November 16, 2006


CatChristmas. By B. Kliban. Pomegranate. $12.95.

Cat E Gor y.  By Edward Gorey. Pomegranate. $14.95.

The Twelve Terrors of Christmas. By John Updike. Drawings by Edward Gorey. Pomegranate. $9.95.

Top Cats: The Life and Times of the New York Public Library Lions. By Susan G. Larkin. Pomegranate. $19.95.

     Some gifts are for cat lovers only.  Not cat owners – no one ever really owns a cat – but people who love felines, either the real-life type or the delightfully fictitious sort created by such masters of the medium (whatever medium they used) as B. Kliban and Edward Gorey.  Kliban (1935-1990) was an inspired creator of cat stuff, and CatChristmas collects some of his cutest seasonal drawings: the cat hanging from Santa’s nose, the cat atop a Christmas tree (causing it to bend all the way over), the boxed cat wearing a red ribbon, the basket of kittens on a doorstep, and more.  This charming little book – small enough for stocking-stuffing – also includes never-before-published feline versions of Christmas carols.  “Oscar Beany Catt” writes, “Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree, Your ornaments make great toys.”  “Wheela Brie” offers “The Little Drumstick Cat,” which ends, “Pa rumpa pum pum, Yum yum yum.”  Also look for “Kitties We Have Heard on High,” “Hark the Hungry Kitties Sing,” and more – it’s cat-egorically funny.

     And speaking of categories, the strangely titled Cat E Gor y (the name makes perfect sense when you see it on the cover, accompanied by two cats arranging the letters) reflects the feline celebrations of another top-notch cat artist, Edward Gorey (1925-2000).  This book, also small enough to be a stocking stuffer, was not created specifically for Christmas and will be fun at any time for Gorey fans.  Its history is unusual: for a limited edition of his book Amphigorey, published in 1973, Gorey created 50 cat drawings – one per book.  Each owner of the limited edition thus has one of these drawings – but the owner of Cat E Gor y has all 50.  Part of the fun here is finding the numbers contained in each drawing.  “Four” is given as “IV” on the shirt worn by a black-and-white cat in a drawing that also includes colored streamers.  “Eleven” is written out as a word on the bow of a small boat in which a cat sits dreamily.  “Twenty-two” is a partially obscured “22” on a planter atop a high stand – at which a cat on the floor is looking.  “Thirty-one” appears as “31” on the scarf of a cat riding a unicycle.  Except for the numbers, these are wordless drawings – and no words are required.  The book is a great cat-ch.

     Gorey did create Christmas-specific illustrations – featuring bats, not cats – for John Updike’s The Twelve Terrors of Christmas, a tongue-fairly-firmly-in-cheek little book (yes, yet another stocking stuffer) in which typically peculiar-looking Gorey characters endure the trials and tribulations of the season.  One of those is the mall Santa, with “loose-fitting nylon beard, fake optical twinkle, cheap red suit, [and] funny rummy smell when you sit on his lap.”  Then there are Santa’s helpers: “Underclass masochism one day, bloody rebellion the next.”  As for carols, they “boom and chime from the vaulted ceilings of supermarkets and discount malls – and yet the spirits keep sinking.”  And let us not forget “Fear of Returns,” which is “the humiliating descent into mercantilism’s boiler room.”  Perfect for the Scrooge on your list, or your own inner Scrooge, The Twelve Terrors of Christmas can help keep the holiday season in perspective so it doesn’t become cat-astrophic.

     But the holidays will end, of course, and the seasons will move on – so how about a cat for all seasons?  Or, more specifically, two cats?  That is what the lions in front of the main branch of the New York Public Library have been since they were put in place in 1910.  Well, actually, not quite…as Susan G. Larkin points out, the lions were not a huge hit when the first plaster models of them were set out, but they soon enough became an important meeting place for New Yorkers of all types.  And they really are “for all seasons,” as this book’s 90-or-so images (color and black and white) show: they wear hats and wreaths, are seen on New Yorker covers being playful or erudite, and come across at various times as reassuring, joyous, or simply symbolic of a great city.  As interesting as the photos of the finished lions are, showing New Yorkers enjoying them, the story of their creation is equally enthralling.  Larkin, an art historian, discusses how the lions were conceived and then built by sculptor Edward Clark Potter, and shows how in later years they were renovated to retain their fresh appearance and their positions as unofficial but very public ambassador-cats of good will.

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