How to Talk to Your Cat

img_2724This fun little non-fiction children’s book was brought to my attention by my school librarian—she noticed that the cat on the cover looks a bit like Boris, and thought he might be interested in reading! How to Talk to Your Cat provides a good introduction to cat behavior and some general information in interpreting what your cat is trying to say. Of course, as a book intended for children, it’s not a definitive guide. There are a few items of cat behavior included that I would consider a bit questionable, plus a few items that contradict things I have read recently. I suppose some of this is inevitable in a book that was published nearly 20 years ago.

The book starts with the history of domestic cats, referring to something I have heard a few times from other sources: humans did not domesticate cats; cats domesticated themselves. From there, it moves on to cat greetings, and communication via scent, sound, and body posture. The book wraps up with some more behavioral information—typical habits for indoor and outdoor cats. Along the way there is some advice in communicating and living with cats. I believe it is said a few times that cats tend to have the attitude that we belong to them, rather than the other way around. I’m not quite sold on this, but I think there is some truth to it. Boris knows that there are some limits to his running of the household. I am the keeper of the treats, after all.

Although I would still consider this a picture book, it is quite heavy on text. Most of the pictures included are for demonstration, with a few additional illustrations to fill in along the way. The drawings are fairly simple and cartoonish, which I think feels appropriate with the style of the book. There are a few photos of the author (Jean Craighead George) included, intermingled with the cartoonish cats. It feels a little silly—especially the picture of her on hands and knees rubbing heads with a cat. I suppose this is one way of keeping interest for kids who might otherwise be off put by the lengthy text passages on each page. I can see this as a good book for older kids who have an interest in cats or pets, or perhaps animals in general, but would not necessarily make a general recommendation for this one.

Boris’s thoughts: “A well read cat like me clearly has much more to say than this book would suggest. 2 paws.”

Hillsdale: Greek Tragedy in America’s Heartland

img_2352Date Read: October 2 to 19, 2019

Rating: 2 (of 5) stars

This was my choice for a somewhat loose interpretation for the October prompt from The Unread Shelf Project: a book that scares you. I do not have a ton of true horror options on my shelves, and even then I would not quite say that horror themed books really scare me. This one was the scariest I could think of, the true bottom of my to read list pile. It’s outside my normal realm, and I bought it on a whim because it was on a display of local interest books at one of my favorite bookstores. This was about 10 years ago; since then I discovered that it has the lowest average Goodreads rating of all my books. Now that’s terrifying.

I tried really hard to go into this with an open mind, but it did not take me long to figure out why the book had been poorly received. The story itself is intriguing: the president of a prestigious, historically conservative college finds himself in the midst of a scandal after the death of his daughter-in-law, shortly after she has claimed that the two had been involved in a nearly 20 year affair. To add to the drama, there are some unusual circumstances surrounding her death, which is ruled a suicide although never fully investigated. While I do not mean to advocate for the exploitation of an obviously tragic situation, I feel like this could have been made very interesting. However, the flaws heavily outweigh any intrigue in the content. This book is not well written. It reads very much like a textbook—a poorly edited textbook.

Many of the chapters feel disjointed, with tangential information that does not add anything to the story. Some of this I understand, in sharing the history of the college and the family of the college president. However, there were areas where it not only did not add to the story, but also simply did not make sense. When we learn that Lissa wanted to move the family to Colorado, do we really need several pages detailing the history of the city where she wanted to move? There were other sections that seemed to have been rearranged during editing, but never fully reviewed. For example, there were specific individuals with names included, but no explanation of who they were or how they were related to the story. In most cases, this explanation came later; sometimes several pages later. In at least one case, pointed out to me by a friend who attended the college, there is a person who is misidentified as connected to the university during that time.

Even disregarding these errors, which could have easily been resolved with a strong editor, there were pieces of this book that did not sit well with me. In some ways, there is a sense of injustice here: a woman is dead, there are questionable circumstances surrounding this, and it is never fully investigated. Rapoport seems to feel this, as he details the shortcomings of the investigation. There are even hints that perhaps Lissa’s husband, George IV, had something to do with her death, including possible motive and opportunity. However, this is quickly brushed over in favor of more details on how the scandal associated with Lissa’s death lead to the downfall of George III as the college president.

Lissa’s claim of the affair was used as evidence against George III, although it could not be substantiated. Perhaps this is unfair, but is that really the most important point of this story? What is the “Greek tragedy” referred to in the title: the death of Lissa, or the loss of George III’s job? The chapter that talks of Lissa’s death and the shortcomings of the investigation ends with a quip about George III and his new wife’s experiencing the “airline industry’s equivalent of a near-death experience” by being forced to watch the same poor movie on four long flights they took in the two days after Lissa’s death. This is not only tangential; it is disrespectful.

Unfortunately, this book did live up to the poor reviews that influenced me to continually push it down in my list of books to be read. It is also unfortunate, I suppose, that there is always more to say about books that are disliked than those that are enjoyed. I still will not quite claim that I wish I had not taken the time to read this. I do think that it is a story worth telling; I wish it had been handled better than this.

Boris’s thoughts: “Can we finally put this one away now? 1 paw.”

Outliers

img_2215Date Read: September 2 to 30, 2019

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

With my focus on some spooky children’s books in September, I am a bit behind with my normal posting. This book was actually my September pick for The Unread Shelf Project—a book that you can buddy read. Surprisingly, I do not have a big group of friends that read. One of my friends has been trying to read more, so we decided it would be fun to pick a book that was on both of our “want to read” lists. We ended up deciding on this one, as the one that we thought could lead to the best discussion.

While we did not actually get in as much discussion on the book as we had expected, I am glad that we decided upon this one. This is the third of Malcolm Gladwell’s books that I have read, and I really do find much of his work fascinating. However, I feel like I have to say that I find it a bit limited. There is a ton of great research referenced here, and so many great thoughts, but in the end, this really is a work of “pop psychology.” Is there something to it? Yes, probably. But I’m also not quite prepared to take all of Gladwell’s conclusions as fact. Despite this, I think it’s a great starting place for thinking and learning. I just think that the case of “Outliers” is more complicated that laid out here.

It may seem like a strange jump, but this book made me think about my brother’s speech at his friend’s wedding this summer. My brother was the Best Man at the wedding of two amazing friends of our family, and I was lucky enough to be present at the wedding as well. In his speech, my brother referenced some incredible accomplishments shared by the couple—a self renovated home, a successful business, and the wedding itself, which was very much planned and decorated “from scratch.” My brother shared an important belief he feels is connected to all this: if there is something you want to do and you don’t do it, you didn’t want it enough.

Perhaps this is a simplification as well, but I think it speaks to one of the missing pieces from Gladwell’s conclusion. Genetic potential, opportunities to practice, and being born at the right time in the right place can put you ahead of the game—but there is still a drive to that accomplishment that is unaccounted for. It may be true that 10,000 hours of practice is a “magic number” to become an expert or a master in a field; but it is also true that it takes a certain amount of personal drive and dedication to be willing to put in that time. So you did not become a master at the task you wanted? There’s nothing wrong with that, of course; but remember: you did not want it enough to dedicate the amount of time needed to do it.

Boris’s thoughts: “The only thing I want to be a master at is napping. I think I’ve got a pretty good start on my 10,000 hours or practice. 4 paws.”