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Mungo's Book Reviews

by Mungo

It has come to my attention that there are alot of cat books out there flooding the literary marketplace. I, being a literally a cat, thought you might like if I, a cat, sorted them out for you humans.

Some cat books are cute, and some cat books are cuter, but there are no cat books cuter than cats. That said, I think that if you read cat books, you ought to go out and get yourself a cat. If you read cat books and do not live with a cat I think there may be something wrong with you. Perhaps you are allergic. In that case, god bless you. If you read cat books and do not have a cat and are not allergic I think you may be in need of therapy.

Some cat books are asserted to be written by cats. I personally know of only one cat book written by a cat, and that's The Lives and Times of Archy and Mehitabel, which my mother tells me was actually written by a human pretending to be a cockroach. I thought that was Die Metamorphosis, but what do I know, I read it in german, a language I don't fully understand. Archy and Mehitabel is about a cat's crazee life, which she recounts to a roach who types it all up in a sort of verse libre style. It was discovered by Don Marquis, and then illustrated by George Herriman, whom some of you know as the Krazy Kat kartoonist. I think this book kicks ass, it's sad without being sentimental or maudlin, and Mehitabel seems like a standup gal, even though she accidentally let her kittens drown. Hey, it happens. Plus, there's pictures, and I like a picture book, and there's alot of white space for me to rest my eyes, since it's written in verse libre. This book is very old, one of the ancient cat tomes, from a time called the early 20th century, and I was quite pleased to find out that my mom had this book.

One cat book alleged to be written by a cat is the Autobiography of Foudini M. Cat by Susan Fromberg Shaeffer. If it's Foudini's autobiography, then who is Susan? I asked my mom, and she told me it was one big lie, that Susan maybe knew a lot about cats and wrote this book, or maybe she felt possessed by a cat, but the cat didn't really write the book. This made me feel really cheated. As cat book go, it's one of the better ones, but that's not saying much. That's like saying William Gibson is a good sci-fi writer, you know? Some of it seemed very true and some of it was bizarre. Like the scene with Freud's cat. And there's a shock surprise ending that left me shaking my head incredulously. "How'd that happen?" I yelled at my mom, "He acted like a neuter!" At this point I had to throw the book across the room. Is mystery, to paraphrase Flaming Carrot .

But why dwell on the bad? There are some really good cat books out there. Like William Burroughs' The Cat Inside. My mom has other Burroughs' books, but they're not like this one. The other ones are like his cats rummaged through his pages and he put them back wrong. This one is about his cats and it makes sense. At least it does to a cat. My mom told me a story once, about a time she did what humans call a psychedelic drug, and when she looked at her the cat, the very famous Ed. the Cat, he was looking at her like he knew, She also had this idea that this is what cats see like all the time, like she did on mushrooms. I don't think she's too far off on that one. That's sort of what this book is like: one big drug trip thru Wm. Burroughs' life with cats. I would have never thought Burroughs to be a cat person, but there ya go. He was. Sort of softens the fact that he killed his wife.

Then there's the ultra-awesome The Book of Jones by Ralph Steadman. Some of you know Ralph Steadman as the guy who drew all the covers to the Hunter S. Thompson books. He's K-0-0-1. This is a small book with pictures on every page, all drawn in the fabulous Steadman style: a few lines and boom! there's a cat. Steadman built up this intense relationship with Jones while "on assignment" in Colorado, and his life would never be the same again. This is a cat book that is emotional without being sentimental. It's a very manly cat book.

Felidae is a mystery by German writer Akif Pirincci. This is not cutesy like other mystery books featuring cats. Cats are getting killed and Francis is out to find out who the hell is doing it. On his journey, he meets old cats and finds out about diabolical cat experimentation. Some might call this book Kafka-esque. My favorite part, beside the kick-ass plot, was the fact that the humans are called "can openers"! Now I call my mom the can opener. She says that's better than "waitress." Unfortunately, this book is out of print, so scan your used bookstores for this title. You won't be disappointed, even if you don't really like mysteries.

There is also the genre of heartwarming cat books, of which Cat Caught My Heart (Michael Capuzzo and Teresa Banik Capuzzo) is one of the newer entries. Just a collection of cat stories divided up into chapters with headings like Healing and Faith and Universal Love. I guess this falls under the category of inspirational, but all I was inspired to do was sleep, which I do anyway, 20 out of 24 hours a day. My mom doubted the veracity of some of the stories, as a few of them read like folklorish Friend of a Friend tales.

We felt we needed to include at least one of the popular cat-written mystery books, so we chose the new Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown Murder on the Prowl. We thought that would be the most subversive, since all we knew about Rita Mae was Rubyfruit Jungle, a book about growing up lesbian. But it's just like every other "popular" book we've ever looked at. I was kind of disappointed. I figured if anyone could write an interesting murder mystery featuring a cat, it would be america's most famous literary lesbian. I guess these sort of titles just don't appeal to me. The characters are interesting and the dialog is good, and Ms. Brown sure loves her human heroine, Harry, but it doesn't grab me as a cat, you know? As my silly mom likes to say "I couldn't ID." Maybe if Dorothy Allison wrote a cat mystery we'd like it better...

The Lives and Times of Archy and Mehitibel by Don Marquis, Illustrations by George Herriman. 477 pages. Doubleday.
The Cat Inside By William Burroughs, 94 pages, 1992, Viking.
The Book of Jones by Ralph Steadman, 76 pages, 1997, Harcourt Brace.
Felidae by Akif Pirincci, 1993 Villard Books, out of print.
The Autobiography of Foudini M. Cat by Susan Fromberg Shaeffer, 1997, Knopf
Cat Caught My Heart by Michael Capuzzo and Teresa Banik Capuzzo. 288 pages, 1998, Bantam
Murder on the Prowl by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown, 368 pages, 1998, Bantam

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