Monday, May 28, 2012

Kitty Cornered by Bob Tarte

Try as I might, there are librarian stereotypes that I cannot escape. I have thick glasses, I'm an introvert, I own several cardigans and I am, above all else, a cat lady. At one time in my life, I found myself responsible for five cats at once. I currently own two - one wayward cat was reclaimed by his owner (after having wandered, somehow, to my house from across the river) and two passed away. Luckily, I am not the only cat owner at the library, and I can get my multiple-kitty fix anytime.

Becoming a cat lady (or lord) can creep up on you. You start with one, adopt another because she might be lonely, then you spy a stray in your neighborhood, or a friend of a friend can no longer take care of some poor, defenseless elderly cat, and can’t you please take him in? This is how Bob Tarte, author of Kitty Cornered, found his house filled with six cats of wildly differing personalities (this is after he and his wife took in a multitude of ducks, parrots, chickens and rabbits).

In the beginning, the Tarte household had only two cats - Moobie, an aging white cat, and Agnes, a black cat who enjoys tripping people as they navigate the stairs. They’re soon joined by Lucy, Maynard, Tina and - eventually - Frannie. Each cat comes with his or her own baggage. From Lucy’s disdain for litter boxes, to Maynard’s (originally Maybel) constant wailing and Frannie’s insistence on being petted while she eats. Anyone who has owned a cat can sympathize not just with Tarte’s struggles to make each cat feel at home, but also with his strong desire to do so, even at great financial and mental costs.

What makes this book so entertaining and heartwarming is Tarte’s earnestness to earn each cat’s affection. The most difficult cat to win over, Frannie, who Tarte and his wife caught only fleeting glimpses of at first - eventually comes around, as much as a cat can. Each chapter tells the story of how each cat came to join the household, and the troubles and travails entailed. There are many laugh-out-loud moments in the book, such as Moobie’s adaptation to wearing an Elizabethan collar (or, as Tarte’s wife calls it, “the funnel of happiness”) and some poignant ones as well. Throughout, Tarte narrates with self-deprecating humor, mixing his own anxieties with those of (and for) his animals. The lengths to which he goes to for his cats - and his deep love for them - were immediately familiar to me. How many other pet owners have anxiously checked litter boxes and water bowl levels when a pet is ill? Or wonder if a momentary limp or prolonged scratching means something more dire than what it appears to be?

As with any book about a beloved pet written lately, the end of the book is usually dedicated to the inevitable decline in the pet’s health, the excruciating decisions that must be made and the reflection on the aftermath of loss. Being as soft-hearted as I am, I have avoided such books because I simply can’t bear to read about the death of a pet, or even about the tragic circumstances the pet was rescued from. No Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat or Homer’s Odyssey for me, thank you. So I was hesitant to pick up Kitty Cornered, for fear of a chapter ominously titled “Borrowed Time” or “The Big Meadow.” Happily, there is no such sadness in Tarte’s book. While two of the cats have close calls, we’re left with an image of a warm and chaotic household where cats outnumber humans, and happily so.

You can see photos of Tarte's cats on his website, and browse a collection of photos of C-SPL staff cats, too!


  1. I've avoided the library cat books so far, but I might have to check this one out! I've recently become a cat-owning librarian stereotype...and I own more cardigans than any one person should :)

    Have you seen "Crafting with Cat Hair"? It takes the love of one's cat to an entirely new level:

  2. Allison, thanks so much for the very generous review of my book about our six cats. I'm really happy that you enjoyed it, and I can tell from reading the review that you are my kind of a person. A cat person. What else!

  3. Melissa - I loved "Crafting with Cat Hair"! I haven't tried any of the ideas, but I certainly have enough raw material to work with!

  4. Bob, I'm so flattered you enjoyed my review! I've been recommending it to all my other cat-loving friends. It's great to know there are so may other cat people out there! Thank you!

  5. Thanks so much, Allison. I should mention that there are more stories about the cats in my first two books "Enslaved by Ducks" and "Fowl Weather." Also, on my publisher's blog, you'll find a column in which my six cats from "Kitty Cornered" give advice to other cats who submit questions. You'll find the column here:

  6. The advice column is fantastic! I'll my cats know about it! I've place a request for "Fowl Weather" - I don't have much experience with feathered friends (aside from being mobbed by geese while biking around Lake Wingra, Wis. in college) but one of my coworkers raises exotic chickens. But I'm sure I don't need any experience to enjoy the book!