Book review: Lending a literary paw

Cover of the book, 'The Book Cat'
Two heartwarming stories call to mind how much animals mean to us.
By Sally Rosenthal

Be it in fact or fiction, never let it be said that animals are reluctant to lend a paw in providing inspiration or companionship to writers.

The Book Cat by Polly Faber, Faber and Faber 2021, hardcover, 144 pages, $17.99

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While all war novels need a hero, Morgan, the feline protagonist of Polly Faber’s children’s tale of a stray cat in wartime London, is one of those most unlikely heroes whose acts of valor have been recorded for posterity. Well, acclaimed children’s author Faber might have taken just a bit of literary license in this charming book for middle grade readers, but her fiction is founded in fact. Her family’s publishing company, Faber and Faber, did indeed become the residence of a homeless black cat during the London blitz.

In this atmospheric work, Faber imagines what Morgan’s life was like before and after he moved into the firm and took up his duties as the feline greeter of all who came through its door. Orphaned as a kitten, Morgan was a starving street cat when he sought refuge in the warmth of Faber and Faber with the approval of one of its employees, a cat lover named T. S. Eliot. Having heard of children being evacuated to the country as a safety precaution, Morgan decided to round up kittens and, after training them to be companions to writers, he matched each kitten with an author visiting the office on business. Secreted in handbags, briefcases and even umbrellas, Morgan’s feline students were soon on their way to homes with authors living in the country. The Book Cat is both a story about rescue cats and a history lesson for young readers and, actually, cat lovers of any age.

And a Dog Called Fig: Solitude, Connection, The Writing Life by Helen Humphreys; Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2022, hardcover, 272 pages, $27

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Writing can be a lonely occupation. Just ask anyone who spends the day sitting in front of a computer. Finding inspiration and filling page after page can lead even the hardiest of souls to self-doubt, depression and other maladies. So, how to solve this conundrum? Canadian novelist and poet Helen Humphries has the perfect solution: Get a dog. In her memoir And a Dog Called Fig, she reminisces about the beloved canines who have provided steadfast devotion, welcome exercise breaks and balance in daily life; however, enter Fig, a vizsla puppy who is her current companion. Fig’s antics and need for constant vigilance made the 60-something author wonder if a puppy was what she really wanted at this stage of life. Of course, all readers will know the answer is a resounding yes.

As Fig and Humphreys bond, Fig becomes the dog Humphreys does indeed need. Peppered throughout this thoughtful narrative are stories of other writers and their dogs, making And a Dog Called Fig a delight for dog lovers and book lovers alike.

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