Everything’s Better With Dogs…and Bacon

Ooooh, a challenge this week to be sure! The Broke & the Bookish has tasked bloggers to select a top ten list in any genre we choose. Anything from biographies to graphic novels is fair game. Basically any list is fair game so long as the ten works are in the same sphere.

I thought about romances, swashbucklers, books made into films, fantasy, and any and every other kind of list out there, but all of them led me to the same twenty or so books. Naturally, I couldn’t turn in pablum for this week’s list, so I thought I’d try something different. Ladies and gents, I give you my top ten list for this week…

The Top Ten Books Featuring an Animal

by Dean Koontz—You have to love a book featuring a Golden Retriever that can talk and is being followed by an evil genetically enhanced monster who seeks to destroy him! I bet I’ve read this book five times in my life, and it still makes me giggle in places. Many of the dog’s lines are classics, and our family passes them around like candy corn at Halloween.

The Metamorphosis
by Franz Kafka—“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a giant insect.” One of the best opening lines in fiction. He has a family who treats him like garbage, and when they’re asked to care for him the way he had for them, they show that they are the true low-life vermin. Such a heartbreaking piece…

Animal Farm by George Orwell—The first time I read this, I nearly lost my mind when Boxer died in the harness for a dream that was never intended for reality. Part political commentary, part Juvenalian satire—Orwell’s brilliant use of anthropomorphism is still unparalleled by any other work of fiction. It takes a harsh look at fascism in a way that makes it immediately accessible to younger readers.

Watership Down by Richard Adams—I’ll have to admit that I’ve never read this one in its entirety. However, I have taught snippets of it in creative writing classes and AP Literature test prep courses. It is quite literally on EVERY “animal book” list out there, confirming what I already know. I’ll likely be diving into this one before the month is out. (Hey! This will help me meet my “three classics quote” for the year!!!)

The Lion, the Witch, and Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis—I cannot tell you how many times I got in trouble for reading books from this series underneath my desk when I should have been learning unessential stuff. You know…like math and geography. I hold Lewis responsible for my inability to complete algebraic equations or to find Ghana on a map. However, I can tell you anything you want to know about fauns, satyrs, centaurs, and any and all talking “normal” critters.

Flowers for Algernon
by Daniel Keyes—I actually read this one for the first time a few years ago before I taught it to middle schoolers. It’s a sad work to be sure, but man can it generate a great discussion about genetic manipulation, the right to life, individually, being made the way God intended, and other important topics. The students who read it with me were deeply emotionally impacted by this work; it made them more kind to others and more cognizant of how they treated people.

by Stephen King—I’ll be the first to say that Stephen King’s epic works (The Stand, Cell, The Dark Tower), the ones that are vast in scope are my favorite. However, they are not the most terrifying of his works. The small scale horror pieces, usually the ones that could plausibly take place, are the most unnerving. I’m thinking works like this one (normally gentle giant dog turned hound of hell), Misery (crazed fan controls you in total isolation), and The Shining (father hits rock bottom with alcohol in a nearly abandoned hotel) are truly gut wrenching.

Old Possum’s Book of Practical 
Cats by T.S. Eliot—There’s something so appealing about this little tome. Perhaps it’s because most of Eliot’s work is heavy and ponderous, caught up in the darker half of humanity, but the rhyming whimsy of this piece always makes me smile. It was Eliot who told us, “The naming of cats is a difficult matter, / it isn’t just one of your holiday games; / You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter / when I tell you a cat must have three different names.”

