March 29, 2012


Why Dogs Are Better Than Cats. By Bradley Trevor Greive. Photographs by Rachael Hale. Andrews McMeel. $19.99.

Pocket Cats #3: Feline Charm. By “Kitty Wells” (pseudonym of Lee Weatherly). Illustrated by Joanna Harrison. David Fickling Books. $13.99.

     The question will never be answered to everyone’s satisfaction: dogs or cats? The reply “both are fine in their own ways” satisfies no one, or at least no one with fanatical devotion to canines or felines. Not that Bradley Trevor Greive is a fanatic: he describes himself as “prodog, not anticat.” But Why Dogs Are Better Than Cats certainly provides plenty of ammunition for those determined to fight for the bark and against the meow. Tongue-in-cheek ammunition, to be sure, but still…. The book is part putdown of cats (“cats thrive in the current climate of passive narcissism”), part celebration of dogs (“a dog will live anywhere and endure anything if it means the whole family is safe, happy, and stays together”), and part comparative analysis (“while cats have a keen sense of their own needs, dogs have a remarkable understanding of ours”). It is also a simply marvelous photographic book: Rachael Hale’s pictures are excellent, whether of dogs, cats, elephants, birds, or the occasional eye-patched guinea pig. Greive’s text comes sometimes in paragraphs, sometimes in captions, and sometimes in footnotes – which can be funnier than the main text. For example, in a section called “The Downside of Dogs,” Greive points out that “from time to time, they keep everyone awake by howling at the moon,” and then offers this footnote: “Though frankly we’d all do well to howl at the moon from time to time.” Why Dogs Are Better Than Cats was originally published in 2009 and has lost absolutely none of its charm or relevance – to the extent that this whole subject is relevant. The thing about Greive is that he manages to act as if the whole dogs-vs.-cats subject is one of tremendous importance even while making it clear that, you know, it’s not. He is also adept at giving backhanded compliments with a certain amount of elegance: “Cats are attractive to look at and, when possessed by their own frisky demons, hilarious to observe. …I hate to admit it, but there is something strangely compelling about their pompous conceits and counterintuitive mannerisms.” Greive is equally good with direct compliments – directed to dogs, that is: “Dogs are born with full hearts and open minds. …They can learn and adapt to an endless variety of new games, all of which are motivated by the desire to understand their human playmate, affirm their affection, and feel loved and valued.” The fact that Why Dogs Are Better Than Cats solves absolutely nothing in the age-old canine-vs.-feline dispute is irrelevant, since Greive clearly does not expect it to do so. What the book does is provide wonderful talking points on both sides of the unending argument, coming down clearly on one side of it but giving considerable satisfaction to the other, and offering so many splendid photographs of dogs and cats alike that only a dyed-in-the-wool fanatic on either side will come away from the book with anything less than a smile and a nice-sized helping of genuine thoughtfulness.

     For something less all-encompassing and disputatious (even in fun), intended purely as a sweet little book for cat-loving young girls (up at age seven or eight), Feline Charm, third in the Pocket Cats series, fills the bill. This (+++) book continues the story of Maddy, who has always believed in magic and always wanted a cat of her own – and who finds that her tiny ceramic cats are coming to life, one by one. Like Paw Power and Shadow Magic, the first two books in the series, Feline Charm sets up a small conflict and lets Maddy solve it through her newfound magic and her connection to the now-living cats – in this case, one named Ollie. This is a ballet story: Maddy’s best friend, Rachel, is about to give it up from lack of confidence, until Maddy uses cat magic to help her. But the help is too good, as Rachel gets the star part in the ballet school’s production of The Nutcracker and has a chance to dance with ballerina Snow Bradley, while Maddy becomes jealous and flustered and gets nothing but increasing criticism from the ballet teacher. Friendship and cat magic make everything come out just fine, naturally, and if this latest Pocket Cats book adds nothing one way or the other to the never-ending dog-or-cat debate, it at least adds some pleasantly written, sweetly illustrated enjoyment to the lives of young feline fanciers.

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