Book recommendations from my cats. (Or, pictures of my cats.)

I adopted my kitty-girls from the Cashiers-Highlands Humane Society a little over a year ago in a two-for-the-price-of-one deal, although I hesitate to call them “mine” – it’s much more appropriate to call me “theirs.” There weren’t a whole lot of books at the shelter but they’ve been thoroughly immersed in the litter-ary life since moving in with me and have a few favorite books of their own now. I’ll let them tell you why.

Clementine

Clementine snark
World’s most perfect cat.

Of course I get listed first – I wouldn’t even have to point it out except that the black-and-white one would be oblivious otherwise. *rolls eyes*

My first favorite is I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo! by Jill Esbaum and Gus Gordon. This is the inspirational story of Nadine, a brilliant cow who saves the world, and also the lives of her two doltish friends who managed to get lost in the woods – and has some serious adventure to boot. (Think cliff-diving.) I Am Cow carries me through trying moments with the two dolts in my own life…

clementine is bored
I am cat, hear me-ow!

A Curious Collection of Cats by Betsy Franco is my other first favorite. It’s a book of concrete poems (colorfully illustrated by Michael Wertz) that are all about me. Of course, it would appear to be about several different cats – an entire collection of them – but the authors did that so lesser cats than me wouldn’t feel jealous. *yawns, stretches, flops onto back*

Clementine and faulkner
Clementine on Instagram…

Simon Tofield’s Simon’s Cat vs. the World is another inspirational read, except it’s different than Cow because it’s non-fiction. That Simon person wrote and illustrated an entire book about his creative, moderately intelligent feline roommate – he really knows how to show appreciation. *angrily cuts eyes at Emily* Of course, Simon’s cat has a lot to learn, and he’ll probably never reach my level of cat achievement, but at least he’s trying.

Clementine and binky
…versus Clementine in real life.

I’ll use my last free recommendation spot to recommend two books to the above-mentioned dolts in my life – How to be a Cat by Nikki McClure and How Do Dinosaurs Love Their Cats? from my favorite paragon of wisdom and instruction manuals, Jane Yolen. I thought about specifying who should read which book, but they both should read both books – for empathy and understanding.

Lola

Lola
Mom? You’re sleeping past sunrise – are you dead?

Yes! Thank you for asking! Mom always has a lot of books scattered around the house and I’ve managed to read a few. Of course I’d be delighted to share my favorites with you – sharing is caring!

Speaking of caring, I’d have to say my first pick is Jill Esbaum and Gus Gordon’s I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo!, an adventure story with a hopeful message! This cow lady, Nadine, and her two sweet friends go on a forest adventure, and… well, I won’t spoil it but let’s just say Nadine is a bit self-important and is really, super glad her two friends are there, even though she can’t or won’t admit it. Friendship makes the world go ‘round! Is Clementine sick again? I think I hear puking.

death glare
Best friends 4-ever.

Another heartwarming friendship story (I just love friendship books!) is Baabwaa & Wooliam by David Elliott, with lifelike illustrations by Melissa Sweet. I won’t tell you the plot, but I do want to get to the point (SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!!) of the story. Baabwaa and Wooliam are two sheep who befriend a wolf. Interspecies friendship, y’all. It’s doable, and it’s necessary, no matter what the popular narratives tell you. Think for yourself, and have some compassion! It ALL starts with compassion – even in the book. And I’m pretty sure this is a non-fiction book too, which just makes it even better. All you need is love! Are you sure Clementine’s okay?

Spiritual Lola
Spiritual kitty just wants to help.

Whew. I get a little worked up sometimes, which is why I find my next cat pick so useful: You Are a Lion! And Other Fun Yoga Poses by Taeeun Yoo. Mom and I do yoga almost every morning, and she finds the illustrations and analogies in this book to be helpful for her practice. I help her out by demonstrating the poses and their variations and by bringing back her attention when her mind starts to drift – for instance, if I see her attention start to wander, I’ll give her a good head-butt (or butt-butt) in the face to bring her back to the present moment. So this book is really more for her than for me, because I love her so much.

catify and lola
Lola has a thing for dudes with tattoos…

Finally: Treat by Mary Sullivan. This book holds, for me, what the writer Cheryl Strayed calls the power of “me too.” I read this, and I feel like I’m not alone in the world. Wow. Just wow.

