Cat vs Human, by Yasmine Surovec
I sometimes get more than a little bit of grief for reading so many books about cats, not least because I don’t have any pets and have not for quite some time. For a variety of reasons, though, I find cats interesting to write about as they provide a way for people to provide insight into human problems through the discussion of the ways that people care for and devote a large amount of resources to adorable felines. Rather than talk about myself, though, I would like to ponder on the sort of people who write books about cats. In this particular book, clearly written from the point of view of a cat lady (and perhaps only occasionally a crazy cat lady), we can find an illustrator who clearly knows what it is like to take care of cats, has a reasonably good sense of humor, and clearly wishes to portray cat ladies as insanely attractive. The reference is somewhat ambivalent; does the author wish to state that cat ladies are immensely attractive, where insanely means something to a ridiculously high degree, or does she mean to indicate that cat ladies are attractive in a way that demonstrates insanity? This ambiguity makes it an easier book to appreciate.
The book itself consists mainly of cartoons, but some of them show a considerable amount of detail and most of them show off a sense of knowledge about cats and about the people who take care of them. There are some humorous comparisons between kittens and dinosaurs, a hilarious anatomy of a cat lady (where the reference to insane attractiveness is mentioned), and a whole lot more. There are jokes about the way that cat lovers embarrass themselves in front of their neighbors, about the way that people without kids can talk about their pets in a way that mirrors the way that parents talk about their children, and even some aspects of the ways in which life is different with and without cats in a way that shows some clear and intriguing trade-offs. The author has some humorous views of dating life for cat lovers and the way that dog lovers and cat lovers are sometimes more alike than is often realized. The book as a whole contains a great deal of humor about the frustrations and as well as the enjoyment of having cats as pets, which makes the title a bit less of a hostile sign than one would expect at first.
As I have noted before, books like this one say a great deal about cats but they say even more about human beings. In particular, books that seek to portray cats as intelligent beings, if very odd ones, are also books that demonstrate the way that human beings relentlessly antropomorphize anything that is around us. To be sure, cats are clever, but it is books about cats that put their thoughts in a sort of structure and that imagine cats as being more like people than they are. That which we devote time and attention and love and affection to we view as being somehow worthy of all of that investment of ourselves and our own capabilities, and that is certainly true of writing books. When we write books about something, we consider them to be worth the considerable effort it takes, which is one reason for the popularity of books that traffic in cat memes and in attempts to understand or at least to ponder over the quirky behavior of animals who appear to be deeply schizoid in ways that are adorable but simultaneously frustrating. After all, we are seeking to understand ourselves as well simultaneously.