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Rarely There

A collection of discourses - myriad, profound, uplifting...
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Saturday, May 1, 2010

On Cats

oris lessin on cats book review
On Cats
by Doris Lessing

"If a fish is the movement of water embodied, given shape, then a cat is a diagram and pattern of subtle air. "

I admit, I struggled through The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing and gave up. Not because of the book, but my inability to handle it all in one long session. It is complex, to say the least. And, I guess one's state of mind plays a big role in being able to absorb, relate-to, and appreciate such a consummate work.

Anyway, after that, I was looking for something lighter by Lessing and that's how I started reading On Cats - a collection consisting of Particularly Cats, Rufus The Survivor and El Magnifico.

Now, not having any association with creatures of the feline persuasion up until about 8 years ago, I, like many non-cat-people concluded that cats are proud, unfriendly, independent, un-trainable, selfish little balls of fluff that are better left alone...

All that changed eight years ago, when as newly weds, we adopted 2 cats (duly 'fixed'), brothers and litter-mates who have made our stress-filled lives much more comforting than I expected.

And, had it not been for the kitties in my life, who have taught me that they have just as much personality and warmth as the next human being, debunking the myths about being independent and unfriendly, showing me how calming the sound of unmuffled-motocyclish purring can be to the human soul, this book would not have made it to my hands.

The book is beautifully written about the various cats in the author's life. Her fondness for some of them and her fascination shines through the honest and sometimes blunt portrayal of these lovely creatures. The language flows like poetry and tugs at the heartstrings. The unique personalities and characteristics of the cats we meet in the book are enough to show how wrong the widely-held casual opinion of them can be... as the author notes, if you want to know about cats, don't ask a vet ask someone who has lived with them long enough.

Of course, cats are just cats, they are not humans. The human mind sees what it wants to see in them, attributing feelings and emotions and causes and explanations to their behavior. But, if we were to indulge a bit, then Lessing's little volume On Cats makes the experience truly enriching and unforgettable. The book is gripping, funny, heartrending, and simply stunning.

Having said that, the book has references to kitten killings, an unfortunate practice in certain parts of the world, leading to possibly a strong argument for spaying/neutering pets. Not sure if research is conclusive about the better quality of life for spayed pets, but, it sure seems more humane than killing kittens because we don't want to deal with them... and being programmed to breed periodically, it is indeed unavoidable that we end up with many cute little things that cease to be cute pretty quickly.

At the end, I felt like I met a lot of interesting people whose lives were full of adventure and misfortune, comedy and tragedy, joy and sorrow... even if they walked on four legs and had a tail, and all they said was miaow.

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