That’s all for now, folks! Thanks for letting me share!

Bonus Cat: Jambavan

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Look at those ears, though! We all have a crush on this guy.

Clementine and Lola’s favorite paw-pal, Jambavan, has his own recommendation, pictured here. It’s not in NCCardinal’s catalog, because he read it before the library even knew it existed. His advice to you: do your own thing, as long as your own thing includes climbing trees.

 

Having fun isn’t hard when you have a library card

When I was a child, my favorite book was Chris van Allsburg’s The Polar Express. It was the book I used to figure out the ins and outs of the library business – I knew where it was supposed to be located on the shelf, and then I learned to look at the spine label for the author’s last name to find it even quicker. Sometimes it wouldn’t be there, and I finally figured out that maybe other people had checked it out. When I couldn’t find it, I was forced to break away from my comfort zone and explore other books. But my favorite thing was to beeline for the children’s corner, pull out The Polar Express, and sit in the chair by the corner window to get lost in the story.

As an adult, I can’t figure out for the life of me why I loved this book so much, except that I’ve always been drawn to imagery of cold, dark winter nights. (Cecilia Eckback’s Wolf Winter does cold dark winter nights well, too, FYI, although I wouldn’t recommend it for five-year-olds.)

polar express
Who wouldn’t want to be on that train?

I don’t remember exactly when I first got my own library card, but I think I was in third grade. In my mind’s eye I can see my shaky cursive scrawl on the back of the well-worn paper card, and I felt like such a grown-up carrying stacks of books nearly as tall as I was to the desk. Memory is a tricky thing, but I do vaguely remember the librarian setting limits on how many books I could check out at once. I still need limits today, believe me.

beverly cleary
ALL of the Beverly Cleary books, really.

As I got older and moved on to chapter books, I loved long series, a love which did not follow me to adulthood. I read all of the Ramona books, the Baby-Sitter’s Club, the Boxcar Children, Nancy Drewthe Sweet Valley Twins, Little House on the Prairieespecially Little House on the Prairie. I was a shy kid and spent a lot of time in my own head, for better or worse, and the books I liked to read were about little girls like me who I could identify with on some level. Some of my favorites were Judy Delton’s books about Kitty, a Catholic girl my age who made me feel a little less weird about growing up Catholic in rural Alabama. Luckily, we are becoming more aware and responsive to the need for diversity in children’s literature, so kids of all kinds of different backgrounds should be able to walk into a library and find books with main characters that they, too, can identify with.

We lived quite a ways out of town, so I would often take a bus or get a ride to the library after school until my mom got off work. I would sometimes work on homework. More often I would sit in the reading room and look at magazines, particularly Seventeen magazine, which I wasn’t supposed to be reading yet. (I’m sorry you have to find out this way, Mom and Dad. Love y’all.)

At some point in early adulthood I quit going to the library on a regular basis – I guess I got too busy with college and work and getting tattoos and important stuff like that. But when I moved to Franklin five years ago, one of the first things I did was get a library card and start using it. At the time, there was still a five item limit on new library card holders, and I would overwhelm myself trying to decide what I wanted to check out when. The Macon County Public Library felt like home and was at times a refuge when I really needed one. (Still is!)

staff picks
Staff picks at Hudson Library – we love all the books! (Well, almost.)

Having worked in various capacities for FRL for over three years, I’m happy to still be a library nerd. I love libraries. Public libraries, particularly the FRL libraries, provide a wide range of services to meet community needs. I used to regularly find myself in the computer lab at MCPL before I got a laptop, and it thrills me to no end that I could check out a telescope from the library. But to me, there’s still nothing quite as special as pulling a book off a shelf, curling up in a quiet corner, and reading the afternoon away. (In a library, though – or anywhere that’s not my house, where I tend to get distracted by cats and housework.)

