BOOKS / There's an awful lot of money in the kitty: Hester Matthewman on the serious business of cat worship

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The Independent Culture
'IT'S indisputably true that nice pictures of cats sell lots of books,' says Valerie Hudson of Grafton Books. A look at any bookshop proves her point. Shelves are crammed with coffee table cat books, cute little cat story books, cat biography, cat travel, cat poetry, cat humour, cat psychology, yoga for cats, French for cats and so on.

Who buys all these books? The owners, or rather 'pseudo-parents', of Britain's five million cats apparently 'have a personality-bias towards independent thought and action. Artists like cats. Soldiers like dogs', explains cat-watcher Desmond Morris. Catwatching (Cape pounds 4.99) provides in-depth answers to 119 questions of burning interest. Can a cat survive on a vegetarian diet? Do cats have ESP? (The answer to both is no. A carnivore that has evolved to scrunch up warmblooded little furry and feathered creatures can't convert to tofu. Cats have no mystical powers, though apparently they can predict earthquakes.)

Doting owners can measure pussy's intelligence with Melissa Miller's Definitive IQ Test for Cats (Signet pounds 3.99). 'If your cat were to throw a dinner party, which of the following foods would it be most likely to serve: smoked salmon, Go Cat, caviar or canned tuna?' The dimmest specimens go for the Go Cat, while Mensa candidates select the caviar (served with blinis, cream and a squeeze of lemon). The book also helps owners discover how cat-centred they are. 'How often do you talk about your cat to other people: quite often if they're interested, quite often even if they're not, only if asked, or hardly ever?'

Other people's cats are like other people's children - infinitely interesting to their families and deadly dull to outsiders. Peter Gethers in The Cat Who Went To Paris (Corgi pounds 4.99) takes six pages to explain how he arrived at the name Norton for his kitten. Fascinating insights from Lesley Anne Ivory's Book of Cats (HarperCollins pounds 7.99) include 'Blossom adores chewing garlic'. Antonia White is also less than gripping, in Minka and Curdy (Virago pounds 5.99), about Minka the Siamese kitten's daily intake of farex and milk.

Owning a cat often leads to a rearrangement of priorities. Norton jealously sees off Gethers's girlfriends, scratching their legs, vomiting obtrusively, suffocating them in the night (of course Norton shares the bed), urinating in their shoes. Gethers, an American screenwriter, lugs the cat off skiing, to the beach, and to work, usually perched on his shoulder. At a meeting in Paris with Roman Polanski and Harrison Ford, Norton disgraces himself by making a huge mess.

Hygiene can be a problem for travellers who can't bear to leave their fluffy companions at home. Gethers never travels without 20 collapsible litter boxes ('they easily slip into my briefcase'). Frederick Harrison, on the lengthy trip described in Travelling Cat in Ireland (Grafton pounds 6.99), uncomplainingly fixed up a litter tray in the Ford Transit he shared for six months with Cheesy and Pugwash.

Illustrated gift books are even soppier than cat biography and travel. Cuddled snugly into baskets, peeking coyly through their paws, curled seductively on the carpet, tricked out in hats or bow-ties, with huge ingratiating eyes and humanised smiles, these cutesy kitties have never been near a litter box. Home Life With Cats (Grafton pounds 6.99) is a whimsical collection of poems by Brian Aldiss, who has saddled his unfortunate pets with names like Yum Yum Boy, Sotkin, Sweetpea and Macrame. Old Possum's Practical Cats would scratch them to pieces. Perfect Little Cats (Pavilion pounds 6.99), by Lesley Anne Ivory, is five inches square, and comes with 10 matching cat notelets in a dinky little lilac-coloured box, so that you can share them with all your friends. Martin Leman's illustrations to Christopher Smart's 18th-century poem My Cat Jeoffry (Pelham pounds 5.99), described 'wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness', show a near-spherical yellow hulk who can hardly walk.

D J Enright's cats Kuching and Sunshine are not only cute but philosophical in The Way of the Cat (Sinclair-Stevenson pounds 9.99). 'They do have certain primitive instincts, not to mention a degree of intelligence,' says Kuching loftily about Mr and Mrs, their owners, whom he places in the 'upper thirty purrcent' of the great Hierarchy of Being (well above the daddy-long-legs).

After all this cat-worship, Final Exit for Cats, a Feline Suicide Guide by Michael Viner (Arrow pounds 3.99), comes as a relief. This cartoon book is aimed at felines driven to desperation when their families acquire a new kitten or a rottweiler puppy or a baby, 'even though you try to show your acceptance by climbing into the crib to sleep on his head'. Among the most gruesome suggestions: 'Find the blender. Plug it in. Now put it on like a hat. Use a long spoon to push the button marked 'puree'.'

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