Six Short Cat Books for #NovNov: Muriel Barbery, Garfield and More

Reviews of books about cats have been a regular element on my blog over the years, though not for quite a while. I happen to have amassed a number of illustrated novelty cat books recently, all of them under 150 pages, so Novellas in November is my excuse to feature them together. All six were enjoyable and a nice break from heavier reads on my stacks: .

 

The Writer’s Cats by Muriel Barbery; illus. Maria Guitart (2020; 2021)

[Translated from the French by Alison Anderson; 80 pages]

I could have included this in a translated literature post, but decided to go by theme instead; I also considered reviewing it during nonfiction week as I thought it was a brief memoir. As it turns out, it’s a whimsical tale I’d be more likely to classify under fiction. Barbery has four Chartreux cats – two pairs of siblings: Ocha and Mizu, and Kirin and Petrus. Kirin, one of the younger pair, narrates the book, giving the cats’ view of the writer (and the musician she lives with). They diagnose her as being afflicted with restlessness, doubt and denial, and decide to learn to read so that they can act as literary advisors and comment on her work in progress. Naturally, they’d like to receive royalties for this service. “Yes, we are – in all modesty – decorative, protective deities watching over her rigid little aesthetic world”. Barbery is a Japanophile, so Guitart’s illustrations mix Japanese minimalism with Parisian chic and use as a palette the grey and orange colouring of the cats themselves. This was cute! (Also reviewed by Annabel and Davida.) A favourite illustration:

With thanks to Gallic Books for the free copy for review.

 

Four Garfield comics anthologies by Jim Davis:

Two’s Company (#5, 1984), We Love You Too (#10, 1985), Here We Go Again (#11, 1986), Flying High (#16, 1988)

[Each: 128 pages]

When these came into our temporary Little Free Library at the end of the summer I snapped them up, remembering happy times reading the syndicated comic in the Washington Post and watching the animated TV show on weekends growing up. I could even hear the actor who voices Garfield in my head on some lines.

In a sense, if you’ve read one of these volumes you’ve read them all, because the same sorts of set pieces repeat. Garfield’s gluttony and laziness know no bounds, so in between naps, he’ll snatch lasagnes and whatever other people food he can get. He’ll mock owner Jon, bait Odie the dog, ignore the mice in the house, terrorize Nermal the cute kitten, and flirt with Arlene. For the most part, the plots don’t leave the house, though in Two’s Company Jon and Garfield fly to Hawaii on vacation.

Garfield was the original grumpy cat, with smugness the only other emotion you’ll regularly see on his face. His ways will remind you of your own feline acquaintances (except he also drinks coffee and hates Mondays). The sense of humour is sarcasm par excellence. A favourite page from Flying High:

 

The Calculating Cat Returns by Nancy Prevo; illus. Eric Gurney (1978)

[138 pages]

A tongue-in-cheek book mostly composed of black-and-white cartoons. The “calculating cat” is a bit like Terry Pratchett’s “real cat” from The Unadulterated Cat, but comes in a few varieties (or “CAT-egories,” as they’re called here): Pampered Cats, Working Cats, and Tramp cats. My cat was apparently the third type, living on the streets, for a short time, though you’d never know it to look at him now. During his 10th summer he tried working as a hunter, but quickly retired. He’s now solidly of the pampered class.

There are chapters here on playtime, eating habits, sleep, travel, and mating (not something many of us cat owners have to worry about these days). This remains reasonably undated because cats don’t change; it’s the human fashions that evolve and would look different in a book published today. (Free bookshop)

A favourite drawing:

 

Any cat (or dog) books among your recent reading?

15 responses

  1. […] Six Short Cat Books: Muriel Barbery, Garfield and More […]

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  2. I also collect cat themed books. Some are tiny, arty books decorated with verse. Two favourites are Star Cats: A Feline Zodiac with gorgeous illustrations by Lesley Anne Ivory; and Cats of the Greek Isle Daybook.

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    1. Ivory’s name sounds familiar; I’m sure I’ve seen her cat artwork before. Those both seem like good coffee table books for a cat lover’s household!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. […] Six Short Cat Books for #NovNov: Muriel Barbary, Garfield and More (Rebecca at Bookish Beck) […]

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  4. Nah. I like cats, but it’s my daughters who might acquire the books.

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    1. I get it. Some people like cats but not ‘cat stuff’. Some of it is on the twee side for me.

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  5. I loved the Barbery one. Very sweet with subversive felines.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I forgot to link to your review. I’ll do so.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the Barbery just for those marvelous illustrations, anything the author has to say will just be a bonus!

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    1. The illustrations were lovely. This was the first thing I’d read by her, but I have a copy of The Elegance of the Hedgehog on the shelf.

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      1. A book much enjoyed here…

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  7. Oh, what delights in this selection! Though I can see the temptation to train one’s feline companion using a water pistol I wouldn’t recommend it. The last catty book I remember reading (and reviewing) is Carter is a Painter’s Cat by Carolyn Sloan with pictures by Fritz Wegner (https://wp.me/s2oNj1-carter) which I’d highly recommend. And I must reread some short stories by Joan Aiken who very definitely includes the odd cat in her narratives.

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    1. We tried the water gun method and it was singularly ineffective. Cats can’t be trained! The Sloan sounds sweet. I’ve only ever read Aiken’s Wolves of Willoughby Chase.

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  8. I have a James Thurber book called FURther Fables that I’m sure contains some cats. I can’t check if that’s what its really called because I am being pinned down by two cats. I dare not move! My son taught one of our cats to copy him and stick out her tongue. She’s started doing it to me now, too. I’m not sure what I’m expected to do next!

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    1. Ha ha, I can just picture the scene! I own (but haven’t read) a James Thurber book on dogs, so I’m pleased to hear he balanced things by writing one on cats too.

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