I guess the point of all this is: September is Library Card Sign-Up Month, so if you don’t have a card, get one. You won’t regret it!

This is not an eclipse post.

Last night I was sitting at home reading as the sun faded away, and the droning of crickets outside the house gradually drowned out the sound of the words on the page in front of me.

This is the sound of a summer night – crickets raising heck outside, intermittent frog croaks from the pond, steady whirring of ceiling fans, the tumble of cat feet zipping from one end of the house to the other (oh wait, that’s every night). In Alabama, where I grew up, the crickets sing louder and for months longer than they do where I presently live in the steely shadow of the Southern Blue Ridge Escarpment’s sharp edge. These friendly neighborhood sirens are my favorite part of summer – perhaps because they catapult me back into happy childhood memories, perhaps because I’ve grown grumpy toward heat and they signal cool nighttime hours ahead.

I wonder – will the crickets start their racket when the moon eclipses the sun on Monday?

eclipse
Does this really qualify as night?

Lately I’ve been hesitant to seek out answers to questions like that. Not knowing what to pay attention to sometimes forces me to pay attention to everything, which usually ends in wonder and joy. So I think – for me anyway, tucked away in a pocket of woods somewhere – the eclipse should be a joyful experience. I can’t help but have certain expectations of astonishment, but I tend to expect that out of any ordinary day, so nothing new there.

every day is earth day
Every day is Earth (and space) Day at Hudson Library!

After reading Annie Dillard’s essay “Total Eclipse,” I also expect to be at least a little weirded out. (Find it and other essays in anthologies here and here.)

There are going to be a whole lot of people here in Western North Carolina on Monday. I’ve heard predictions of mayhem – nothing new there either. Some of us locals aren’t too excited about the impending influx of bodies and vehicles, but I really hope we can recognize how lucky we are to live here, and be kind to each other. Aren’t we also lucky to live in a time when a total solar eclipse doesn’t portend doom and destruction any more than the relentless daily news cycle does? How cool is it that so many people in this state, this country, this world, are going to be staring up at the sky together in wonder and awe, and maybe a touch of primordial fear? The world needs more of that.

eclipse tips
Your friendly local library wants to help keep you informed.

We’re being told to prepare supply-wise as we would for an impending winter storm, so I have an apocalypse-worthy cache of toilet paper at the house, and my snowshoes are primed and ready to go. (Wait – what?) I can only focus on doing one thing right at a time, so today I’ll get food and, if I remember, toothpaste.

Don’t forget to stock up on library books!

faulkner
Words of inspiration from a favorite cheerful scribe, as quoted in Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir.

Audiobooks I Have Managed To Love

I have a difficult time listening to audiobooks. Usually when I’m driving I listen to music, and when I’m doddering about the house pretending to clean I listen to podcasts. For some reason, audiobooks fail to hold my attention long enough for me to finish them. However, since I do spend a lot of time in the car, and I will never ever ever ever actually be able to sit down and read all of the books on my to-read list, I keep trying with the audiobooks. I have started many. Here are a few that I have actually finished.

One of the audiobooks I listened to on a recent road trip is Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. Stevenson is the founder and director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, a non-profit organization that works to protect and defend of the rights of those who have been unfairly punished and abused by this country’s criminal justice system. Just Mercy weaves his own life story in with the story of EJI’s founding, successes, and a few failures. This book is not a light “read” by any means – in fact, it’s quite disturbing, even with hopeful moments and joys interspersed throughout. Stevenson does not gloss over any of the negative experiences he has had working in the courts, but he does end with some thoughtful observations about what like-minded people can do about the problems he presents in the book. Listening to the audiobook is especially riveting since it is read by the author himself, making all the stories that much more personal. I listened to it on a trip to Alabama (of all places) and it was like he was sitting in the passenger seat the whole time. The only possible downside to listening to this one on a road trip is that I found myself sobbing a few times while zipping down the interstate, which could be hazardous.