Black Beauty
by Anna Sewell—Every girl, for some inexplicable reason, goes through a horse phase. For some, the period only lasts a few months while others try to learn how to draw them as well as ride them as well as collect Breyer figures. (Guess which category I fell into?) This one was unlike all other horse books at the time because the pony in question gets to tell you about how it feels–how nice a nosebag of oats is and how hard life in front of a cart really is. For some reason, I adored this book as a little girl, but I doubt I’d feel the same about it as a grumpy thirty-something. 🙂

The Glass Menagerie 
by Tennessee Williams—Who says inanimate animals can’t qualify a book for this list? The fragile crystal collection is poor Laura’s only source of friendship and understanding. Like her favorite unicorn, she doesn’t quite fit with the rest. The symbolism of this play makes it like that little shelf of knick knacks–perfectly balanced, breathtaking, and multifaceted.

I Think My Cat’s A Fluffy Nudist

I know all pets have….quirks. Some more so than others. For instance, I once owned a dog named Twinkie who liked to eat bubblegum. Shadow, my dog who passed away, used to bury food if we didn’t feed it to him in small bites. Anything huge, and he’d try to find a place to hide it in case hard times came again. Old stray survival habits die hard I guess. He even buried ice cubes, which he loved to eat when he was a pup. No fooling.

Baker, however, takes the catnip laden cake when it comes to oddball. A true 11 out of 10 on the Weird Pet-o-Meter.

First off, I think he suffers from narcolepsy. He just collapses in a fuzzy heap whenever the urge strikes him, and when he does, he usually ends up sleeping on his back with his paws in tight kitty fists.

Comfy couch or hard, unforgiving coffee table—it makes no difference apparently!!

This is a rare moment when he passed out right side up.

More often than not, he looks like this….

He views people as his own private furniture. But I think that’s pretty much standard operating procedure for a cat.

We believe he’s trying to do an impression of a comma when he lays this way. Oftentimes, after assuming this position, he will use his claws for purchase and drag himself across the floor like Arnold Schwarzenegger in the final scene of The Terminator.

We really should have named him “Oxford”–both for the punctuation-shaped pose and for the color scheme (like Oxford shoes!)–but we named him Baker because he likes to “make biscuits” or “knead” with his paws when he’s happy.

He’s also been caught sitting on more than one occasion. He looks like a drunk sitting outside a bar in a spaghetti western when he does this.

So, yeah, my cat collapses like a flan in a cupboard. If that weren’t weird enough, the only time you’re guaranteed uninterrupted time to pet him is when you’re using the bathroom. For some reason, he wants to be thoroughly petted when there’s a toilet involved.

When he jumps into your lap or onto a piece of furniture, he looks like Kramer entering a room on Seinfeld. And the harder you pet his butt, the more he likes you.

He also tries to get away from the vacuum cleaner by going in four different directions….at once. He knocks himself over when he sneezes, and he tries to “hide” from us, forgetting that if we can see his fluffy butt sticking out from under a pile of pillows, he’s not invisible.

He likes to be made into the bed…both under the fitted sheet and under piles of blankets. He’s fond of sticking his nose in right up against your mouth, but you can’t get up in his grill. He’s a hypocrite like that.

But the newest thing involves his collar. He’s learned how to take it off. Not because it’s too tight mind you. He’s worn it since the day we adopted him and has not protested one iota. (By the way, we got him “reduced for quick sale” from the Fayette County Humane Society. He was the “Star of the Week,” so his adoption fee was half price and we got a sweet bag of goodies including a pound of gourmet pet food, a huge water dish, and a ton of treats and toys. They practically paid us to take him, which was pretty swell. As weird as he is, he’s a perfect fit for us…and he was a bargain. I only wish I could find a way to harvest his fur and knit sweaters out of it like they do with alpacas. But I digress.)

No, he now takes his collar off because he likes to play with it. He slides it across the kitchen floor.

He throws it in the air, dances with it, and chases it around the house until it gets wedged under a piece of furniture.

I’ve found it in two dozen different places around the house. Ranging from his own food dish….

…and outside the litter box, left behind like a pair of discarded socks.

