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Feline Good with Our Favorite Literary Cats

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Even before Dewey the Small-Town Library Cat hit the scene, feline friends held a special place in many librarians' hearts. Cuddling up with a cat and a book is an ideal state for many of us (although we're also equal-opportunity pet lovers! We love our literary dogs, too, and probably birds and lizards and snakes and guinea pigs...).

woman holding cats

So, in the spirit of feline companionship, we asked our NYPL book experts: which books star your favorite literary cats? Here's what they said.

Fantastical Felines

Catwings, in which Ursula LeGuin writes about the adventures of cats who were born with wings. I have no idea why this isn’t an animated series with plush dolls and t-shirts and fan cons with cosplay cat ears and wings. —Judd Karlman, Pelham Bay

What’s better than a cat who’s a celestial being with purple eyes and sassy attitude? My favorite cat is Faithful in In the Hand of the Goddess by Tamora Pierce and then reappears again as Pounce in the Beka Cooper series Terrier, also by Pierce. Chantalle Uzan, Francis Martin

The Aeronaut’s Windlass, Jim Butcher’s second foray into high fantasy, features a race of hyper-intelligent felines who serve the lords of the Spires. Or are they the lords? —Joshua Soule, Spuyten Duyvil

Ursala K. LeGuin’s No Time to Spare: Thinking about What Matters is a collection of the prolific author’s essays on a variety of topics like ageing, writing, our socio-political landscape, and culture. Any cat lover, though, will probably find themselves most delighted by the vivid, playful, and soulful stories of her cat Pard that are sprinkled throughout. —Beth Dukes, Enrichment Zones

fantastical cats

My Cat Yugoslavia. Dating can be hard, especially when your boyfriend is a sexy, bigoted, and capricious cat who doesn’t get along with your free-range snake. In Pajtim Statovci’s novel he weaves in this fanciful story line while addressing immigration, Balkin weddings, and isolation. —Richard Dowe, Aguilar

The Rabbi’s Cat swallows a parrot, gaining the ability to speak. Belonging to a rabbi and all, the cat decides he must be Jewish and demands a bar mitzvah. Calamity ensues in this graphic novel set in 1920’s Algeria. —Charlie Radin, Inwood

First mentioned in Rosemary and Rue, Tybalt, King of the Court of Cats in San Francisco, is the Cait Sidhe that eventually paws his way into the hearts of readers throughout the October Daye series by Seanan McGuire. —Kate Fais, Bloomingdale

How can we forget the most magical cat of all? Through thick and thin, Salem sticks (sometimes reluctantly) by Sabrina’s side as she navigates her witchy power and flirts with her dark side in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Robert Hack. —Susen Shi, Mid-Manhattan

Classic Cats

No literary cat list would be complete without the magical and jellicle cats of T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. These fun poems extoll the virtues and sins of irrepressible felines and the joys of owning one - or is it the cat(s) own us? Join Mr. Mistoffelees, Rum Tum Tugger, Mungojerrie. Rumpleteazer, Skimbleshanks and more as their poetical antics burrow there way into your hearts. Bonus points for the edition that includes the lovabley mischievious cat illustrations of Edward Gorey. —Anne Rouyer, Mulberry Street

It would be hard not to mention Behemoth from The Master and Margarita. Alongside his boss, Satan, Behemoth wreaks havoc on 1930s Moscow while eating and drinking endless amounts of vodka, playing occasional games of chess, performing acrobatics in a demonic magic show, and (maybe) pretending to be Dostoevsky at an exclusive social club for writers. —Aidan Flax-Clark, Public Programs

book cover with cat

Cat, “a poor slob without a name.” Holly’s nameless moggy in Breakfast at Tiffany‘s symbolizes both her desire for freedom, and,ultimately her need to belong. We don’t know much about Cat’s past (just like I don’t know much about the past of the rescue cats I’ve adopted), and I think this is how Holly Golightly would like to be. She wants to be a cat. Or at least she thinks she does. —Philip

Sutton, Milstein Division

I can’t think about cats in fiction without thinking about the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. The Cheshire Cat is smart, snarky, mysterious, and frequently invisible... like many cats that I have known in real life! —Andrea Lipinski, Kingsbridge

Poetic Cats

cats in the musical

In Archyology II: The Final Dig: The Long Lost Tales of Archy and Mehitabelwe meet Archy the cockroach and Mehitabel the alley cat. There are several books related to these characters created in the 1910s, and my sister named our first cat—whom we had as teens—“Mehitabel.” —Michael Messina, Seward Park

No literary cat list would be complete without the magical and jellicle cats of T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. These fun poems extoll the virtues and sins of irrepressible felines and the joys of owning one - or is it the cat(s) own us? Join Mr. Mistoffelees, Rum Tum Tugger, Mungojerrie. Rumpleteazer, Skimbleshanks and more as their poetical antics burrow there way into your hearts. Bonus points for the edition that includes the lovabley mischievious cat illustrations of Edward Gorey. —Anne Rouyer, Mulberry Street

Kitties for Kids

The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss — now there’s a cat who appreciates the power of books! Best rainy-day adventure story, ever.

