Posted in Book Review

Echo and The Traveling Cat Chronicles

I recently celebrated my cat’s 20th birthday. Echo is a grey and caramel colored tabby that I’ve literally had since the day she was born. I love to tell the story. On April 20, 1999, I came home from school to find her mother birthing kittens under a picnic table on the porch in front of god and everyone. The last kitten born I claimed as my own and called her Echo.

The reason I remember so clearly is because of the infamous incident that also took place that day. After my siblings and I moved the mother cat and four tiny kittens into a towel lined box and took them inside, we turned on our television to the news of the Columbine school shooting. The diametrically opposing images of the surviving teenagers fleeing death for safety and mewling newborn kittens were permanently ingrained in my mind.

Not to make light of that tragic event, but I’ve long since considered Echo a survivor too. When they were old enough, her two eldest siblings, grey tabbies we called Bud and Missy, were given away to strangers. We kept Echo and her sister, a yellow tabby we named Milow. A year later, a tornado ripped through our town. Before seeking shelter in the hallway of our basement-less modular home, I ran through the rooms looking for the cats. Echo was the only one I couldn’t find. She must have been outside.

In addition to her birthday, a recent book I picked up made me reflect more on Echo’s life. The Traveling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa is an adventurous, fictional tale about a cat named Nana and his caretaker, Satoru, who tries to find a new home for him among his acquaintances. The story alternates between the perspectives of Nana and Saturo’s connections, who reflect on how they know Saturo and events in his past.

Satoru drives Nana from place to place across the countryside, but none of them turn out to be the right fit for the cat. Through most of the novel, the reader is left to wonder why Satoru is trying to find a new home for this seemingly friendly, well behaved feline. Is he moving to a less pet friendly apartment? Is he seeing someone new who’s allergic to cats? All is eventually revealed, and I’ll just say the story is beautiful and heartbreaking in unexpected ways.

Like Nana, I like to say my cat Echo is well traveled too. After that tornado, when we emerged from our home to survey the damage, Echo turned up, having found a safe place under our front porch. Over the next two decades, she followed me from rural homes, to tiny Lawrence apartments, through a three year move to Iowa, and then back to Lawrence. She’s weathered storms, colds, unfortunate flea infestations, the loss of her mother and sister, and the arrival of two new, young feline housemates.

I honestly couldn’t imagine the past twenty years without her. The times when she’s curled up on my lap purring, I cherish the most. I know her time may be drawing to an end, but I look forward to having a few more adventures with her.

Also posted on the Lawrence Public Library Blog

Posted in Book Review

Reading around Twelve Years a Slave

Next Tuesday evening will be the first meeting of the Books & Beer Club I’m hosting with the co-owner of a local bar, The Cellar Peanut Pub. After a surprisingly great response from their social media following, we selected Solomon Northup’s Twelve Years a Slave for our first title. I just finished reading this past weekend, and now I’m looking forward to discussing the book over craft beers at the pub next week!

Twelve Years a Slave is the autobiographical account of a free man in New York who was kidnapped and forced into slavery from 1841 to 1853. Solomon begins his narrative with an explanation of his free status, how he earned a living and how he came to meet his wife. Then he explains how he fell into the hands of his kidnappers and was sold into slavery. Convinced that he would be beaten to death if he mentioned anything of his free status, Solomon endured hard labor, whippings and cruel slavers for twelve years with little hope of returning to his family and home.

Another example of antislavery literature written during its time, Solomon’s story demonstrates the horrors and injustice of the system that took advantage of thousands of people for the profit of white plantation owners. During his enslavement, he labored endless days in sweltering heat, watched a family torn apart, witnessed savage beatings, and survived years on a meager diet that consisted of little more than cornmeal and bacon grease. Often times, the thought of some day returning to his wife and children was the only thing that kept him from ending his life.

