Travel Break

I am officially on spring break this week, which means a bit of travel for me and a babysitter for the kitties. This is an especially busy time of the year in the education world, so I decided to take a break from other ventures so that I could make sure to be fully able to leave work behind for this short time off. I plan to return to regular posting soon, but in the meantime, please enjoy some Books On My Cat outtakes!

Cat Poems

img_3073Book: Cat Poems; Selected by Myra Cohn Livingston; Illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

For this month’s picture book, I’m taking things way back. Cat Poems: published in 1987. Realistically it’s not that long ago, but for me this is one of the ultimate flashback to childhood books. I never owned a copy of the book, and it honestly was not a book that I have thought about much since elementary school. Yet, I was thrilled when my librarian friend at work put it on my desk one day. We are both cat ladies, so when she came across it while re-shelving she thought it would be funny to share. She was as surprised by my reaction as I was to see the book.

My elementary school had a yearly speech competition. The expectations for this varied between grades, but for the time I was there always focused on poetry. Each student was to choose a poem to memorize and recite in front of the class. Top students were chosen from each class to read in front of the school. Most students went to the most popular of poets at the time: Shel Silverstein. Not me. I was not going to memorize the same poem as anyone else. And, of course, it needed to be about cats. I convinced my mom to take me to the “real library” where I found this book. Despite being a pretty shy kid, and horrified of public speaking, this book took me to the semi-finals in three consecutive school years.

It really is exactly what you would expect: a collection of poems about cats. Based on the copyright information, there are a few original to the book, plus several others from various authors. The most famous, I suspect, being The Song of the Jellicles by T.S. Eliot. Most of the poems are light hearted or funny, although there are a few that are on the sad or spooky side as well. I was surprised that I remembered parts of quite a few, even after so many years. Each poem is also paired with a drawing, some a simple cat illustration in the corner and others with much greater detail that incorporate the poem into a full-page illustration. While there is certainly a nostalgic aspect to this for me personally, I think this is a nice little collection as an introduction to poetry.

Boris’s Thoughts: “You are so predictable.”

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

img_2586Book: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

Date Read: January 11 to 30, 2022

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

I was immediately intrigued the first time I saw this book. Unfortunately, for reasons beyond my control, the timing was not right to add it to my shelves. For some reason, after that day, this book and I seemed to always pass each other by. I added the book to my want to read list in 2013, but did not actually add it to my shelves until nearly 4 years later. It stayed there long enough that when I read the first prompt for the 2022 Unread Shelf Project, a book you’ve been putting off reading, I knew right where to go.

This story ended up being quite a different ride than I had expected. While it is clear in the title that Oscar’s life would be cut short, the story goes much deeper into not only his story, but also the stories of his family’s history. In telling the story of the family, we also get a crash course in Dominican history—primarily told through some lengthy footnotes that read something like a textbook written in ghetto vernacular. Amusing at points for sure, but also making this a pretty heavy and more complicated read than I had anticipated. While I think the language was fitting to the story, it definitely made this a tough one to get through, as I found myself stopping frequently to translate words or look up the meaning of unfamiliar slang. Perhaps the most frustrating part of this was that I could not always find answers that really made sense in the context that a word or phrase was used.

Overall, I felt like the story here was worth the effort, although there were definitely pieces that were not quite fully satisfying. The novel had multiple storylines running in various timelines, and while some pieces seem to come full circle in the story, there were also things that were left hanging or unresolved. That combined with some of the extra efforts needed to read pulled this down from being the 5 star read it could have been.

Minka’s Thoughts: “Well, it tastes good anyway. 4 paws.”

In a Dark Dark Wood

img_2601Book: In a Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

Date Read: December 19 to 22, 2021

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

This book was one of my last picks of the year to finish up the bonus challenges included for the Unread Shelf Project 2021—a book from a Little Free Library. Before I talk about the book, I need to talk about how I love the idea of Little Free Libraries, but I am not so great at using them. I love having books, and being around books. When I have really enjoyed a book, I have a hard time letting go of it—partially because I am a re-reader, and partially because I love to have it on hand to lend out to someone who might be interested. I do try to collect rather than hoard though, so sometimes it does become necessary to pass a book on to its next life.

There is a Little Free Library along one of the routes that I like to walk through my neighborhood. Throughout the warmer months, I like to stop to browse the titles there at least once a week, and have picked up a few over time. Given my lengthy to read list, I am not always great about getting to those books right away to return, so I use a “take a book, leave a book” approach (as I believe many others do as well). Over the last few years, I have gradually dropped off any book donations that I have there, hoping that I will keep things balanced.

