If you love cats and books with a literary bent, read on…
On Dec. 30, 2012, a glowing, full-page review in the New York Times Book Review sparked my interest. It was a cat memoir so of course I had to read it, and did, twice.
Another Insane Devotion:On The Love Of Cats And Persons by Peter Trachtenberg at first glance appears to be a memoir about his cat named Biscuit who goes missing while his marriage to a well-known author unravels, but this is no feline Marly And Me. Instead of terminal cuteness, Trachtenberg serves up his cat-loving heart on a platter, raw.
In this moving insightful meditation on love, loss and obligation, the worlds of cats and humans blur into an intellectual landscape peppered with asides from Plato to Proust. It’s a hell of a ride and dare I say, the best cat memoir I’ve read in recent memory. The richly layered writing, at once lyrical and lush evokes the figure-eights a cat ankleweaves when they want to leave their mark, and this does.
Trachtenberg kindly took the time to dish via email from which I gleaned this:
Q & A with Peter Trachtenberg
LMW: Why to you think cats are culturally hot?
PT: We’re living in a time of reduced expectations and simmering anxiety, anxiety about the economy, about politics, about the state of the earth. People don’t have money. They huddle at home, watching the news pulse on their smart phones and distracting themselves with cute animal videos. Cats are very suited to that kind of emotional climate, unlike dogs, the exuberant, leaping totems of more optimistic times. Cats don’t greet the stranger at the door. They peer down at him from the top of the bookcase. Yet what’s more calming than a cat curled in your lap? Cats teach us how to survive. Even a house cat can get by in the wild; it knows how to hunt. But a dog will just beg or starve.
LMW: How many cats share your life currently?
PT: I have three.
LMW: Tell us a little about the cats not mentioned in the book.
PT: Rhubarb’s about 4 and Maeve is about a year; I adopted her as a 10-month old in August. I got Rhubarb while I was in N. Carolina. I used to volunteer at the local animal shelter once a week, and a few weeks before I was due to leave this Maine Coon cat was brought in, who from the moment I came to feed her was frantic for attention. She meowed and meowed until I picked her up and then immediately started purring. The last thing I needed was to haul a new cat up to New York with me, but her sheet was marked “R”, meaning “ready” [to be euthanized]. So I took her north with me.
Rhubarb (below) enjoying his cat daddy’s book.
LMW: What is the biggest lesson Biscuit taught you?
PT: Biscuit, and the cats who shared my home before her, taught me about the relation between watching and love. Certainly I loved other beings before I had cats. I’d loved my parents and girlfriends. But that love was founded on need, and maybe occluded by it, and it shames me to admit that on some level I didn’t pay that much attention to its objects unless I wanted something from them or they wanted something from me. Which leads me to wonder whether I really did love them. There was nothing I needed from Biscuit. She didn’t rub my back or cook me meals or fetch me the paper. She did grab my hand between her paws and lick it; she was so determined about it that if I tried lifting my hand she’d push it down and scrub it with greater vigor. But her main gift to me was letting me see her in the fullness of her being. And that to me is the basis for all love. Something or someone lets you see them, and you have the curiosity and patience to watch, to watch for the sake of watching. And love springs up.
LMW: Sartre was inspired by his cats. Do you believe cats are existentialists?
PT: It’s more like they’re Zen Buddhists with bad posture. The hours of silent sitting and the sudden wild unforeseeable act.
LMW: You believe in allowing cats to exercise their true nature by going outdoors. Do you still ascribe to that belief despite the risks described in the book?
PT: I’m torn about this. I believe cats are wild in a way dogs aren’t. I’m told that a puppy born and brought up in the wild will still approach a human being, but a feral kitten will run. And the cats I’ve owned seemed happiest when they could go in and out as they pleased. But I lost more than one cat that way, and now that I live in a city, on the corner of a very busy street, letting my cats out is out of the question. Sometimes, when I leave for the day, I look back and see them lolling in the living room, and they look bored and sullen, like teenagers. But this is the first time in all the time I’ve lived with cats that some part of me isn’t anxious about where they are and what may have happened to them while I was gone.
LMW: Could you fall in love with a woman who didn’t love cats?
PT: At the very least, she’d have to like them a whole lot. Because otherwise– face it– she’d get bored very quickly hanging out with a man whose main comment of the evening might be, “Oh look what Rhubarb’s doing now! That’s hilarious!”
To learn more about Peter Trachtenberg, visit his website PeterTrachtenberg.com
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Odin approves. For other cat photo quotes for this book, visit Boomer Muse
Must have a copy right now?
- Another Insane Devotion: nonfiction
- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: Da Capo Press (November 13, 2012)
- Cat Wisdom 101 Rating: 4 Paws
- Disclosure: I received review copies which did not influence my views.
The winner of last week’s giveaway for the Rexxaroo book & gift pack is TXMadCatter. Congratulations. Look for an email from Layla and Cat Wisdom 101.com