The Year of the Cat
According to the Chinese lunar calendar, the Year of the Snake began on Feb. 10. But by most other standards, 2013 is shaping up to be the Year of the Cat. In the first week of February, Hasbro, makers of the Monopoly board game, announced they were replacing one of the traditional tokens, the flat iron, with a curvaceous silver pussycat. Ailurophobes howled, blaming the “all-powerful cat lobby” (so teased a reporter on NPR), but the evidence suggests that public taste alone explains the switch. There are 86 million cats in American households, and in a Facebook survey, the nimble cat instantly leapt ahead of the regular Monopoly retinue to become players’ piece of choice — nearly twice as popular as the Scottie Dog, and three times more popular than the Car and Battleship. Take that, cat detractors!
In March, Grumpy Cat, a scowling feline who receives one and a half million hits a month on her Web site, grumpycats.com, further heightened the profile of her species with a multistop media blitz. On the 6th, she traveled to Austin, Tex., where she was met by her sponsor (Friskies) and her agent, Ben Lashes (who manages many memes), and attended the South by Southwest 2013 festival. Two weeks later, she flew to New York, where she appeared on “Good Morning America,” gave an interview to Forbes, and dropped by Time Magazine for her close-up as meme of the moment.
There is no word on a reality TV show: the bases on that are covered, what with “My Cat From Hell” having just begun its fourth season on Animal Planet (hosted by the tattooed “cat listener” Jackson Galaxy), and a family-friendly new program, “Psycho Kitty,” set to be broadcast on Discovery UK this fall, hosted by the Nashville-based animal behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennett, who is the author of seven books on cat training. (Yes, apparently, you can train a cat.)
Still, Grumpy Cat nabbed a book deal, even though clowders of other cats have beaten her to the punch. April saw the publication of “Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Desperation, and GPS Technology” (Bloomsbury, 176 pp., $20), written by the amateur pilot and seasoned cat lover Caroline Paul and illustrated by her partner, the artist Wendy MacNaughton. Last year, while recovering from a bad accident in an experimental plane, in which she smashed her ankle and broke her leg, Ms. Paul suffered the further trauma of having her cat Tibia (Tibby) go missing for weeks — “waving his wild tail, and walking by his wild lone,” as Rudyard Kipling once put it.
Tormented by visions of “catnappers, vivisectionists,” Ms. Paul blanketed her neighborhood with fliers and even consulted a psychic, to no avail. Luckily, the cat came back. Upon Tibby’s return, Ms. Paul clipped a GPS tracker to his collar in an effort to reconstruct where he had strayed (seedy juke joints, she thought, or a Russian bathhouse, or Antarctica). In the book, her text and Ms. MacNaughton’s ink and wash drawings record the sometimes true, sometimes fanciful results of her sleuthing (and guesswork) in memoir form.
In a different memoir, “Another Insane Devotion: On the Love of Cats and Persons” (DaCapo Lifelong, 304 pp., $24), Peter Trachtenberg tried to figure out what motivated the various women and cats in his life (particularly his cats Bitey and Biscuit), and failed entertainingly at both endeavors. “I’m always conscious that my judgments about what a cat is thinking or feeling aren’t really judgments but projections,” he writes.
Far from frivolous, such meditations lie at the heart of the scientific quest. In her optimistically titled book, “The Cat Whisperer: Why Cats Do What They Do — and How to Get Them to Do What You Want” (Random House, 336 pp., $24), Mieshelle Nagelschneider explains that cat owners’ D.I.Y. inquiry follows the time-honored research practice of “speculative tracking.” Her findings may come in handy for Mr. Trachtenberg. And if Ms. Paul and Ms. MacNaughton had been able to read Ms. Nagelschneider’s chapters on “The Compulsive Cat,” and “Mind-Throwing: Inside the Being of the Cat,” Tibby might not have strayed in the first place.
Then again, being a cat, he might have.