January 28, 2016


Dogfulness: The Path to Inner Peace. Compiled by Michael Powell. Illustrations by Lorenzo Montatore. Andrews McMeel. $9.99.

Catfulness: The Path to Inner Peace. Compiled by Michael Powell. Illustrations by Lorenzo Montatore. Andrews McMeel. $9.99.

Pete the Cat’s Groovy Guide to Love. By Kimberly & James Dean. Illustrations by James Dean. Harper. $12.99.

     Whether you call them furry companions, “furry kids,” or even, yes, pets, there is no question that dogs and cats teach us a great deal about a great many things, from responsibility to odor toleration. They can also, as these new books note, teach us a lot about devotion and love. The small hardcover gift books called Dogfulness and Catfulness try perhaps a little too hard to parallel each other, with Michael Powell including quotations from many of the same sources in both and Lorenzo Montatore insisting on exploring the same venues again and again (for instance, a human bathroom where there is no toilet paper because the dog – or cat – has taken it outdoors to play with it). This is all in good fun, of course, particularly the illustrations, which look like stills from any number of shows on the Cartoon Network. But the books want to be more than celebrations of human interactions with dogs and cats: they try for a kind of wry humor focusing on irritating things that animal companions do (although we love them anyway), and they even seek a certain level of thoughtful depth. Dogfulness, for example, quotes, without a trace of irony, theosophist Helena Blavatsky: “Thou canst not travel on the Path before thou hast become that Path itself” – a comment whose illustration shows an over-eager cat-chasing dog trampling his human into the mud (which is not quite what Madame Blavatsky mean about needing to “become the Path”). Blavatsky’s is one of the best-known names here; most quotations come from people of whom readers are unlikely ever to have heard. It is the words that matter, though, not the sources. “Do one thing every day that scares you” (Mary Schmich) shows a worried-looking dog gazing at the door to a veterinary clinic while a worried-looking man looks at the door to a dentist’s office. “Persistence and determination are always rewarded” (Christine Rice) features a smiling dog that has actually managed to catch its own tail. In Catfulness, “Those who are not chasing their dreams should stay out of the way of those who are” (Tim Fargo) features a cat about to go after the residents of a birdhouse in a tree while a man yells disapprovingly from below, while “Replace fear of the unknown with curiosity” (Danny Gokey) shows a man opening a clothes dryer to discover a wide-eyed and rather bemused-looking cat inside. Neither of these little books truly charts a “path to inner peace,” but then neither of them really intends to: both offer readers a path to inner chuckles and occasional thoughtfulness, and it is the combination of laughter and thinking that may, just may, show the way to internal peacefulness.

     Although Dogfulness and Catfulness, which are intended for adults, draw on the underlying assumption that humans love the animals with which they share their homes, the love connection is more explicit in the latest Pete the Cat book, Pete the Cat’s Groovy Guide to Love – which is intended for children, but offers quotations from much-better-known people than those included in the books for grownups. This is a particularly engaging Pete the Cat offering, because it features Pete commenting in his own Pete-like way on the more-flowery love-related comments from great writers and thinkers of the past. That explains the book’s subtitle, “Tips from a Cool Cat on How to Spread the Love.” For example, one page quotes Marcel Proust: “Love is space and time measured by the heart.” The illustration shows Pete piloting a spaceship and thinking, “Far out! Love is out of this world.” On another page is the famous quotation from Virgil, “Love conquers all.” This page shows Pete planting a flag that says “Love” on top of a mountain and thinking, “Love makes anything possible!” On still another page, Oliver Wendell Holmes is quoted: “Love is the master key which opens the gates of happiness.” Here the illustration shows Pete holding a big golden key and standing in front of a large gate festooned with hearts. He is thinking, “Come on in!”  Pete the Cat’s Groovy Guide to Love is a particularly happy (Pete would say, yes, “groovy”) collaboration between the wife-and-husband team of Kimberly and James Dean: the sources are delightfully varied (Pierre Beaumarchais, Lennon/McCartney, Audrey Hepburn, Euripedes); the glosses by Pete on the comments are true to his thinking and fun in their own way; and the book even finds room for a couple of small adventures, in one of which Pete rights an upside-down turtle and in another of which he revives some flowers by watering them. Pete the Cat’s Groovy Guide to Love is, on the surface, for kids, but there is plenty of wisdom and fun in it for adults as well.

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