Guest book review by Peter J. Wolf
Typing “cats” into the search field at Amazon.com turns up more than 495,000 books–to say nothing of the grooming aids, health care products, toys, etc. Although I haven’t read them all, I’m going out on a limb here and suggesting that the vast majority of them are about cats, not for cats; the cats are the subject rather than the intended audience. With one notable exception: The Devious Book for Cats: A Parody.
Inspired by the wildly successful The Dangerous Book for Boys (and the many subsequent books along the same line), The Devious Book for Cats is aimed directly at a feline readership, “offer[ing] today’s discerning kitties words of wisdom and advice on everything they need to know, from in-depth guides on cardboard boxes and catnip to a brief history of the Felinism movement.”
All of which makes perfect sense once you learn that the people responsible for the book (spoiler alert: the authors listed on the front cover, “Fluffy & Bonkers,” are at best fictional) are all past or present writers for the “fake news” newspaper The Onion. If you’re a fan, then The Devious Book for Cats is right up your alley. And even if you don’t care much for The Onion, there’s a lot to like in this book (assuming, of course, you’re a cat person).
The basic premise behind The Devious Book for Cats is no different than that of The Dangerous Book for Boys, really: “Domesticity has dulled our authority and bored us silly…We might be living longer, but aren’t we living less?” Among its many suggestions for living more fully: The Laws of Petting; Choosing the Perfect Gift (birds, mice, or insects); Your First Kitty Condo–Making the Leap; and Outsmarting Your Toys.
As readers of The Onion would expect, there’s some very clever material here. In the chapter Secrets of Daredevil Cats, for example:
“Cats do have clavicles but they are nonfunctional, a chief reason we’re able to perform the neat trick of squeezing through impossibly tight spaces. It also isn’t a bad thing when you’re landing from a fall. Evel Knievel had two collarbones and broke them both.”
Or this, from the What’s in There? chapter:
“It’s not so much what’s on our side of the blankets as what’s on the other side of the blankets. Most cats agree that when we are under the blankets, a monster is on the outside.”
Still, I remain skeptical about the idea of this book being written for cats. Not because they lack opposable thumbs, or the ability to process a complex system of signs (such as an alphabet). No, it’s because as far as I can tell, even the most domesticated of cats knows all these tricks and more. Clearly, The Devious Book for Cats is intended for the people (a.k.a. “staff”) who do their level best to care for their cats–to remind us of what we’re up against and provide comfort when we are (time and again) outsmarted, outmaneuvered, and out-charmed by our small charges.
Like all books, The Devious Book for Cats gives us a rare opportunity to do something our cats can’t do: read. Unlike the others, though, this book spells out in exquisite detail the consequences of getting a little too smug about it.