Literary paeans to cats?
November 25, 2009 6:50 AM   Subscribe

Can anyone recommend any literary essays on, or short stories about, cats?

Hello all.

I'm making a Christmas present for someone -- I'd like it to be a book of essays or extracts from literature describing cats.

Anyone got any recommendations? I already have:

Doris Lessing's "On Cats"
Robert E Howard's "The Beast from the Abyss", as recommended by Artw in this post
Charles Baudelaire's "Les Chats"

(I'm drawing a blank on short stories about cats.)
posted by laumry to Writing & Language (26 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Kipling, "The Cat Who Walked By Himself"
posted by musofire at 7:03 AM on November 25, 2009

Doesn't really qualify as either an essay or a short story, but I don't think you'd want to leave out Socks!
posted by yawper at 7:03 AM on November 25, 2009

TS Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats? It was the basis for the musical and everything...
posted by bookgirl18 at 7:06 AM on November 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

Neil Gaiman writes about cats every once in a while. Try The Price and A Dream of a Thousand Cats
posted by mrsshotglass at 7:14 AM on November 25, 2009

A very unusual but utterly brilliant cat story: Tobermory by Saki.
posted by Kirjava at 7:17 AM on November 25, 2009

My favourite cat-related extract has to be this gorgeous bit, from the 4th chapter of Ulysses:

"-- Mkgnao!

-- O, there you are, Mr Bloom said, turning from the fire.

The cat mewed in answer and stalked again stiffly round a leg of the table, mewing. Just how she stalks over my writing-table. Prr. Scratch my head. Prr.

Mr Bloom watched curiously, kindly, the lithe black form. Clean to see: the gloss of her sleek hide, the white button under the butt of her tail, the green flashing eyes. He bent down to her, his hands on his knees.

-- Milk for the pussens, he said.

-- Mrkgnao! the cat cried.

They call them stupid. They understand what we say better than we understand them. She understands all she wants to. Vindictive too. Wonder what I look like to her. Height of a tower? No, she can jump me.

-- Afraid of the chickens she is, he said mockingly. Afraid of the chookchooks. I never saw such a stupid pussens as the pussens.

Cruel. Her nature. Curious mice never squeal. Seem to like it.

-- Mrkrgnao! the cat said loudly.

She blinked up out of her avid shameclosing eyes, mewing plaintively and long, showing him her milkwhite teeth. He watched the dark eyeslits narrowing with greed till her eyes were green stones. Then he went to the dresser, took the jug Hanlon's milkman had just filled for him, poured warmbubbled milk on a saucer and set it slowly on the floor.

-- Gurrhr! she cried, running to lap.

He watched the bristles shining wirily in the weak light as she tipped three times and licked lightly. Wonder is it true if you clip them they can't mouse after. Why? They shine in the dark, perhaps, the tips. Or kind of feelers in the dark, perhaps.

He listened to her licking lap."

You can find the chapter here.
posted by voronoi at 7:25 AM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I would suggest Poe's "The Black Cat," if you're including any fiction short stories, as well as a section of a story by Haruki Murakami, as nearly all of his works star cats to some degree, though I can't recommend one specifically right now as I'm at work.
posted by questionsandanchors at 8:46 AM on November 25, 2009

There is a really, really funny short story by Margaret Atwood in Brick issue 73. I wish I could remember the title, but I do remember a little bit about the plot: a cat goes to heaven, God turns out to be a giant lion, and the very first thing the cat asks for is his testicles back.
posted by ourobouros at 8:55 AM on November 25, 2009

How about "The Cat on My Shoulder?" Seems to be out of print at the moment, but still available. It's a collection of essays about cats by various authors; there's an incomplete list of the authors here, for what it's worth.
posted by cjelli at 9:11 AM on November 25, 2009

"Space-Time for Springers" by Fritz Lieber. The protagonist is a kitten with super-intelligence and -powers. I don't know how it ends because I've been listening to it in rotation with a couple other stories from Miette's Bedtime Story Podcast, but the beginning is very endearing. I always fall asleep before the end of the story!
posted by owtytrof at 9:18 AM on November 25, 2009

The Cat From Hell by Stephen King.
posted by marxchivist at 9:23 AM on November 25, 2009

If there's space in your collection for a poem, one of my absolute loves is
posted by tyrantkitty at 9:32 AM on November 25, 2009

Argh. Itchy trigger finger. Anyway, it's Curiosity, by Alastair Reid, which begins:

may have killed the cat; more likely
the cat was just unlucky, or else curious
to see what death was like, having no cause
to go on licking paws, or fathering
litter on litter of kittens, predictably.

There's also the Newberry-winning children's novel The Cat Who Went to Heaven. It's a thin book; Amazon says it's 72 pages and I don't remember my version being even that long.
posted by tyrantkitty at 9:36 AM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Pangur Bán.
posted by futility closet at 9:42 AM on November 25, 2009

If you dig talking, aristocratic English cats, there's Saki's short story Tobermory (whole story at the link).

Following up on voronoi's suggestion, here's my favorite kitty quote from Nuala O'Faolain's Are You Somebody?, about her own cat.

Hodge sits folded into himself and perfectly still, gazing with narrow golden eyes into the mid-distance, a tiny, plushy sphinx. He has a ball of a head, a body like a plump velvet teardrop, wide and innocent paws, a fat tail. "Mrkgnao!" he cries, like the cat in Molly Bloom's basement, when he's hungry. He flops into sleep. "Eck?" he says softly, if he half wakes, "eck?"
posted by vickyverky at 10:20 AM on November 25, 2009

Yeats' The Cat and the Moon

Keats' To Mrs Reynolds' Cat (also known as Sonnet to a Cat, I think)

Eliot's The Naming of Cats is the best of the Old Possum Book.

I love that Ulysses passage. Good find, voronoi!
posted by zoomorphic at 10:25 AM on November 25, 2009

The Silent Miaow, by Paul Gallico.

Although its a decent size hardcover, rather than a short story.
posted by robotot at 11:47 AM on November 25, 2009

Funny and touching--of people and cats by a skilled writer and professional editor. The start of two customer eviews from Amazon:
1) Living alone, I don't often hear myself laugh out loud
2) I read only the first book of the three in the series, but I cried a lot whilst I was reading it.
The Cat Who Went to Paris.
posted by rmhsinc at 2:14 PM on November 25, 2009

I recommend "My Father The Cat" which I read about a
week ago using the iPod touch app Stanza.

Very heartbreaking

(the other stories by that author are also good but
not about cats.)
posted by wittgenstein at 5:10 PM on November 25, 2009

you've got to include Jeffery Archer's "Just Good Friends." It's perfect!
posted by milestogo at 8:33 PM on November 25, 2009

I think Heinlein (I know) must have been fond of cats; I think they crop up in his future history novels, but the only short story I can think of is The Door Into Summer.
posted by primer_dimer at 3:17 AM on November 26, 2009

La Chatte by Colette.
posted by tangerine at 2:35 AM on November 27, 2009

Here is the link to "My Father, The Cat".
posted by wittgenstein at 12:47 PM on December 3, 2009

Late addition. Cordwainer Smith's "The Game of Rat and Dragon".
posted by zadcat at 8:21 PM on December 6, 2009

Dear all,

Thanks for the replies! Will go through them and mark up a few best answers over the coming weeks.
posted by laumry at 4:38 AM on December 8, 2009

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