“You find magic wherever you look
Sit back and relax.
All you need is a book.”

—Susan Aufrichtig, Terence Cardinal Cooke - Cathedral Library

A classic oldie but goodie: The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford. Two dogs and a cat cross the Canadian wilderness on a trip home. —Nicole Rosenbluth, Pelham Bay

I can’t not recommend the Harry Potter series, wherein Hermione’s ginger cat Crookshanks plays a role in uncovering the fact that Ron’s rat Scabbers is actually Peter Pettigrew! —Dawn Collins, West Farms 

Boy holding cat

Kiki’s faithful companion Jiji, in Kiki’s Delivery Service. It just wouldn’t have been the same without the fun little feline! —Joe Pascullo, Grand Central

When his weekending family heads back to the city without him, this clever cat takes matters into his own paws in Cross Country Cat by Mary Calhoun. —Maura Muller, Volunteer Office

In Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes, a naive young cat confuses the moon for a giant bowl of milk and tries to catch it.  Henkes brings this adorable tale to life with simple yet beautiful black and white illustrations. Althea Georges, Muhlenberg

 


Pangur from one of my new favorite children’s books, The White Cat and the Monk. I’ll just quote from the Brainpickings article on it:

Long before the cat became a modern literary muse, a monk whose identity remains a mystery immortalized his beloved white cat named Pangur. Sometime in the ninth century, somewhere in present-day southern Germany, this solitary scholar penned a beautiful short poem in Old Irish, titled “Pangur Bán” — an ode to the parallel pleasures of man and feline as one pursues knowledge and the other prey, and to how their quiet companionship amplifies their respective joys.”

—Kay Menick, Schomburg Center

Without a doubt, my favorite fictional cat is Jenny Linsky, star of the Jenny’s Cat Club series by Esther Averill.  A resourceful, adventurous, red scarf-wearing city kitty with wonderful friends.  Whether dancing to the music of a hornpipe or taking classes at the school for cats, Jenny is an inspiration and her books never cease to please. —Jeff Katz, Chatham Square

Harry Cat from George Selden’s The Cricket in Times Square. Harry is a kind and faithful friend to Tucker Mouse and newcomer Chester Cricket, and he quietly encourages Chester to follow his heart. —Annie Lin, Mulberry Street

Musical text

Creepy Cats

If not for their beloved pet Winston Churchill, aka “Church,” the Creed family from Stephen King’s Pet Sematary might

have had a completely different experience moving into their creepy new neighborhood. You’ll never again be able to hear that old song “The cat came back” without suppressing an icy shudder. Isaiah Pittman, Inwood

Real-life Cats

I’d like to suggest Lost Cat by Caroline Paul, which is actually a memoir about what happened when the author’s cat, Tibia disappeared and then, just as suddenly, reappeared.  She and her partner set out on a somewhat hilarious quest to figure out where their cat goes when they are not around.  It is at times funny, heartbreaking, and unbelievable, and every cat owner will relate to the never ending effort to understand their four-legged friends. —Ronni Krasnow, Morningside Heights

Creative Cats

One of the most charming books starring a cat that I know of is The Fur Person by May Sarton. Told from the point of view of a longtime feline member of the author’s household, it describes his journey from orphaned kitten to rowdy Cat About Town to... well, a Fur Person, settled and happy with not one but two faithful housekeepers (the author and her friend) to tend to his every need. —Kathie Coblentz, Rare Materials

Beatrix Potter illustration of a cat

One of my favorite literary cats is Chi from Chi’s Sweet Home. While being housebroken as a kitten, she responds to the word “Chi”—the Japanese word for “urine”—and it eventually becomes her name. Chi is mischievous and filled with adventure, wonder, and everything lovely! —Elisa Garcia, Bronx Library Center

One of Green Lantern’s enemies is an evil house cat named Dex-Starr, which is hilarious. Dex-Starr was popular enough that he became the star of the Red Lanterns comic series. —Benjamin Sapadin, Morris Park

Master Ren, a highly intelligent, multi-tailed mentor figure to the Monstress main character, Maika, is comprised of many excellent feline qualities. Ren is wise and cunning, but also likes to be snugly and playful (but only when not on death-defying magical adventures!). —Katrina Ortega, Hamilton Grange

Saga‘s Lying Cat is an oversized Sphynx cat that hisses “LYING” in the presence of bald untruths. I love her because she punctures comfortable delusions, forcing those around her to confront reality. —Crystal Chen, Woodstock

 

All cat images from NYPL's Digital Collections.

 

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Staff picks are chosen by NYPL staff members and are not intended to be comprehensive lists. We'd love to hear your ideas too, so leave a comment and tell us what you'd recommend. And check out our Staff Picks browse tool for more recommendations!

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Cats in Literature

How about a couple of Sci-Fi cats: 1) Petronius the Arbiter or Pete, the cat responsible for the title of Robert Heinlein’s time-travel novel, “The Door Into Summer” - the door which Pete is always searching for when every other door opens onto winter snow; and 2) Nimitz, the empathic, six-limbed ‘tree cat’ companion of Honor Harrington, a royal naval officer in David Weber’s “Honorverse” series of novels about interstellar battles and power politics.

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