REVIEW: Cats I’ve Known (BOOK)

Pets are some of the most important beings throughout our lives. We may not have the most vivid memories with our favorite toys as a child, or that weird neighbor kid our mom made us play share them with. We may not even remember something as important as our first day of elementary, middle or high school. But by God, I’ve yet to meet a person who doesn’t have vivid memories with each pet they’ve ever owned.

Cats I’ve Known: On Love, Loss and Being Graciously Ignored by Katie Haegele is a testament to this exact sentiment. Through 44 short essays she tells the story of her life, both then and now, through all the cats she’s known. Haegele hasn’t owned each of these creatures – thank goodness, 44 is a lot for one lifetime – but each hold a special place in her heart and bring her back to a certain time, place or memory. Through each piece we get another sprinkle into not only Haegele’s life, but into the magic of owning a kitty.

“And it’s been funny,” Haegele says, “getting used to having these stray cats around.I’ve had lots of pet cats in my life, but these aren’t anybody’s pets. They’re not exactly wild, though, either – they need us people, and our garbage, and the occasional moments of kindness we have to offer.”

This book can teach us all a lot on the importance of those occasional moments of kindness and how much we must savor them, both with and beyond cats.

I personally am something of a crazy cat lady myself, so this collection of essays struck a particular nerve. I, as I’m sure many other cat lovers do, mark different eras in my life partially by the cats I owned during each period. Of course I also had dogs during these times, but there’s something about the quiet presence of a feline that integrates it to be more than an animal, something more akin to a facet of the greater picture of your life.

As far as the plot itself, the book covers Haegele’s time growing up, maturing, marrying and making her own life in the suburbs around Philadelphia. Some of these cats she discusses are hers, some are relatives, and some are hushed inhabitants of her favorite bookstores. Some are random strays she’d serendipitously come across during a pensive spell. Each seem to be incredible in their own way.

None of the cats are truly “main characters,” but a few stick out. I smiled as I was introduced to Gloria, the “grande dame” who poked the nose of a sleeping Haegele for attention. As she is described, “…she’s been a Queen Bee since she was a tiny kitten who tried to make a nest in my hair.” I cried as the author had to deal with the first death of an animal she owned alone and realized “[she] was just a cat, but she was my friend, and I’m just nobody, but I’m somebody, too. So are you.”

Some chapters are solemn, some are pensive, and some are filled with comedy. It’s truly something of an emotional rollercoaster that I didn’t want to get off for one second, even when I was laughing so hard my stomach hurt or furiously wiping away mascara-filled tears to read the next paragraph. Each feeling was so well-written, so raw, that even with the negative emotions, I reveled in experiencing each to its fullest extent.

This is a good book even for those who don’t like reading too much; at 191 pages, it’s not an intimidating venture, and the short chapters (at most 4-5 pages) make the disconnected yet somehow coherent story fly by. It’s the perfect rainy-day or road-trip book. There’s no Tolkien-esque exposition, no ten-dollar SAT words, and it doesn’t have deep, roaming metaphors that bog down the text. It’s easy-to-read, comfortable, and more of an enjoyable experience than a literary conquest.

If I had anything to say that could be seen as “negative” towards this book, it would be that it’s not suited for those who do not love cats. It won’t convince anyone to give a kitten a try, and it won’t have the same witted candor for someone who has never had a cat of their own. Cats have personalities that can really only be understood after owning one, so the nuances of cat lady life will be lost on anyone who is not already familiar. Considering this makes up the best parts of the book, and the majority of the book itself, in fact, it won’t be much of an interesting read for non-cat-lovers.

Cats I’ve Known is the perfect piece for cat lovers. After reading this book I had to go and cuddle my own cat to shower her in attention to console myself from the ending of Haegele’s journey, at least as far as she’d written it. It truly takes you through love, loss, and hilarious moments of the ridiculous personalities of felines. The way these creatures meander about the many curves, stops, and crossroads of Haegele’s life provides an interesting analogy for the mysterious presence of cats and that quiet background ambiance that perhaps can make you feel not so alone, even when it seems like you’re all you’ve got. Even in your darkest times, there’s a furry head waiting to pop out around the corner and prod you into a good chin scratch.

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