Why Can't Anyone Write a Good Book About Cats

January 11, 1998
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@dcn.davis.ca.us

I usually try to be upbeat and optimistic in this column. I like to tell people about books and writers and share new discoveries. I'm never forced to write about people or subjects that I dislike. But I've had my disappointments over the year, too. Consider, for instance, the dearth of books, good books that is, on cats.

The best 1997 had to offer was a book about, get this, cat aerobics. I mean, really.

If a book about cat aerobics is not acceptable, what is? Well, first of all, let's make it non-fiction. I don't want a fantasy about an imaginary cat. It's been done.

Second, I'd like the narrator to be human, preferably a literate, intelligent human. I don't want to hear from a cat. Most just aren't that literate.

OK, so far we have a non-fiction book about cats written by a human. That's not asking too much. But let's insist that the book include humor, adventure, and love. These are all elements of life and should be included, right?

I haven't read a cat book like this all year even though people keep telling me that cats are a hot, hot topic in the publishing field.

Several kind people have suggested that I write such a book. Of course I should, I totally agree. I'm just held back by one tiny obstacle: a shortage of good material. I have five cats, four are orange or orange and white and one is gray. None are particularly brave or intelligent.

Meet Shuggy ("the grouch"), Wow ("go away, Wow"), Wolfie ("the world's only gray butterball"), Gizmo ("the Sultan") and Freddie ("Prince of Pee").

Let's start with Fred first. He used to be a fairly normal cat until Junko, my Japanese roommate, fell in love with him. Now he is her cosseted pet, much loved and indulged. Unfortunately, he has one very bad habit. About once a year he pees on her. Once he peed on her at the veterinarian's office and this we agreed was a forgivable sin, brought about by nerves. But the latest infraction occurred for no apparent reason. She woke up in the night to find that Fred had peed on her arm, soaking the bed clothes, and then retreated to the foot of the bed, purring contentedly in his sleep.

This took place near Christmastime, when Junko kept hearing about someone called the Prince of Peace. It wasn't much of a leap, then, to name Fred the Prince of Pee, with apologies to the original source.

Shug is the oldest in the family and as a senior he has grown steadily more grouchy over the years. He scratches at the door to come in, at which point a human jumps up and opens the door. He walks in, looks around, walks out again. Then he scratches at the door to come in. This behavior occurs, oh, maybe 15 times a day. It's what the English call "bloody-minded."

Wolfie is a stray, a gorgeous gray cat with a sharp little face and emerald eyes. Fred keeps chasing him away so Wolfie has been forced to find a second home. However, he eats at both locations. Hence his sobriquet, "the world's only gray butterball."

Wow came to our house uninvited. He actually is a totally dull cat with practically no redeeming features but he does have the unusual ability to say his name when he meows: "Wow." The most frequently directed remark at him is "Go away, Wow."

Gizmo is the Sultan. He also came to us as a stray. He is large (certainly not fat) and beautiful with the soft fur of a kitten or rare pedigree. He can be as loving as can be. On the other hand, if he is sleeping on your lap it can take only a sneeze, cough or sudden laugh to turn him into an enraged ball of fur with sharp claws.

He spent all summer sitting on the back deck, not moving more than six feet away from his favorite spot. So when he disappeared for several days this winter, we were very concerned. He finally came home a week later with a painfully burst abscess on his hind quarters. I said to him: "Giz, why didn't you come home sooner and let us help you?" He just stared at me, blinking and purring.

Now, I ask you, how can I write about them?

Wow Sherman knows how to say his name to strangers. Wow is supported by the strong and beautifully manicured hands of Elisabeth Sherwin. Wow Sherwin (left) has the unusual ability to say his name. Wow is supported by Elisabeth Sherwin. Learn about Wow and the other Sherwin cats in "Why Can't Anyone Write a Good Book About Cats," the January 11, 1998, PRINTED MATTER column.

Wow represents the link exchange with the Virtual Valentine Generator. Though severely over taxed, try it out the first 2 weeks of February and see if you get lucky by having your Valentine posted.

Photos and captions by Ry

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