Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Celebrate National Cat Day -- with Books!

My cat, Dewey, with some of his Friends of the Library sale selections.

Today, October 29, is apparently National Cat Day.  I feel like this is at least the third time this year that it's been "the" National Cat Day, but as a completely shameless cat lady, I welcome the incongruity if it means another day my social media feeds are flooded with pictures of obese felines in costumes.

I was thinking about the various cat-themed books I've loved over time and figured it might be fun to post about a few.  I am sure I'm overlooking some obvious ones, but these immediately jump to mind.

Kat Kong, by Dav Pilkey

I bought this book at a Scholastic Book Fair in the art room of Nathan Hale School when I was honestly too old for it already.  No matter -- look at that cover.  That's not even the best picture in this reimagining of King Kong set in Mousopolis.  This book, written by the man who would later go on to develop Captain Underpants, was smart and sly and everything you could ask for in a parody for children.  It also featured photos of a really fat cat attacking a model city, so there was that, too.

If I remember correctly, the cat used in the book was named Blueberry and he (?) had a little bio on the back cover.  I'd love to find my copy and revisit that.  I'm also going to keep telling myself that Blueberry is still living happily on a farm somewhere.  I love you, tubby.  Keep making the industrialized world your litter box.

The Cat Who... (series), Lilian Jackson Braun

I discovered these books when I was about 13 or 14, I believe in -- of all places -- Sam's Club (or whatever it was called then).  I fell in love with these lighthearted mysteries starring columnist James Qwilleran, his Siamese cats Koko and Yum-Yum, and the eccentric townspeople of the little town of Pick-Ax.  Even though the entire premise is ridiculous -- how is it that a rural Midwestern village seems to have the most murders in America? -- the mysteries were always fun to follow.  Most importantly, I loved that it was always the cats who oh-so-coincidentally led Qwilleran to the clues he needed to break the case.

Jackson Braun's books are, in my mind, basically the perfect "mind-emptying" read.  They're light and clean (except for all those bodies), they're engaging without being demanding, and the reader is in on the joke about the detective cats instead of the stories being ludicrously serious.  The later books (I'd say about 2000 - on) aren't as strong, probably because ghostwriters were taking over by that point, but I don't ever remember actively disliking one.  They're just plain fun.  Start with the first book, The Cat Who Could Read Backwards, and see what you've been missing.

Bad Cat: 244 Not-So-Pretty Kitties and Cats Gone Bad, by Jim Edgar

I waffled on whether to include this one, but I figured I should simply because I believe it set off a cultural phenomenon.  I first flipped through one of those little pocket-sized hardcover versions of this book while waiting for my green tea at a Barnes & Noble Starbucks when I was in college.  God, did this kill me.  It was the first time I'd ever seen an entire book of nothing but photos of animals to which an author had ascribed ridiculously mean, sassy, and/or grumpy personalities.  It wasn't a "reading" book so much as an irreverent coffee table collection, but it always stuck in my mind.

A decade later, we have entire on-line conversations in what we now call cat memes.  I really think Bad Cat is what kicked that off.  It got my generation thinking in that way -- remember that it was a bestseller -- and was more or less the model used by the original cat macros of the mid- to late 2000s.  So you, Bad Cat, you get to be on this list because without you, there is no Grumpy Cat.

I Could Pee on This: And Other Poems by Cats, by Francesco Marciuliano

The longer you're a reader (and not just someone who reads), the more you begin to feel connected to certain publishers.  I grew that way towards Chronicle Books over the years; I don't think I've ever been disappointed by a Chronicle book, or product in general.  So even though I wasn't totally sure what to make of I Could Pee on This during its initial advance marketing campaign, I got right in line when it came out because I knew I could trust their editors' judgment.  And I'm glad I did!  This has become one of my go-to gift books and recommendations for people who need a good laugh.

Here's what's so great about this book, though: for all of its jokes, the collection is actually quite well-written and even has some moments of surprising depth.  (There's a poem in the feline follow-up, I Knead My Mommy: And Other Poems by Kittens, involving a kitten looking for another cat who seems to have disappeared, and I admit it choked me up a tad.)  Yes, there's a lot of, well, pee-level humor, but Marciuliano is surprisingly good at going through the different phases of cat lives and relationships and giving readers a lot of very relatable moments.  If you have ever had a cat in your life, you'll find it in one of these poems.

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So there we have it.  Honorable mention to How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You from The Oatmeal comic website, though mostly just because I love "The Bobcats."  I also just recently checked Rita Mae Brown's Nine Lives to Die out from the library, thinking that maybe the Mrs. Murphy cat mystery series will be like reliving the Cat Who... experience, so perhaps that will be on my list of memorable cat books once I finish it.

Happy National Cat Day, readers!

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Update, October 30, 2014: I already knew Chronicle is the bestest, but then they went ahead and made this full-on cat lady post for National Cat Day AND shared a special poem written for the occasion by Marciuliano AND announced a literary cat photo contest?  I mean, come on, meow you're just reaching heights we can't see with a telescope, guys.

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