Another fascinating non-fiction listen is The Unthinkable by Amanda Ripley, an encouraging exploration of our capacity to survive disaster. Ripley tells the stories of people who have lived through such disasters as the collapsing of the twin towers on September 11, stampedes in Mecca, and massive fires. Most interesting to me are her explanations of our physiological and neurological responses as we’re in the midst of chaos that could kill us. I came away from this listening experience with a little more confidence that, should I find myself in the midst of disaster, my body and animal brain may have the ability to get me out of it alive. (On a side note, if you’re interested in the body’s response to trauma, check out Bessel Van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. I’m in the middle of reading the book-with-pages version and it’s also fascinating, particularly Van der Kolk’s insights into the brain’s capacity to heal. I have a feeling I’ll be writing a blog about it in the near future.)

Hunting Fox
Not really the Mr. Fox in question, but cute. Quite cute.

Veering from the non-fiction, one of the most delightful audiobooks I’ve listened to is Helen Oyeyemi’s Mr. Fox (Overdrive audiobook link here.) By delightful, I don’t mean lighthearted and fun – it’s Oyeyemi’s take on the Bluebeard folktale about a man who tends to murder his wives. The novel is written like a series of short stories about the same characters that jump back and forth in time, and one day I intend to sit down with the book and figure out how she was able to write such a complicated story in a seamless way that just really makes sense. In fact, I did have to finish this one with the book version since my e-audiobook automatically returned itself before I could finish listening – it reads just as well as it listens. (If you’re into the whole modern fairy tale thing, I also recommend Boy, Snow, Bird, Oyeyemi’s take on Snow White.)

Book Based on a Fairy Tale | 30 Books to Read For the 2016 Reading ...
I’m not gonna lie – I was initially drawn to this book by its cover.

I’ve been leaning heavily on podcasts and haven’t tried any audiobooks in recent weeks, but I have a couple more non-fiction titles on their way to me thanks to inter-library resource sharing. (Aren’t public libraries amazing and wonderful?) If you have any recommendations, please share them!

The Other Self-Help Section

The older I get, the less I know for sure. I’ve always prided myself on being a bookworm and looking to literature for all the answers, and the stacks of books at my house get pretty overwhelming sometimes. Being overwhelmed by my ever-growing reading list is a little counter-productive to my search for answers, so in recent years I’ve turned more and more to children’s books for their simple wisdom. Board books in particular are a favorite lately – you can gnaw on them as you read without doing too much damage to the book. How great is that?

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Grapes fill my heart with happiness, for real.

Monique Gray Smith’s My Heart Fills With Happiness is written from the perspective of a little girl going down the list of things that make her happy. Such as singing, dancing, and walking barefoot in the grass. Those things make me happy too, although my singing and dancing might not make those around me happy. The book invites the reader to dwell on the little joys in life, and the little joys amount to a lot of joy in the heart if you let them.

Keeping on the happiness theme, Ball by Mary Sullivan is a story about a day in the life of a dog whose greatest joy in life is chasing her ball. The book begins in a flurry of excited activity when her little human wakes up and plays ball with her while getting ready for school. When the little human leaves for school, our little dog is bereft. She spends a lot of time trying to play ball with the laundry basket, the cat, and the baby human. When she naps, she even dreams about playing ball. Now, you may wonder why this dog doesn’t get another hobby, perhaps one like writing, which is best done in the dark abyss of solitude. I wonder why too. That’s not the point – I can’t solve her problems for her. Anyway, eventually the little human gets home and, oh my gosh, so much joy and excitement. The moral of the story is, joy is best when shared, or something like that.

 

ball
Ball‘s dedication. *sobs*

Moving on to my current mood, I’m Grumpy by Jennifer and Matthew Holm is a book I should really read every morning with my second cup of coffee. Grumpy Cloud is woken up early by chirping birds; he loses his hat in a gust of wind; he drops his ice cream; he gets rained on. (Wait, what?) And yet, after all of those small tragedies happen, he says, “I’m just grumpy because,” leading me to be believe that the real problem is not his circumstances but how he relates to him. When his happy friend Sunny tries to cheer him up, he finally explodes in a torrent of rain and thunder, after which outburst no one wants to be around him. Is there anyone reading this who cannot identify with Grumpy Cloud? (Or Sunny Sun, for that matter?) The good news is, Grumpy Cloud’s moral conscience starts to nagging him, and he makes amends to the beings that he hurt, gaining a little humility and an attitude of gratitude in the process. Grumpy Cloud occupies a special place in a shadowy corner of my heart.

