Thursday, January 19, 2012

Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot

   Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats is a very short collection of poems about, well, cats of course!  Those of you who are familiar with the musical, Cats, should recognize a few of the title characters since Andrew Lloyd Webber's famous production is based on this collection.  While the original book was published around 1940, the version I read was published in 1982 with illustrations by Edward Gorey.

   Being that this is an illustrated collection of rhyming poetry about kitty-cats, it's usually marketed as a children's book, but things have changed since 1940 and I don't know many kids who are familiar with words like "terpsichorean" and "gastronomy."  But there's something quite romantic about the idea of reading T.S. Eliot to your child, isn't there?

   Eliot may be known for his dense vocabulary and disjointed, artistic writing style that the modernists embraced, but Mr. Eliot also had a playful side!  Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats sometimes reminded me of reading Dr. Seuss, with whimsical verses and tongue-tying names like "Mr Mistoffelees" or "Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer."  Yes, it's silly, but when you think about our beloved Cat in the Hat it's clear that American culture has always embraced silly animal stories for one reason or another.  In his poem, "The Ad-Dressing of Cats," Eliot writes:
...Cats are much like you and me
And other people whom we find
Possessed of various types of mind.
For some are sane and some are mad
And some are good and some are bad
And some are better, some are worse - 
But all may be described in verse.

So there you have it...cute poems about kitties plus quirky Edward Gorey illustrations makes for a fun, quick read - and it's a way to cheat and say you've read T.S. Eliot without having to drudge through The Waste Land (sorry, Elaine!).  Lastly, I must recommend that, if possible, you read this little collection in the company of a cat.  I had one on my lap nearly the whole time, and I must say, it quite improves the reading experience!

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