the well-read cat

There is nothing my wonderful best friend cat likes better than to curl up with me and a good book, or even a mediocre book. As long as he can comfortably situate himself, Tippy’s reading appetite is nothing short of voracious. Together, Tippy and I have delved into a fantastic array of places, people, and ideas as we turned the pages and allowed ourselves to be transported.

My tabby friend and I have had wondrous escapades like flying over Africa or sailing the North Sea or exploring beyond the planet. We’ve studied maps and pictures. We’ve figured out how to do things. We’ve pondered philosophical issues and romantic ones. 

Tippy has purred his way through many delightful pages, and sometimes sat on them. He has also patiently listened when I’ve tested the words on the page, reading aloud. We’ve explored rhythm and imagery. We’ve counted syllables.

True, with such a diverse catalog of reading, we have on occasion disliked a book, even found ourselves scoffing. We have, however, never found ourselves in disagreement.

Unlike my beloved Biddo, Tippy is not a book biter (a little bit on that here). No, although he does enjoy exploring the physical depths of a book shelf from time to time, he respectfully leaves the books intact. He is not, however, above taking a swipe at a bookmark.

Tippy’s joy in books seems to lie in the shared reading experience and, most important, the cuddling. In fact, from his nestled perch in my lap, he often insists that other tasks be put off, while we enjoy yet one more chapter. 

Yes, a well-read cat is a true treasure. Beyond words, really.

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secrets

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In my newfound zeal for fun reading, I lately launched into a true story, Annie’s Ghosts, by Steve Luxenberg. I’m still just getting into the thing, but, basically, the book explores a family’s discovery that their mother had a sister about whom she never breathed a word. The author attempts to find out about this woman, what happened to her, and why – and why she was a family secret.

As I drifted off to sleep after dipping my toe into this story, I couldn’t help but think about the murky territory of secrets.

It seems to me that the vast majority of secrets are born in shame. And shame is born in judgment. Even perceived judgment is born in judgment.

As I look at my own family, friends, and acquaintances over the years, there have been an astonishing number of secrets – some big and some little – that folks have carried, almost always in shame and often to someone’s detriment.

If a thing is too shameful of which to be spoken, it simply then becomes a burden on our hearts. In shame, we carry the judgment of ourselves and the projected judgment of others who actually know nothing about the secret.

Once we’ve determined something’s a secret, it also becomes a barrier. We may be very honest people who try to do things right, but, now, on some level, we are dishonest. It is a conflict. It also serves to keep us separate and alienated to some extent, no matter how warm and loving we may be. Shame stands between us.

There are the secrets we carry on behalf of others, too. We allow someone to unburden themselves of their secret, and then we must bear it, too. Sometimes these shared secrets themselves become a judgment, in an awful twist.

Incredibly, some of our secrets are about good things, which we still yet feel shame to disclose.

We learn very early in life the lessons of judgment and shame in the arms of our families. Our institutional religions and systems of education cement these concepts with vigor. Media then continue to bang the drum for us.

Shame is a compelling motivator in life, that sadly does an awful lot of damage. It’s true that shame, once acknowledged, can move us to improve ourselves, change for the better. It’s the shame we bury and carry that cripples us.

As usual, though, it all comes back to fear and love. And both sides of the equation are the same.

Those who would wield the weapon of judgment are burdened to look at their own fear, and to seek a loving answer.

Those who carry shame are burdened also to recognize their fear, and to seek a loving response.

Funny how that works.

So much for lighthearted reading. We’ll see how the book turns out. 🙂

beloved books

veru1_4_19.jpgI read a lot, but in recent years I’ve noticed I don’t read a lot of fiction. Lately, however, I happily stumbled across the Blue Mood Café blog, and it somehow opened my eyes to what I’ve been missing.

As I perused her comments in the Best of 2018 post, something clicked. I decided right then to make reading for enjoyment a bigger part of my 2019 picture.

Happily, her top two 2018 picks were right there on the shelf at the local library:  Love and Other Words by Christina Lauren (the author is actually two people), and Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent.

I blasted right through those two books before 2019 even started. The first was probably not exactly my cup of tea, but the second hit the sweet spot.

This was just ridiculously self-indulgent reading, particularly with Unravelling Oliver, a mystery which was pretty much impossible to put down. What fun!

Whew! I felt kind of guilty about suspending time like that, but not enough that it prevented me from dipping into yet another book.

This time, I revisited a book that has long been on my shelves. It’s a very much beloved book that I read with my children. I love children’s literature in general, but The Wind in the Willows is one of the special ones. I wanted to read it again, but somehow never could quite allow myself to indulge. Until now.

I shamelessly plucked it off the shelf, and dove in.

Right off the bat, I was in that dreamy place by the river, steeped in Kenneth Grahame’s delicious language.

How can one not just absolutely love the characters? I want a Rat in my life, desperately.

At any rate, it was an awesome trip down memory lane and, really, into another world.

I love that I have now been able to give myself permission to just read with abandon – wherever my whim takes me. It’s kind of funny to realize the subconscious constraints I placed on myself in this area.

It also made me realize that I put a whole heck of a lot of similar constraints on myself generally. I’m all about what I’ve got to do, what I should do, what I’m not doing, what makes sense for me to do, but not a whole lot of what I just want to do, what I’d really like to do.

That’s actually a pretty big realization with some broad implications. I think there is more to come on this topic.

By the way, Blue Mood also mentions several challenges one can participate in, and I admit I am tempted. If I set a goal to read a certain number of books, it might encourage me to really let myself go wild with this recreational reading. Living on the edge, heh?

How about you? Got any beloved books of your own?

the book biter

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My beloved cat, Biddo, was a book biter.

Biddo loved to rip up paper, any kind of paper – usually in the middle of the night. Didn’t matter if it was the newspaper, business papers, or, his true love, books.

veru12_16_18eI tried packing the bookshelves tightly, but Biddo still seemed to be able to get whatever he wanted off the shelf. And just forget it if you left a book laying around.

I lost my wonderful Biddo about a year and a half ago, and I miss him dearly. I delight, however, every time I stumble across his bite marks in my library. I got to thinking about it lately, and perused my shelves.

Turns out, Biddo was a discriminating biter. For example, George Orwell. Biddo did a good job of biting up the cover of 1984. He entirely ripped off the back cover and several pages of Animal Farm. At the same time, he left Huxley’s Brave New World entirely unscathed. What’s up with that?

Stephen King’s On Writing suffered Biddo’s wrath, but all three copies (can you have too many?) of The Elements of Style were untouched.

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A Course In Miracles and the accompanying meditations both drew Biddo’s ire. Sharon Salzberg’s LovingKindness drew a few bites. There’s just some gentle nipping on Louise Hay’s work.

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Stephen Hawking’s A Briefer History of Time, as the picture shows, sustained a prolonged onslaught on the outer cover – seeing as how little damage could be done to the hardcover, I suppose.

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There’s not a single bite in any of my works by Shakespeare. Chaucer was safe, too. Hmmm.

Biddo always left the inside pages pretty much intact, except for corner bite marks. The only exception was Animal Farm, where you’ll have to go elsewhere to read the ending.

This is just a sampling. I frequently lay hands on a book with bitemarks. Biddo left quite a legacy for me.

I’m not sure whether Biddo was biting approval or distaste in my books. Biddo was nothing, though, if not intentional.

It was a little upsetting in the moments when I discovered yet another ripped up book, but gotta say, I love to find them now.

Another item he thoughtfully left all bitten up? My yoga mat.

Miss you, buddy.