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Of course, some board books are more terrifying than inspiring.

And because I tend to find the best wisdom and advice in the poetry section, here’s a nugget of humility from Judith Viorst’s collection What Are You Glad About? What Are You Mad About? :

“Trying”

I only cheated a tiny bit.

I never thought you’d notice it.

And besides, I wanted so badly to be the winner.

And it’s true that I told a little white lie

When I said that I hadn’t eaten the pie.

But I was starving, and it was forever till dinner.

This toy that I shouldn’t have taken but did

Belonged, I admit, to a whole other kid.

But I’m hoping you won’t think I’m a terrible sinner.

I know what I shouldn’t. I know what I should.

And I’m trying my very best to be good.

I’m trying my very best – but I’m still a beginner.

Picture books!

Occasionally, I have to meet new people. Even more occasionally (thank goodness), I will meet a new person who, upon learning that I work at a library, will say some version of, “I like books – if they have pictures in them!” They will then look at me expectantly with an expression of inane smugness, waiting for a guffaw at their clever joke.

They don’t get the guffaw.

I actually do like books with pictures in them. One of the perks of working at a library is getting to see all the new books as they arrive, and new children’s books are the most exciting.

One of my favorite new books that came to us recently is I Am NOT A Chair! by Ross Burach. The story is about a giraffe named Giraffe who, on his first day in the jungle, keeps being mistaken by the other animals for a chair! Giraffe is not, in fact, a chair, but you’ll have to read the book yourself to see if he ever finds a voice to assert his place in the world.

Giraffe is not a chair
Yeah, right.

Now, if you’re a little over-analytic like I am, you might suppose that the other animals don’t recognize Giraffe for the giraffe that he is because the jungle is not his natural habitat. Luckily a quick online catalog search will turn up plenty of non-fiction books about giraffes to satisfy your need to be right. Libraries to the rescue!

Giraffe is a book
Oh my gosh. Look at that face.

Moving on, we have Escargot by Dashka Slater, a story about an arrogant a charming French snail on a mission to eat the salad at the end of the book, provided the salad meets Escargot’s distinguished culinary expectations. The plot moves along at a snail’s pace and is punctuated by solicitations for compliments from the self-obsessed self-confident title gastropod, but the character development and expressive illustrations will make it worth your time to read. I won’t entirely spoil the ending for you, but suffice it to say that Escargot’s gastronomic horizons are broadened.

Escargot salad
Hold the salt, please!

If Escargot whets your appetite, follow it up with one of the plentiful picture-laden cookbooks gracing our non-fiction shelves. Of particular interest might be Julia Childs’ Mastering the Art of French Cooking Patricia Wells’ Salad As A Meal, which has just enough salad recipes to make you feel healthy while flipping through its pages. (Feel free to skip straight to the bread chapter, though, and don’t forget about the perennially hungry public servants at your friendly local library when you’re handing out free samples!)

And here, because a book of poetry is really just the same as a book with pictures, I will end with a poem.

“It Was Early” by Mary Oliver

It was early,
which has always been my hour
to begin looking
at the world

and of course,
even in the darkness,
to begin
listening into it,

especially
under the pines
where the owl lives
and sometimes calls out

as I walk by,
as he did
on this morning.
So many gifts!

What do they mean?
In the marshes
where the pink light
was just arriving

the mink
with his bristle tail
was stalking
the soft-eared mice,

and in the pines
the cones were heavy,
each one
ordained to open.

Sometimes I need
only to stand
wherever I am
to be blessed.

Little mink, let me watch you.
Little mice, run and run.
Dear pine cone, let me hold you
as you open.