Dec 16, 2014

The Big New Yorker Book of Cats

forward by Anthony Lane

I don't read the New Yorker, and now I know why. It's obviously not for me. You'd think an animal lover who admires cats would enjoy this book, but no. It was really uneven. Certainly an eclectic collection of stories. There are stories about family pet cats, exotic wildcat crosses, and even a lady who hordes tigers (reminded me of some episodes from a tv program Fatal Attractions I used to watch). There are articles about cat fanciers and breeders, cat rescuers, cats who live in shops, cats that perform in tv commercials. One very dull piece was all about the work a man does in a cat welfare organization, dictated from his desk. Many others I either disliked or could not comprehend well enough to finish reading- the writing was just too sophisticated for my taste, I suppose. I simply was not interested in what the people in them were doing, or thinking, or talking about. And too often the cat was simply an article in the background, not a focus of the story at all. So out of all fifty-seven short stories and articles, only a dozen will I mention here:

"The Cats" by John Updike- when a man's elderly mother dies, he must figure out what to do with the forty stray cats she's been feeding in her backyard. (The end solution is to either let them starve, or ask a neighbor to shoot them all).

"Town of Cats" by Haruki Murakami- a boy and his father have difficulty understand and relating to each other, until the boy shares with his father a story from a book he read on the train- about a secret town inhabited solely by cats. This is one that kept me thinking- I'd like to revisit it to understand better.

"Lady of the Cats" by Wolcott Gibbs and E. F. Kinkead- article about a woman in the city who makes it her personal duty to catch stray cats. To the extent of overwhelming animal shelters and taking people to court over mistreatment of animals.

"A Dull, Ordinary, Normal Life in Manhattan" by Bernard Taper- amusing little story about a family that spends all day trying to find their missing cat, which they can hear crying. Finally the husband follows the cat through an open window into a neighbor's apartment, just as they arrive home from vacation.

"Tiger in the Snow" by Peter Matthiessen- I have a full-length book of the same title by this author. I've tried to read it once and found the writing style rather dry (which disappointed me, as I've often come across the author's name- he writes many books about wildlife fieldwork, a subject I usually enjoy). This excerpt was still dry reading, but at least I made it through. About a study done on tigers in Siberia.

"The Last Meow" by Burkhard Bilger- true story about a beloved pet cat that receives a kidney transplant. Part of it is the story of this one cat's treatment, the rest looks at how the veterinary scene is changing- how increasingly sophisticated medical procedures are available for pets and the owners that are willing to pay for them. Very interesting.

"The Lady and the Tigers" by Susan Orlean- about a woman in New Jersey who kept over a dozen tigers on her property in arguably deplorable conditions.

"Living Room Leopards" by Ariel Levy- article on the growing number of breeders crossing domestic cats with wild species in attempt to get something really exotic-looking. It discusses the Bengal, Savannah and in particular the toyger- how breeders are trying to make it look more like a tiger- not just the rounded ears and distinct stripes but down to the skeletal proportions that make it pace and move like a big cat.

"Edward the Conqueror" by Roald Dahl- it surprised me to see who wrote this story! Curious tale of a woman who becomes convinced that a cat which shows up in their yard is in fact, a reincarnation of Franz Liszt. This because of how the cat reacts when she plays certain piano pieces. Her husband thinks she's going crazy.

"Tooth and Claw" by T. Coraghessan Boyle- rather disturbing story about a guy who looses a bet in a bar, and winds up possessing an African serval. A girl from the bar goes home with him, convinces him to lock the wildcat in his bedroom and insists on helping care for it, but abandons him when things get increasingly dangerous and difficult to manage.

"Where I Live" by Amy Ozols- amusing narration by someone inviting another into their home, giving a little tour as it were of the small studio apartment and making increasing excuses and explanations as it becomes alarmingly apparent how many cats live there!

"Cat 'N' Mouse" by Steven Millhauser- this one reads like a script of old Tom and Jerry cartoons- complete with anvils falling, heads getting cut off, sticks of dynamite exploding in the hand (or paw, actually). But interspersed with the slapstick action are segments which narrate what the cat and mouse are thinking, respectively- one driven to catch the other, one certain to die if he ever fails- each wondering if they could ever put their differences aside and be friends- frustrated and bored beyond belief by the constant conflict they are in.

There is also a piece by Vicki Hearne, which was the final chapter of this book- and I had just as much difficulty reading it the second time around. The best part of the entire volume was the poetry, cover artwork and cartoons interspersed throughout. I really did like most of those! But not enough that I'd probably ever want to own this book.

Rating: 2/5        329 pages, 2013


  1. I think the reason I don't read the New Yorker (apart from the obvious, which is that I don't care for short fiction) is that it's too much responsibility! That thing comes out WEEKLY. A girl I used to live with subscribed to the New Yorker, and I always thought I would read it regularly, but it's just too much material. You get swamped so fast. I would like there to be a monthly version of the magazine where it's like, the best of the four weekly ones from this month! That would be much more manageable.

  2. Wow I had no idea it was published that frequently. Short stories aren't really my thing either, but once in a while I come across one I really like. I keep thinking about the one from this book about the woman who thought the cat was reincarnation of Franz Liszt!


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