When it comes to the long-standing, unrelenting debate club topic – cats vs. cats. dogs – it is difficult to avoid the stereotypes. You know them: cats are unfathomable, independent, chaotic; while dogs are loyal, unpretentious, sociable. If dogs are man’s best friend, then cats are his moody, fleeting roommate. I’m not a scientist, but I’ve always thought that the most famous cat and dog related experiments say something significant about their nature. Ask yourself: Maybe Pavlov in a pinch has used a cat – or Schrodinger a dog? Of course not. Dogs lack the metaphysical panache needed to be dead and alive at the same time. Cats will drool when you give them catnip, of course, but they might not care if you ring a bell.
Two sleek new books (that would be great gifts) do not do much to combat the clichés, but they confirm them in distracting ways. Cats: An anthology (editor Suzy Robinson, with an introduction by Margaret Atwood; Notting Hill Editions, 172 pages), the latest post in a series published by Notting Hill Editions, collects excerpts from essays, poetry and fiction by authors ranging from a 9th century Irish monk to well-known names such as Tove Jansson, Ernest Hemingway, Lewis Carroll, Mary Gaitskill, Alice Walker and the Brothers Grimm. In an introduction, The cat’s eye Author Margaret Atwood talks about her lifelong love of cats and explains why writers have always had something to do with cats: “They interview well, project a mysterious aura while giving away absolutely nothing.”
That cat ownership (if it is not an oxymoron) can sometimes be an exercise in self-whipping, is alluded to by author and illustrator Edward Gorey, who owned as many as seven cats at a time: “I love them dearly, but I can sometimes. feel that they are very much an annoyance and I spend most of my time shouting at them not to do things – not to do anything good. ” Cats’ inherent narcissism is another pervasive line.Doris Lessing describes one of her felines as “arrogantly self-conscious as a beautiful girl who has no qualities other than her beauty: body and face always posed according to an internal monitor … the sulking hostile eyes always on guard for admiration, “while Caitlin Moran declares her own cat” Beautiful – but simple. It’s like living with a beautiful but duh Hollywood star. ”
Cats especially not pussyfoot, if you will, around the mixed, even polarized emotions, cats can evoke in humans. “I love them, and I hate them, these charming and treacherous animals,” wrote French novelist Guy de Maupassant, who relates that he encountered a cat howling in the violence of death: “I could have taken a spade and cut the collar, I could have gone to find a servant or told my father. No, I did not move, and with my heart pounding I saw him die with a trembling and cruel joy. It was a cat! If it had been a dog, I would have cut the copper wire with my teeth instead of letting it suffer for a second more. ” At Goodreads, Cats has received criticism from cat lovers protesting the recording of the Maupassant play, and against another satirical one from 1922 by American journalist Ring Lardner, who refers to shooting cats to make cat fur coats. When the cat furrier in the latter is asked if the coats would not be a little to the small side, he replies, “Small coats are the rage … and I have personally seen some of the best dressed women in New York stroll up and down 10th Avenue. during the last cold snap with cat-skin clothing no larger than a guest towel. “
IN Mog The Cat and the Mysteries of Animal Subjectivity (do not let the dry title fool you), Naomi Fry explains how Judith Kerr in her much-loved series of picture books plays to a misplaced anthropomorphism: Humans continue to credit the stories’ indifferent, titular cats with heroic actions she has. performed only by chance. That idea came to mind when I read one of the book’s shorter entries: an inscription from 1940 at a bombed-out London church praising its resident cat for her wartime. “She sat all that horrible night with bombings and fire, guarding her little kitten. She remained calm and steadfast, waiting for help.” (Did she do that though?)
Like all the installments in Letters of Note series, Dogs (compiled by Shaun Usher, McClelland & Stewart, 144 pages) uses a letter lens to explore its subject. The prevailing cheeky tone is set by the book’s opener, a wonderfully sarcastic note from 1951 from author EB White to the American Humane Society, who had accused him of not paying his dog tax and thus “housing” an unlicensed dog (“If by” housing “‘you mean to get up two or three times every night to pull Minnie’s blanket, I house a dog okay”). A few pages later, a letter from Roald Dahl to his mother from 1944 gives a tempting glimpse of books that have not yet been written. Dahl is cautious about his work spying for Britain’s MI6 in Washington, but spills lots of ink and complains about Winston, a bulldog whose non-stop farts have put him in some awkward social positions. In 1992, US President George HW Bush, startled by his dog Rangers’ fast ballooning weight, wrote an all-caps bulletin to ask his staff not to keep slipping Ranger biscuits.
If these two books are any indication, dog owners have more confidence to speak on behalf of their pets than cat owners. (Even the fantasy writer Ursula Le Guin, one of the few who tried this Cats, does not quite manage it). Witness Charlotte Bronte’s curator writing to her in the voice of her spaniel, Flossy, in a passive-aggressive attempt to dissuade her from accepting a proposal. Or Bob Hope, writing to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Scottish Terrier in the form of a dog named Fido to condole on the death of his master.
Although cats and dogs tend to suck up the bulk of the oxygen, the animal world is full of dignified characters, as Susan Orlean satisfactorily demonstrates in her latest collection of essays, About Animals (Simon & Schuster, 409 pages). “I’ve always been a little animal-like,” says The New Yorker staff author and author of many books, including one about dog actor Rin Tin Tin, about himself. Orlean grew up in Ohio but has had some of her most memorable animal interactions in New York – the best example being with an African lion that her future husband arranged to have brought into her apartment to surprise her on Valentine’s Day. “The lion ate two raw chickens, which we served to him in a salad bowl, and then he let me stroke his back, which radiated a coiled, heated energy I have never felt before or since.”
Whether or not they are in-depth journalism (including a long, older piece about the efforts to free Keiko, the orcas star from the 1990s movie Free Willy), or more informative (covering everything from rabbit-borne viruses to donkeys in Fez, Morocco) or a portrait (such as the one about Biff, a boxer with an award ceremony), all essays showcase Orleans’ trademark, attentive wit and indelible sentences (pandas are “the classic mystery wrapped in a riddle, delivered in the most endearing package in the world.”) And we learn things, too. One takeaway is that animals can get as stuck in their ways as humans. Bulls, when mated, will refuse to change sides. Mail pigeons can not be rehoused – if you sell your house, the pigeons must follow.
The book’s liveliest posts describe Orleans’ adventures in animal husbandry on her hobby farm in upstate New York, a place where people “discuss agricultural tax deductions with the kind of zeal and wonder that Manhattanites discuss rent-controlled apartments with” (though Orlean sounds a bit like those Manhattanites when she calls his beloved turkeys “an impulse purchase”). It is an idyll that occasionally succumbs to some harsh realities. Raccoons enter the poultry farm and stage a massacre. Several bouts of tick-borne Lyme disease in the family factor, perhaps, in Orleans’ decision to reevaluate her feelings about deer hunting on the property. And what to do with a “sociopathic” rooster named Laura? It is, one might say, a dog-eating dog world.
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