organizations that are the counterparts to ones referenced in the book. (Please see the links and contact information below for the organizations supported by this site.)
Not all the victims in this tale were guiltless; however, in the hierarchy of crime murder takes the top spot. The body count adds up to three this time around. Joe Grey, Dulcie and Kit are joined by Misto who was introduced in the aforementioned book as the older yellow tom cat. As is her style, Ms. Murphy enriches her cast with yet another newcomer. Yes, he’s fascinating and he does catch Kit’s attention. Some things don’t change.
A review copy was provided by the publisher. Cat Telling Tales was released on November 22, 2011.
Happy Tails Pet Sanctuary – Sacramento, CA
http://www.happytails.org/ E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Telephone: (916) 556-1155
Sacramento SPCA – Sacramento County
http://www.sspca.org/ Telephone: (916) 383-7387
A review of Cat Telling Tales: A Joe Grey Mystery by Shirley Rousseau Murphy.