Believe me, he’s not hurting for gewgaws. There’s an entire box of jingle balls, fluffy mice, rattles, crinkle toys, and other assorted feline delights in addition to TWO scratch pads in the house. One has a ball that runs around it, and the other is an Emory Cat. We buy quality crap for our cats, that much is for sure. You can do that when you don’t have kids. You can also indulge in frivolous things…like sleep, adult conversation, and clean clothes.

However, despite the bountiful cornucopia of cat-related paraphernalia around the place, he takes his collar off to play with it. That’s what I keep telling myself at least. Otherwise, I have to admit that my cat is a fluffy nudist who gets his jollies from being “nekkid” around the house.

For an Unnecessary E, You Get an F

There’s a scene in The Birdcage where the son is trying, for lack of a better term, to “de-gayify” the house. Why? Because his fiance’s conservative parents are coming for a visit and (though he doesn’t know it) to discuss wedding plans. He is being assisted in this endeavor by drag queens from his father’s club, and while he’s busy hiding things in closets and cupboards, they keep putting out objects they think straight people would have in their homes. The chaos finally reaches its zenith when two helpers hang a moose head on the wall and ask, “Too butch?”

Val’s reply is terse utterance I’ve come to use when making editing decisions…

“Don’t add. Just subtract.”

More often than not, this little maxim has served me well. I’m often tempted to alter a document to a way I think sounds better, and while I can say I’m not batting .1000 in the “less is more” department, I do hit more than I strike out.

I wish the same could be said of then Sharpie-wielding clodpate who decided he had an ironclad grasp of English grammar and spelling rules and should “correct” one of the signs on the very nice walking trail in my neighborhood. Granted, this sign is the closest one to a bridge where several resident artists have chosen to make the world a brighter place one shaken can of Krylon at a time. For the record, many them espouse the merits of cannabis…the ones I could read at least. There was, however, one in thin black letters that simply said “Genuine Vandalism” I actually chuckled at.

Okay, the editor in me sees two problems right away.

1. The obvious kerning issue in “HABITAT.” Why in the world did they print a sign with that much space between two letters? Honestly, it’s so far apart, it looks like “HABIT AT.”

2. There are two periods missing. Both the sentences at the bottom are obviously complete and need end punctuation. I would have gone with periods for both, but a case could have been made for an exclamation point in the first one.

There’s also a clarity problem with the phrase “native creatures.” There was a veritable passel of dogs in the park today–all of them walking, playing ball and frisbee, and smelling and being smelled. Seriously, it looked like the party at the end of Go, Dog, Go!

But I digress. My point is that, according to that bossy sign, I could harm the dogs if I wished (and their owners weren’t looking). They aren’t covered by the decree because they are, in fact, not “native creatures.” Something like “Don’t harm the animals” would have been much more inclusive to any critter, creature, or varmint in the general area.

I know. I know….We all assume the prohibition on animal cruelty applies to all of them whether they be “native” or “foreign.” But some uncouth ne’er-do-well could take advantage of a loophole in the signage. I’m just saying.

And then there’s that “E.” Crooked. Awkward. Banal. And somehow comically obscene. It leans on the “M” like a truant child might against a convenience store wall, a pilfered Virginia Slim from his mother’s unguarded pack between his lips.

I have no clue why it’s there or who in the name of Strunk and White thought it would be wise to add an utterly superfluous vowel at the end of a word—one that your average second grader can spell correctly, even under pressure. (Okay, in a completely irrelevant aside, I was looking at the word “Harm” just now and started saying it like Mandy Patinkin in The Princess Bride. You know, Inigo Montoya, helping Fezzik with his rhymes? “Probably he means no..haaaarrrmmmm….” Now you’re doing it, too, aren’t you?)

I looked up “harme” in the dictionary, hoping for some reason that it would be a word that could serve as an acceptable synonym, but alas and alack! It isn’t a word at all. Nope, this is just another example of needless human error—like the haphazard use of apostrophes when forming plurals or the casual flinging about of commas—the grammatical equivalent of negligent homicide. Epic fail, good sir or madam. Epic fail indeed. 🙂