The battle of cats versus dogs has raged among BookPagers for more than 30 years. This month, we’re picking sides and sharing some of our favorite literary cats and dogs.
The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare
Taken aback by a duke’s proposal of marriage (he wants an heir to spite his annoying cousin, just go with it), Emma Gladstone insists on bringing her cat to their new home. Emma doesn’t actually have a cat, but she wants something she can love while entering into a marriage that promises to be little more than a business arrangement. But a harried Emma only has time to find Breeches, the angriest and ugliest alley cat in all the land. Breeches proceeds to stalk through the chapters of Dare’s hilarious historical romance like the xenomorph from Alien, interrupting love scenes, stealing fish from the dining table and generally being a total nuisance. The reveal of why Emma named him Breeches in the first place is both giddily funny and oddly touching, which is basically The Duchess Deal in a nutshell.
—Savanna, Associate Editor
A Small Thing . . . but Big by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Hadley Hooper
A Small Thing . . . but Big is a deceptively simple charmer. A little girl goes to the park and, gradually, overcomes her fear of dogs, thanks to a fuzzy muppet named Cecile and the dog’s owner, who is only ever referred to as “the old man.” Illustrator Hadley Hooper’s spreads are a masterclass in expression and framing, and Tony Johnston’s language is delicate and playful, as Lizzie “carefully, oh carefully” pats Cecile, then works her way up to “springingly, oh springingly” walking her around the park. “All dogs are good if you give them a chance,” Cecile’s owner tells Lizzie, and by the end of the book, it’s clear that Lizzie agrees. It’s a practically perfect picture book: a small thing . . . but big.
—Stephanie, Associate Editor
Dewey by Vicki Myron
When you are a notorious cat lady, people send you cat stuff—cat memes, cat socks, cat salt and pepper shakers and, occasionally, cat books. My grandma sent me a copy of Dewey when I was in college, and initially I thought, “Thanks, Grandma, but I’ve got a lot of Sartre to get through before I have time for a heartwarming cat memoir.” Reluctantly, I started skimming. A helpless kitten is abandoned through the book-return slot of an Iowa library. A librarian fallen on hard times discovers and raises him. A community is transformed through the affections of a bushy, orange cat. Before I knew it, I was reading this book every night before bed, and by the end, I was openly weeping. Fellow cat ladies and laddies, put your pretensions aside and give this one a chance.
—Christy, Associate Editor
Good Boy by Jennifer Finney Boylan
Jennifer Finney Boylan knows that to write about dogs is to write about the very nature of love. “Nothing is harder than loving human beings,” she writes, but loving a very good dog has the power to remind us of our best selves—and to reveal who we are in our human relationships. Boylan offers an ode to all the dogs she’s loved before in Good Boy, a memoir-via-dogs coming April 21. Dog books are sometimes just a vehicle for crying, so for me, the inevitable bittersweetness can never be maudlin. And if memoir can help us better understand our own stories, then breaking up our memories into dog treat-size bites is a special exercise for anyone who puts unreasonable expectations on their best friend. (For the record, my dog is very good. Perfect, even.)
—Cat, Deputy Editor
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Cats are intelligent, if not outright magical creatures. Their attitudes, their curiosity, the uncannily human pathos in their meows all let us know there is something going on beneath the surface. Japanese author Haruki Murakami is aware of this, and so he took advantage of cats’ magic in Kafka on the Shore. In the story, Mr. Nakata, one of two central characters, has the ability to speak to cats and makes a living searching for lost felines. We see Mr. Nakata use his abilities in a few hilarious scenes before he loses his ability to speak to cats, but as the story unfolds, cats become a central part in unlocking the mysteries that send Mr. Nakata on a journey across Japan. Murakami uses the whimsical magic of cats to unfold grand metaphysical mysteries.
—Eric, Editorial Intern