The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

May 28, 2015

May 28, 1939

Niall O'Dowd, whose precise connection to Maureen Dowd I have forgotten, wrote an obituary notice for Maeve Binchy. Binchy, (May 28, 1939 to  July 30, 2012) a best selling novelist, was apparently as nice as she was smart and energetic. O'Dowd, an Irish American publisher, says this:

When you hear the term national treasure used to refer to someone who has just passed, it is usually exaggeration of the worst kind. In the case of Maeve Binchy however, it is correct. ....She was a national treasure of Ireland and much more; hilarious, profane, an incredible friend, and a hugely talented writer....

I knew her but not very well. Years ago I hosted a dinner for her and her beloved husband, Gordon Snell. They were just embarking on the literary career that brought her huge fame and fortune and I did what I could to make sure Irish Americans knew all about her.

It was not much, but she never forgot that small act I did for her. Every year without fail would come a Christmas card with a letter, not just any letter but a warm personal one full of details of her year, questions about how I was doing and always, an invitation to come see them when in Ireland.......

She told one of the most hilarious stories I have ever heard. Maeve was a large woman and she described being invited to the White House to meet Barbara Bush who was a huge fan. Barbara had two tiny corgis at the time and they were wild, galloping round the First Lady and Maeve as they sat and talked.

As I remember it, when Maeve got up, she accidentally stepped on one of them, leading to a scene of mass confusion and mayhem as the barely injured pooch was attended to. Maeve left me in tears of laughter at her description of the scene. Like in her books, she was a marvelous storyteller.

She loved cats and called one Prionsias (Gaelic for Frank) after the then Workers Party leader Prionsias De Rossa -- she showed me a picture of her tabby and there was clearly a massive resemblance. It would make a cat laugh. She had a way of telling a story.

Binchy's books included Circle of Friends (1990) and Tara Road (1998) ,just two of her works which were after made into movies.

May 27, 2015

May 27, 1894

Dashiell Hammett, a Life (1987) is a biography of our subject, born May 27, 1894,  by a woman better known for her novels, Diane Johnson. We can assume, based on this book, that cats were not a big deal for Hammett. What we do have, though, is a lovely metaphor, from a great short story, "The Man Who Killed Dan Odams." This early story  was first published in the January 15, 1924 issue of The Black Mask. The plot concerns a fugitive in the mountainous West.

The first road he came to bent up toward Tiger Butte. ...

Of an isolated setting of several ramshackle buildings Hammett says:

The group seemed asprawl in utter terror of the great cat upon whose flank it found itself. .......

You want to read this story. It may not be online. The story is worthy of the author of The Maltese Falcon.

May 26, 2015

May 26, 2013

Kriota Willberg is a choreographer, according to her wilipedia article. This cartoon she did I like a lot. Possibly like me the artist is alarmed by the disappearance of the feline in lolcat phenomena. She titled this drawing "Pictorial Anatomy of the Cute."  And she dated it. 

May 25, 2015

May 25, 1911

Will Barnet (May 25, 1911 to November 13, 2012) was an American painter who was born in Beverly, Massachusetts and died in New York City. According to his Washington Post obit, paintings such as the one below represent the phase in his artistic career that succeeded his abstraction years.

“He started out as a representational artist and moved into abstraction,” said Joann Moser, senior curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington. “Then in the mid-1960s, he adopted a type of abstracted realism in which he achieved a precise balance between abstraction and representation.”

The author of his obituary, David Brown, label this last phase, a " haunted and stylized realism." We have an example:

This is Will Barnet's "Woman Reading," (1970).

In 1939 his work was included in “American Art Today” at the New York World’s Fair, according to his Times obit. While we may wonder why he had to be 100 years old before he got a National Medal of Arts , in fact, critics and his fellow artists had not underrated this genius.

May 24, 2015

May 24, 1928

Roger Caras (May 24, 1928 to February 18, 2001, ((Wikipedia has his dates wrong))) is a well-known author and he addressed from many platforms animal welfare during his lifetime. Here are some highlights from his New York Times obituary.

Roger A. Caras, one of the most prominent public voices for animal welfare as a popular writer, broadcast personality, ..., died Sunday in Towson, Md. He was 72 and lived on a farm in Freeland, Md. ...He died of complications of a heart attack he suffered in December, said his daughter, Pamela Caras Rupert.

A lover of animals from lab rats to llamas, Mr. Caras is credited with transforming the
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals by expanding its national animal protection and public education programs to focus on population control, rather than euthanizing unwanted animals.

Under his leadership the society also acquired and expanded the nation's first poison control center for animals.

Perhaps most importantly, he started a spay/neuter program at the A.S.P.C.A. that has been copied by humane organizations around the country. Under the program, which encourages people to get their pets neutered as early as 8 to 12 weeks old, all pets put up for adoption by the society are first spayed or neutered.

In 1995 in New York, the national headquarters of the organization, the local chapter ended a 100-year history as the city's animal control agency, in which it had collected and killed up to 40,000 abandoned and derelict cats, dogs and other animals each year.

''We were the first in and just about the last out,'' Mr. Caras said as New York society joined a national trend. ''It was a mistake 100 years ago and it was a mistake last year.''
[In] 1952, he resumed his studies at the University of Southern California, where he majored in cinema. ....Mr. Caras [then] began a 15-year career as a motion picture executive. But over that career, he found his true calling, the study of animals in their natural habitats.

