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).