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Christmas in July


I have an embarrassing confession to make: I collect cat books. Not that series of "The Cat Who..." mysteries by Lilian Jackson Braun. Not even the Cleveland Amory ones. No, I collect little cat books. Wee little itty bitty tiny mouse-sized cat books. Miniature editions. Stocking stuffers. The kind you'd find on a spin rack.

Some of them take themselves very seriously indeed, as you can tell from their rather hyperbolic titles: In the Company of Cats: A Tribute to the Feline; Glorious Cats: A Collection of Words and Paintings; Cats: A Feline Potpourri (it could be worse, folks...Potpurrrrri); and Cat Artists & Their Work (a collection of postcards of "finger-painting" kittens...never mind the fact that kittens have paws). My absolute favorites? A trio of minis from Running Press: The Literary Cat, The Artistic Cat, and The Well-Versed Cat.

I know, I know. What can I say? I like books. I like cats. I'm not a particularly large person, which means big books are, quite literally, a drag. But none of these reasons, alone or combined, explain my infatuation with books like Cat Talk: A Book of Quotations; Cat Alphabet; City Cats (with its black-and-white photos); and The Little Grey Cat Book (color shots here, but the subjects are half-tones).

It defies all logic that I like these books, but in fact I really like them. As in, like them to such an extent that I dust them. And anyone who knows me will tell you that I don't dust anything.

I am keenly aware that these books are "book product"--or, if you prefer it, "books" (in quotes). "Literature" they're not. In fact, I can't say that they represent anything other than commerce--for the publisher or the bookstore. But there's something about the honesty of them--the "we're in it for profit"-ness of them--that I have to admire a bit. And there's no denying that these books give people pleasure.

And consider this: You may look down your nose at them, but the truth is at many publishing houses these kinds of titles fund a number of their more literary ventures. Want to buy a volume of poetry or a collection of short stories by a first-time author? Better hope that holiday sales of Catmas Carols were strong that year.

This is also true of gift books--books with a ribbon to save your place (such as The Cat Lovers' Book of Days...though the ribbon in my copy has long since been ingested by a VERY NAUGHTY seven-pound Korat); the ones you find at Hallmark; the kind you give to your child's teacher or that distant relative who, perplexingly (and even a little vexingly), always sends you something...usually something fuzzy. The perfect gift for the perfect stranger? If you need one, turn to these. Like the minis, gift books with a normal trim sustain those titles that have a modest audience--works in translation, for example. And they sure make shopping easy.

For those of you who just can't get your head around any of this--who believe the "cuteness quotient" shouldn't matter and that books should be published for one reason only (the writing)--I hear you and I understand. Some days I even agree. So if you're a cat-loving biblio-purist, try 101 Favorite Cat Poems (which contains wonderful verse by Dickinson, Keats, Blake, and, of course, T.S. Eliot) or William Burroughs' The Cat Inside. They're adorable and the text is great--proof that you can have it both ways.

And if dogs are more your cup of tea, have no fear: The publishers are on it.

And if tea is more your cup of tea, there's always a mini called Tea Time...