Mr. Caras wrote more than 70 books on animals. His first, ''Antarctica: Land of Frozen Time,'' was published in 1962. Others included ''A Perfect Harmony: The Intertwining Lives of Animals and Humans Throughout History'' and ''The Bond,'' a series of essays about people and their animals. His most recent work, ''Going for the Blue: Inside the World of Show Dogs and Dog Shows,'' was published this month.

In 1964, Mr. Caras began his career in broadcasting as the ''House Naturalist'' on NBC's ''Today Show.'' He stayed for eight years.

From 1965 to 1968, he was an assistant to Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick on the movie ''2001: A Space Odyssey.'' Starting in 1969, his radio series ''Pets and Wildlife'' was broadcast on the CBS Radio Network. NBC Radio broadcast his ''Report from the World of Animals'' in 1973, and ABC featured his ''The Living World'' from 1981 to 1983.

In 1975, Mr. Caras moved to ABC-TV, where he spent 17 years assigned exclusively to animals, wildlife and the environment.

He also worked as an adjunct professor of English at Southampton College on Long Island and as adjunct professor of animal ecology at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine.
Among his pets
[during his last year] were 12 dogs, 9 cats, 5 horses, 2 cows, 2 alpacas and a llama. Of his career path, Mr. Caras once said, ''I was born to be exactly what I am -- a professional practitioner of show and tell with a deep concern about our planet and its future.''...

He was so prolific a writer we can be excused if we just reference his books that mention cats in the TITLE. 

Sarang: the story of a Bengal tiger and of two children in search of a miracle (a novel), (1968)
Panther! (1970)
Harper's illustrated handbook of cats (edited by Roger Caras) (1985)
Mara Simba: the African lion (1985)
Celebration of cats (1986)
Roger Caras' treasury of great cat stories (1987)
Cat is watching : a look at the way cats see us (1989)
Cats of Thistle Hill : a mostly peaceable kingdom (1994)

May 23, 2015

May 23, 1669

Joris Abrahamsz van der Haagen (born about 1615 and buried May 23 1669 ) was a Dutch painter who carried on his father's artistry. He is called a landscape painter and here is an example titled "The Hague Forest with a View of Huis ten Bosch Palace."

Van der Haagen also did an interior with a cat at the edge of the family circle. But before we look at that, a bit of modern history concerning the palace view above. The painting caught the eye of the Dutch Queen in 1960, but she returned it to the proper owners when she realized it was looted by the German Nazis. Here is a news account:
The Dutch royal family will return a painting in its collection after discovering that the Nazis confiscated it from Jewish owners, the palace said on Tuesday.
The discovery was made by independent research commissioned by the palace in 2012 into art objects acquired since the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933.
"A Jewish collector was forced in 1942 to hand over the painting 'Haagse Bos with view over Huis Ten Bosch Palace' by Joris van der Haagen to the (Nazi) bank Lippmann, Rosenthal & Co in Amsterdam," the report said.
After the war and the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands "the painting ended up with a Dutch art dealer where queen Juliana bought it in 1960 without knowing about its history," it said.
A royal art association has made contact with the descendants of the original owner with an eye to restitution, it said, adding that no further details would be provided because of privacy concerns.

The Dutch story makes a pleasant contrast to the foot draggiing, wait-for-the-heirs-to-die attitude which often seems to characterize the German and Austrian governments. 

And here is a Joris Van der Haagen cat (lower left corner).

Image result for "Joris van der haagen" cat

May 21, 2015

May 22, 1858

Marion Harry Spielmann (May 22, 1858 to October 2, 1948) was an art historian. His criticism supported the growing professionalization of the artist in our society. What exactly does that mean? Here is part of an article behind the jstor wall. (or-- you can find Julie F. Codell's article in Victorian Periodicals Review (Vol. 22, No. 1 (Spring, 1989))

[Spielmann] was "a pivotal figure in the professionalization of art. Writing regularly for over a dozen newspapers and periodicals he promoted the institutions of the art world, defended the image of the artist as a middle-class gentleman (and lady since he assisted many women artists), advised governments and patrons in England, on the continent, and in India, and initiated a number of schemes to improve the economic and social status of artists....Spielman edited the Magazine of Art for seventeen yearts (1887-1904). He was the art editor for Black and White, which he helped found, and critic for The Graphic, The Daily Graphic, Pall Mall Gazette, London Illustrated News, Morning Leader, Westminster Gazette, Morning Post....Spielmann wrote for the DNB, the OED, was the art ediotr of the 10th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica...and the author of numerous monologues and catologs.
A second feature of the ...struggle for professionalization of artists...
[included] suggesting that art education move from specialized institutions to the universities.....

One of the women he supported was Henriette Ronner-Knip, famous for her saccahrine portrayals of kittens. You might say she is the precursor to the photoshopped degradation of the contemporary feline. In Spielmann's opinion her cat portrayals were comparable to Landseer's dogs. In fact Spielmann published a short volume about her, but I have not been able to locate a copy.

But he wrote a huge amount, and most of the following books should be freely available on the web:

The Modern Poster (1895)
The History of "Punch" 
The Portraits of Geoffrey Chaucer 1900 
John Ruskin (1900)
British Sculpture and Sculptors of Today 
The Hitherto Unidentified Contributions of W. M. Thackeray (1900)
Millais and His Works (1898)
The Iconography of Andreas Vesalius (1925)
Hugh Thomson: His Art, His Letters, His Humour and His Charm (