“An Unlikely Bestseller”: The Guest Cat

It’s been a hot minute since I read a book for pleasure in its entirety. imagesFor a while, I was in the process of reading three books, because I couldn’t decide which to read first and each one satisfied different moods at any given time. Of course, work, school, OkiPaws, and Chuck generally compete for my attention, so neither of the three books (despite being pretty good) have been completed.

While browsing Huffington Post, I came across 12 Books That Will Lift You Up When You are Down. I briskly scrolled through but then quickly backpedaled to examine one title closer: The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide. If you know me at all, you know why I backpedaled, but the fact that it was a book about a cat written by a Japanese poet made me all sorts of curious:

A bestseller in France and winner of Japan’s Kiyama Shohei Literary Award, The Guest Cat, by the acclaimed poet Takashi Hiraide, is a subtly moving and exceptionally beautiful novel about the transient nature of life and idiosyncratic but deeply felt ways of living. A couple in their thirties live in a small rented cottage in a quiet part of Tokyo; they work at home, freelance copy-editing; they no longer have very much to say to one another. But one day a cat invites itself into their small kitchen. It leaves, but the next day comes again, and then again and again. Soon they are buying treats for the cat and enjoying talks about the animal and all its little ways. Life suddenly seems to have more promise for the husband and wife ― the days have more light and color. The novel brims with new small joys and many moments of staggering poetic beauty, but then something happens….

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Alice in Neverland

IMG_2802For as long as I can remember, Alice in Wonderland has been one of my favorite novels. I’m not even sure why, since it’s made of pure stuff and nonsense, but maybe that is part of its whimsical appeal for me. Mostly I think it’s the Cheshire Cat and Alice’s own Dinah, so it could be some secret understanding I have with a fellow silly blonde who likes cats… but who knows. My bridal shower was Wonderland Tea Party themed, I’ve dressed up as Alice for Halloween, and one of my favorite spots in Oxford is Alice’s Shop (the story itself was written by an Oxford man, so I loved her obvious legacy while I was there.) She is definitely a presence in my life, with all her curiousities.

Anyway, I “liked” Alice in Wonderland on Facebook, so occasionally little updates pop up on my newsfeed. The page recently posted this article, about Lewis Carroll (aka Charles Dodgson) and his real life inspiration for Alice, named Alice Liddell.

The article was written in a very matter-of-fact manner, with no agenda to speak of except for the reason the book came into existence at all. But I felt kind of uncomfortable by the end of it. It seems Mr. Dodgson had quite the interest in little girls, especially Ms. Liddell. He even went so far as to take photographs of them, including the slightly suggestive image of Alice below:


There was nothing implicit in the article to suggest anything blatantly suspicious, but I Googled Alice Liddell and Charles Dodgson afterwards and found a plethora of material validating my instincts: there is evidence to suggest that Mr. Dodgson had inappropriate affections for little girls. There is no evidence that he acted on it, but he did write on various occasions about his affection for them, and how he liked to take partially nude photos of them. At one point, he even had a mysterious falling out with Alice’s family, with whom he had been friendly for many years. The relationship never fully recovered…

Critics of the pedophile theory argue that it was very common for celibate bachelors to be fond of young children during that time, and that child nudity was not the taboo back then in the way that it is now. It is possible that I am projecting my 21st century sensitivities onto the situation.

Still… it sounds like the Victorian era’s version of Michael Jackson, Neverland, and unproven-but-sketchy relationships with little boys. I still love Alice in Wonderland, but I am a little bit bummed!

There are no Jack Kerouacs or Holden Caulfields for girls. Literary girls don’t take road-trips to find themselves; they take trips to find men.

“Great” books, as defined by the Western canon, didn’t contain female protagonists I could admire. In fact, they barely contained female protagonists at all.

It’s Frustratingly Rare to Find a Novel About Women That’s Not About Love – Kelsey McKinney – The Atlantic (via oditor)

Hadn’t thought about it, but it’s true.