This is actually one of the first books that I picked up from that Little Free Library. The title was familiar and the cover intriguing. Although I was slightly confused with the disjointed storyline early on, I thought it was brought together nicely throughout the book. Although I would say that this is primarily a mystery, there were some elements of horror woven into the story, and these pieces were very well done. The skin crawling eeriness sprinkled throughout made the mystery aspect richer, while also serving to distract a bit from the clues dropped along the way. I was expecting some kind of twist, but the one here had nuances that were way beyond what I had anticipated.

There were some elements here that I think could qualify this as a 5 star read, but overall I put it just a little below that. While I appreciate that there was a mix of genres intertwined here, there were some elements that just did not seem to fit. Occasionally when reading, I found myself doing a mental double take— wondering if I had accidentally picked up a romantic comedy rather than horror mystery. That’s not to say, of course, that those genres could never mesh, but it did not feel right for the story here.

Boris’s Thoughts: “Horror, mystery, comedy… too many things to think about, really. I think I’ll nap on this one. 2 paws.”

Four Years of Books and Cats

Today marks the Fourth Anniversary of my very first blog post. Traditionally, Fourth anniversaries are marked with flowers or fruit as a sign of growing in to maturity. I find that fitting as I think about my plans moving forward in this space.

Last year at this time, I reflected on the various changes that I have made over the years, and decided that I finally felt myself to be in a good spot. I did that yearly reflection a little earlier this time around, and while I still feel that there are adjustments to be made, I am pretty content with where we find ourselves these days. I think my biggest challenge continues to be balancing my priorities—in my reading life and my life in general. I suppose that particular journey is one that will never end.

At this point, I think it will suffice to say this: Thank you, to each of you that have decided to come along for this ride. I hope you have found something here to interest or inspire you, or maybe just to bring a smile.

Cheers to four years, and hopefully many more to come.

Love,

Katie, Boris, & Minka

img_1937

Galapagos

img_1695Book: Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut

Date Read: November 18 to December 10, 2021

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

Every time I read Vonnegut, I end up feeling a little content and a little unsettled. While it seems a bit of a conundrum, it’s not all that bad of a place to be. Nearing the end of 2021, I was trying to wrap up all the prompts from the Unread Shelf Project to get a “bingo blackout” for the year. One prompt that has always been difficult for me is to choose a book from your favorite genre—I am not entirely sure what to call my favorite genre. So with that in mind, I figured that Vonnegut would fit the bill.

One of the things that I love about reading Vonnegut is that while he tends to stick to very similar themes of humanity, he manages to take you by surprise with the unique ways he presents this in each of his books. In this case, we are taken on a journey of over a million years into the past—all the way back to 1986, the year when a series of coincidences combined with Darwin’s theory of evolution to save the fate of humanity. The retrospective is told from the only one left who would be able to tell it: a ghost who has been hanging around since the fall of man to see it all play out.

The ghost narrator lends an interesting aspect to the story that is different than any of the other books I’ve read from Vonnegut. While the story begins as if it were a history, the narrator gives hints throughout about things that have changed in the million years he has been watching humans—we never get a completely clear picture, but enough to piece things together. The contrasts here reminded me of something that was included in one of the later Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books: humans believe that we are the superior beings on earth because of our technological advances, while other intelligent animals like dolphins just muck about and play in the water all day; dolphins know they are the superior beings for exactly the same reason.

Boris’s Thoughts: “It sounds like he was on to the reasoning of how cats know we are really the ones in charge. Suspicious. 3 paws.”

A Room of One’s Own

img_1388Book: A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

Date Read: November 3 to 17, 2021

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

For November, I was prompted to choose a book that was published before 2000. To make this easier on myself, I decided to go way back rather than try to guess at which books I have might fit that criteria. I picked up this book for a history class back in college, but for some reason the class never got around to reading it. From my recollection, the class had a large number of required readings, and this was one that became optional. Obviously I could not abandon it completely, although it did take me some time to circle back around to it.

This book originated as a lecture on the subject of “Women in Fiction,” which turns out to be a fierce criticism of the patriarchal society. While I did enjoy reading this and feel that it continues to be relevant, if I’m being completely honest, I was probably not in the appropriate headspace to fully appreciate this book. I have found myself struggling through many of my chosen reads lately—not quite a reading slump, but something akin to it. With its short length and feminist slant, I thought this might be a jumpstart for me. Despite the inspiration that can be found here, it did not turn out to be quite what I needed, which I suppose is clear in the fact that it took me two weeks to get through a book just over 100 pages. I think this is one that I will have to revisit at another point in time.

Minka’s Thoughts: “Do you think you’re perpetuating a stereotype by pairing this book with tea and a cat?”

2021 Wrap Up

Welcome to Books On My Cat 2022!

