Even my own kitty approves this book
Title: The Well-Read Cat (Originally titled: Des chats passant parmi les livres)
Author: Michèle Sacquin (Translated by Isabel Ollivier)
Publisher: Bibliothèque nationale de France and Officina Libraria
Published in: 2010, Paris
As the corny yet inevitable title of this review states, I have just polished off a wonderful little book on cats through history. To be more precise, this book is a sampling of images of cats found in the collections of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Anyone who has visited the famed library (or at least its massive website at gallica.bnf.fr) knows that many treasures are to be found there. It was only a matter of time before a cat lover, incidentally the library’s curator, decided to fish out its feline photographs and imagery. Alongside the panoply of paper cats (as the book calls them), we have the pleasure of reading various quotes on these whiskered critters by famous authors. The main text is a brief exploration of the history of the perception of cats in folklore and popular culture. Thanks to the extensive holdings at the BnF, the author is able to present cats not only in a European context, but a Middle-Eastern and Asian one as well. One page might contain the photograph of an Egyptian cat carved in a regal pose, while another will illustrate a turn-of-the-century French milk ad. Speaking of which, it is good to be reminded that the book was previously published in French before being translated in English and Italian (Gatti di Biblioteca). Rightly so: the allure of this four-legged house-pet reaches beyond geography, as pictures of Japanese pussies will attest to. The reader of this book will also appreciate this last cheeky allusion as the author does not shy away from more explicit symbolism and representations of cats. Indeed, she reminds us that for the longest time, cats were not only linked to witchcraft (in fact, regardless of colour until a few centuries ago), but were equally a symbol of female sexuality. Our only qualm with this book is the numerous mentions of other artwork not reproduced within these pages. Then again, we must remind ourselves that the objective of the book is to highlight only pieces found at the BnF. All in all, even though this book is a relatively short read (easily accomplished in less than an afternoon as I have done, sitting next to the lion statues at the Art Institute of Chicago where I picked up my copy), one can spend hours looking at these wonderful representation of cats through the ages. Do not miss this one, especially if you have a feline companion of your own!
A new meaning to Persian cat...
One seriously creepy medieval puss...
A fine feline if ever there was.