For me, the following quote sums up Solomon’s experience: “I had not then learned…to what limitless extent of wickedness [man] will go for the love of gain” (Chapter 3). That speaks volumes about the system of slavery, and it speaks volumes to man’s continued “love of gain” today. As a middle class, white American in the twenty first century, I have nothing in my life that compares to the injustice that Solomon and so many others endured because of slavery. However, I – and millions of others – have much to learn from their stories. Without their voices, how could change have been possible? How can further change be possible? While reading the narrative, I thought of a few novels that have also expressed and illustrated the injustice and hardships of the African American race in the United States. For further reading, check out:

by Harriet Beecher Stowe

by Toni Morrison

by Zora Neale Hurston

by Alice Walker

by Ralph Ellison
Posted in Book Review, Recommended Reading

You’re never too old for Seuss!

Much too excited about my next display project, I wasn’t able to sleep in any longer this morning–so I decided to blog about it! Last week, a colleague from Youth Services emailed my supervisor with a great idea to put up a display in the adult area featuring children’s books that adults love, and I volunteered to put it up in January. And how appreciative I am of her suggestion, because I was having a little bit of trouble thinking outside of the “January is National [insert random noun] Month!” box for next month’s display. As a lay in bed, futilely trying to fall back to sleep, I started thinking about a clever title and imagining the sign and props. Now, I won’t go in to great detail, but I’m thinking big–like, The Very Hungry Caterpillar or Where the Wild Things Are big! Reflecting back on my undergrad years again and a bulletin board display one of my classmates made for a children’s literature course, I may borrow her idea and even pull out some papier-mâché if I find the time and resources to do so! As for the books that will be featured on the display, I’m hoping my YS colleague, who volunteered to put together the list, will include some of my favorites:

This first title I love and adore so much, I decided to have the cover illustration tattooed on my arm! I was in college when I first read Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince, and I can’t think of a better time to have read it. The story is about a disenchanted pilot who has an enlightening encounter with a little prince after his plane crashes, leaving him stranded in the Sahara. On a journey to experience the universe, the little prince comes to Earth from a tiny, far away planet. On the verge of becoming a full-fledged adult, I learned from this book the value of holding on to a childlike imagination and appreciation of the world. I related well to the journeys of both the pilot and the the prince, and appreciated the several lessons like one the prince learns from a fox while traveling the universe: “One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.” Every time someone notices the tattoo on my forearm, I always take the opportunity to tell them about this great read!

I’ve thought about getting a tattoo inspired by this next title too. This book brought to my attention that there can be two types of people in the world: those who give and those who take. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, which chronicles the relationship between a boy and a tree, has been considered by some to be controversial because of its depiction of a compulsive giver and a predatory taker. As the boy grows, the tree is constantly providing for him branches to swing on, shade to sit in and fruit from its branches. Though the story has caused me to reflect on how much I have given or taken in some of my relationships, I do think that may be taking it a little too far. The unconditional, self-sacrificing love the tree has for the boy, which continues into his adulthood and elderly years, has always inspired me to be better in my own interactions with the people around me, whether I’m giving (gifting) or taking (receiving), and I don’t think that’s a bad lesson to learn.

This last title is often given as a graduation present, and I’ve even witnessed it being read at a wedding. “Will you succeed? Yes, you will indeed. (98 3/4% guaranteed.)” Filled with encouragement and sound advice, Dr. Seuss’s Oh the Places You’ll Go! is perfect for anyone who’s about to take their next big step in life’s journey. The narrator relates the decisions and paths of an unnamed protagonist, generally understood to represent the reader, as he travels through colorful, geometrical landscapes. All throughout the book, the narrator offers such adages as “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” and “Things may happen and often do to people as brainy and footsy as you.” I received the book myself after graduating from high school, and I’ve treasured it since.

There are many other children’s titles that I enjoy, and I’m sure many feel the same way, so I’m pretty sure this display’s going to be popular. Now that I’ve got it all planned out, part of me can’t wait for the next three weeks to be over so I can start working on it!