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Posts Tagged ‘cats’

Longtime bookconscious readers know I am a fan of New Hamsphire authors Sy Montgomery and Howard Mansfield. I’ve written about their work several times on the blog and in the Mindful Reader column. Recently my good friend and fellow book lover Juliana gifted me with The Good Good Pig: the Extraordinary Life of Christopher Hogwood. We each had piles of books in our arms in the checkout line of The Five Colleges Booksale and when I exclaimed over her finding Sy’s book, she let me buy it instead of buying it herself. If that’s not friendship I don’t know what is.

Anyway, I’ve been reading my own “to read” books instead of library books lately, partly because I bought a lot of books this spring, and partly because I was changing jobs, and thus libraries. Last week was kind of an unsettled one, with some stressful stuff happening (such as becoming a library director) at work and at home, so I wanted a book I knew would feed my soul, and given that, I knew I couldn’t go wrong with Sy!

The only problem with The Good Good Pig is that I want to move to Hancock, New Hampshire, and since Concord is the only place we’ve lived twice on purpose (we lived in Oklahoma twice, but only because the USMC sent us there both times) and The Computer Scientist says he is not moving any more boxes ever again, but instead will live here until he is the one being moved in a box (he has a morbid sense of humor), that’s not likely to happen. Really I just want to be Sy’s and Howard’s neighbor.

So, The Good Good Pig isn’t just about Christopher Hogwood, the runt piglet they adopted who lived to be fourteen and a valued member of their community. It’s about the many ways Christopher taught the people in his life all kinds of things — how to play, how to savor the sunlight and grass on a nice day, how to truly enjoy delicious foods, and simply, as one of Sy’s former neighbors explains, “how to love.” Sy notes that by living a long life, Christopher Hogwood showed everyone who knew him that “We need not accept the rules that our society or species, family or fate have written for us.”

This is not just a fascinating book about animals, peppered with interesting anecdotes about some of the many creatures Sy has loved, researched, communed with, written about, and felt an affinity towards, from pink dolphins to tarantulas and man eating tigers. It’s also a book about two people who fell in love with each other and the writing life and created for themselves a home and a community that fully embraced them and their work. And it’s a book about family in many forms — not only in the traditional sense of the people we come from and often find ourselves challenged by, but the family we make for ourselves, human and inter-species. Sy’s writing about her relationship with her mother is moving and inspiring — she is a model of radical acceptance even in the face of challenges, and the world would be a better place if more people were able to love their way through hurts the way Sy does.

The Good Good Pig  was just the book I hoped, soul filling, life affirming, smart, and thoughtful. We have so much to learn from animals, and although I can’t claim I am as connected to other creatures as Sy is (not many people are!) I am often impressed that my cats are so tuned into my feelings. For creatures who get a bad rap for being aloof, they can be remarkably supportive when I need it, especially the small grey tabby who will curl up against me or on me if she can sense I need her calming presence. As my Facebook friends know, she is also my zen master, running to the meditation cushion after dinner to remind me it’s time to sit and joining me as I meditate. So I totally understand how a pig could be “a big Buddha master” to his friends and neighbors.

I leave you with two peaceful cat pictures, because how could I not? They’re no 750 pound pig, but I think there are probably city ordinances against hog husbandry in Concord anyway.

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Nils Uddenberg is “a retired professor of medical psychology,” and when he was in his early 70’s, a cat made itself welcome in his garden shed. This little book is the story of how Uddenberg and his wife “have ‘come down with cat.'” Kitty, as they name her, is “a small, gray-brown speckled cat” with “large, yellow eyes.” Despite not wanting a pet, least of all a cat, Uddenberg notes, “With her determined approaches the cat had shown a measure of faith in us, which I found it difficult to be unmoved by.”

Sprinkled with natural history, psychology, literary cat references (T.S. Eliot, Doris Lessing, Jean Cocteau), tidbits about Sweden and Uddenberg’s interests (including travel to Africa and classical music), and illustrated with beautiful, whimsical drawing by Ana Gustavsson, The Old Man and the Cat: A Love Story is a lovely way to spend a couple of evenings. Like life with a cat, it’s cozy, warm, pleasant, entertaining, and edifying. Uddenberg’s clear admiration for the little creature is endearing, as is his honesty about his own reluctance to have a cat at first, the disruptions to his routine and even his need to adapt in some ways to life with Kitty. For example, he admits finding her hunting disruptive and even a little repugnant, but he understands it’s in Kitty’s nature; he and his wife stop filling birdfeeders so that Kitty will hunt mice rather than songbirds.

Uddenberg is a keen observer of animal and human nature and he writes eloquently about what it means to have a cat in his life. “Kitty has become a part of of our lives, and vice versa. Not because we understand one another, but because we quite enjoy our time together. . . . For me, it has become a philosophical challenge to try to understand at least a little about her world.” Readers are the fortunate recipients of this challenge.

 

 

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two cats   I was working at the circulation desk and saw this book come back. I decided it was a must read. It’s very short and small (only a little bigger than a 4×6 notecard), and the illustrations of the cats are wonderful. Each little chapter is a story about Patti Davis‘s cats, Aretha and Skeeter, followed by a “life lesson.” For example, Skeeter attracts the attentions of an cat named Lucas who shows his affections by spraying in Davis’s apartment, so as she notes, “Skeeter’s romance became a very smelly affair.” The life lesson for that chapter is “We can’t choose our family members’ friends. Sometimes we don’t understand those relationships, but tolerance is important.” The text and art are perfectly complementary — I love the patterns in the fabrics Ward Schumaker includes, the bright colors and bold lines. A thoughtful little book.

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Ok, book people, I have a confession. Before this week I’d never read one of Neil Gaiman’s books. I’ve seen Coraline and I’ve bought or checked out from the library his books for young readers for my daughter. As a librarian, I’ve followed his work and sometimes read his blog and noted all the very kind things he says about libraries on his website and just about every time he speaks. But I’d never read one of his books.

And now I have. And I want to go into a cozy room by myself and read all the rest of them over the course of a few days, and do nothing else.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I’m told by some die hard fans, isn’t even his best work. But I loved it. I want to still be reading it. I want to be IN it, although I don’t want to be the sister.

This story is about a man who returns to the road he lived on as a child, in rural England, when he’s in town for a funeral. He finds himself visiting the farm at the end of the road (lane) where the Hempstocks lived, a grandmother, mother, and daughter, Lettie, who he knew when he was seven and Lettie was eleven. As he sits “on the dilapidated green bench beside the duck pond” — or ocean, as Lettie called it — he is unsure why he is there. But he remembers.

His remembering is almost a reliving, it’s that vivid. You get the sense when he’s done, he’s worn out as if from a very strong dream. And when you read his remembrances you too get that out-of-time-and-place, almost lost feeling, as if anything could happen. I recognize that feeling. I had it as a child, whenever I was able to read for hours, so totally immersed in a book it was as if I’d entered its world. Which I still love to do when I can.

I won’t give away too many specifics about The Ocean at the End of the Lane except to say the writing is meaty and juicy, so descriptive it drips with sensory details. It’s about a man recalling himself as a little boy and the strange women he met and what happened and what he came to know as a result, but it’s also about human nature, and how what we think we want may not be what we really want, how we’re influenced by forces outside of us to act on impulses we don’t stop to understand. It’s also a book about agape, the kind of unconditional love that sacrifices itself for another.

If you have a few hours this weekend, treat yourself to reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane in one sitting so you can feel like a child again, free to while away an afternoon in a comfortable spot with a book, and if possible, a pet to keep you company. This book, I’d say, is good for sharing with a cat.

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