It has been a bit, so I wanted to kick off the year with a little wrap up for 2021—a year in review of sorts. Since I am a big nerd about data, here are some Books On My Cat 2021 stats:

  • Full Book Reviews: 31
  • Children’s Book Reviews: 11
  • Special Posts: 4
  • Total Books Read: 55
  • Unread Shelf Books: 25
  • Audio Books: 22
  • Other Books: 8
  • Starting Books to Read: 271
  • Ending Books to Read: 289

While I feel like I did a pretty good job of focusing on reading the books I already owned, this did not end up reflecting itself in my total books to read. It seems that I still have some of the issue surrounding the quick acquisition and accumulation of books. Looking back over the past several years, this is a trend: I often make progress in reducing my book total throughout the year, and yet somehow it always creeps back up come the turning of the year. Unfortunately, this is one of the highest jumps in recent years, and I think may put my to read list at an all time high.

I am working on some ideas to get a handle on this, but I feel like it is a problem that may never be solved. I suppose there are worse things that always having a book you want to read!

As usual, I have some new ideas for implementing in the blog this year, which will start again with regular posting next week. The most noticeable difference for readers will be a slight change in content: last year I wrote a few bonus bookish posts, and I hope to expand on that a little this year. Hopefully less noticeable will be a loosening of the guidelines I have set for myself: I am through sticking to self-imposed rules that drain the joy from reading and blogging. I plan to relax my expectations for myself in writing reviews, and I may not review every book that I read this year.

For those who have been following along my little blogging journey, thanks for sticking around. I wish you all another wonderful year filled with books and cats!

Negative Cat

img_1530Book: Negative Cat by Sophie Blackall

A couple weeks ago I made my way into a bookstore to start looking for Christmas gift ideas—of course, I ended up coming home with just as many books for myself, including this new picture book. It was on a table of new releases, and had a cover I could not resist picking up. After reading through it, I knew it had to come home with me.

We start with a boy who is willing to make just about any deal with his parents to get a cat: cat care, extra chores, and reading every night—even though he does not really like to read. He goes to the shelter and picks out his perfect cat, but things are less than perfect once he gets him home. Max the cat is a bit naughty. He gets himself into trouble and doesn’t really get along with anyone. Max is a negative cat, and Mom and Dad are about ready to send him back to the shelter. When it comes time for Max to leave, his boy is not going to let him go! He hides in his room, and discovers the secret to winning over Max: reading.

Although not a true story, parts of the story were inspired by real events at an animal shelter in Pennsylvania, where children are invited to come in to read to the cats. In addition to helping children practice and build confidence in their reading, the interaction helps to socialize cats and has lead to some matching with forever homes!

Along with the sweet story here, I really loved the illustrations. They had a little bit of a retro feel to them that reminded me of some of the older picture books I read as a kid. I liked how some of the story was told through text and some through speech bubbles, with some text mixed in with the layout of the page. My favorite were the pages with all the cats at the shelter, each with a fun name and showing a little kitty personality.

Boris’s Thoughts: “Definitive proof that there should be more reading and less other things. Except snacks. More reading, more snacks! 4 paws.”

Little Fires Everywhere

img_0855Book: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Date Read: August 27 to September 26, 2021

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

I finally got around to reading this one when faced with the prompt to read a book that I bought because of the hype. I feel like this does not need much explanation—this book was everywhere for a long time even before it was made into a television series. When everything was starting to close down in the early months of 2020, I decided to start making regular purchases through some of the independent bookstores that were offering online ordering. As if I really needed an excuse to buy more books.

This one follows something that has become a theme in this blog: books that I loved and rated highly, but cannot find the right words to write about. Does it suffice to say that it lived up to the hype that inspired me to buy it? Probably not.

There’s a lot of things going on here, so let’s start with the big one: this takes place in a suburban community that is all about planning and order. Everything in its place and nothing that is unexpected. Of course, it’s not all bad to approach things that way—having a goal, sticking to a plan. The problem comes when that ideal is clung to too hard; when you forget that life does not always (or even usually) work that way. Sometimes you do everything right, and things still do not turn out how you plan. And that is when the first domino falls and everything begins to crumble.

Following along those lines, I enjoyed the varying dynamics of the mother-daughter relationships and the exploration of gray area in what makes a “good” mother. While each mother had the best interest of her children in mind, how this ultimately plays out varies wildly. Adding in layers of differing backgrounds, life experience, and culture to this complicates it further, creating an intriguing web of interactions. Despite the time that it took me to get through this, I really did find it engrossing.

Boris’s Thoughts: “A month of this book made a month of decent lap snuggles. I’ll take it. 3 paws.”