REVIEW: Of Cats and Men by Sam Kalda

Of Cats and Men: Profiles of History’s Great Cat-loving Artists, Writers, Thinkers and Statemen by Sam Kalda (Ten Speed Press, April 18, 2017); 112 pages.

This is a smart, quirky, feminist and fun collection of brief biographies of famous men who’ve bucked gender constraints and loved them some cats. Right up this queer girl’s alley.

First, the writing is great. The biographies are smart and just telling enough to sate the uncurious and whet the appetites of more interested folks. But most importantly, the illustrations here are gorgeous–distinctly styled but not gimmicky, clever but not MERELY clever. As a cat-lover (who is, however, not a “crazy cat lady”… this is my only book about cats) and a lover of redemptive history, this is one of my new favorite books. I show it to everyone. What, perhaps, I love most about its aim is that it cares about and redeems the cat-loving man. With the possible exception of that grisly sea-captain Hemmingway with his famous 6-toed cats, cat affection has been cast as distinctly feminine and, thus, in men, a sign of queerness. It makes me happy that this book doesn’t address that with homophobic denials (“no, no, real men can like cats, too!”), but simply presses forward with profiles of men—all kinds of men—who love cats.  It’s a quietly-great answer to the requirements for gender conformity: one can legitimately be a femme man or a butch man (or any kind of man, really), and all kinds of men can do things we used to think of as too femme (as the kids used to say, “so gay”).

But that’s a quiet benefit of this book, not its outward aim. What it does, quite simply, is present interesting portraits of interesting men who were famous and to whom cats were important.

Finally, I’m not a qualified art critic, though I’ve written my share of criticism anyway, but I will say that I absolutely LOVE the illustrations here. They remind my uneducated eye a bit of a 1950s style of illustration, as does the color palette, which, coupled with the subject matter, only adds to the redemptive and smart feeling of this collection. I’d say that the illustrations are the point—that’s how wonderful they are—but I’d be shortchanging the biographies, which also feel like the point.

As I said, I show everyone this book. I love this book. Sam Kalda, your next book should be profiles of fat old ladies who read books and write reviews of them and live in New York and have two dogs and a cane and wear glasses. Go!

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