All I need to be entertained are cats within ear-scratching distance and a good book . . .OK, maybe that's not ALL I need, but it's a good start.

I love to read. And I love to get recommendations for books to read.

I started Cats and a Book to share the books I read with others. Some I love, some I don't, but you may love the ones I don't, so you're welcome to post your own comments and suggestions.

To make it easier to purchase books you may read about on the blog, I've linked to through The Cats and a Book Bookstore, which is located on the bottom of this page. Your purchases are fulfilled and handled through Amazon. To assure your privacy, Cats and a Book doesn't handle any of your payment or contact information.

Happy reading!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Silas Marner, by George Eliot

Silas Marner, by George Eliot, is the classic story of a weaver who is framed for a crime he did not commit. He loses his faith, his best friend, and his town, and leaves to begin anew far away. He re-establishes his business, although he elects to have limited interaction with the townspeople and lives on the settlement’s outskirts. He hoards the money he earns from weaving, spending his evenings counting and sorting it for pleasure.

His life takes another unfortunate turn when the son of a local rich man and well-known ne’er-do-well robs Marner of his gold to escape his debts. Silas is further embittered by the loss, until he finds an orphaned toddler girl, who has wandered to his door. He takes the child to raise as his own, and she becomes the gold and treasure he lost to the thief. The townspeople begin to assist Marner, offering advice on raising Eppie, the little girl, providing clothes, and offering to help teach her the skills Marner is unable to. The girl eventually learns about her biological father, the brother of the ne’er-do-well who stole Marner’s treasure, who offers to acknowledge her as his daughter and raise him as his own.

Eliot’s Marner is a story of redemption: of faith, community, and treasure, whether it is gold or the love of a child. Marner is a sympathetic character, and Eliot metes out a level of justice to her characters according to their values.

Silas Marner was published in 1911 by Henry Holt and Company.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

My Korean Deli: Risking It All for a Convenience Store, by Ben Howe

My Korean Deli: Risking It All for a Convenience Store, by Ben Howe, is an entertaining and engaging memoir about his attempt at success in the retail world of lottery tickets and cigarettes. Ben Howe, who is an editor at George Plimpton’s Paris Review, is married to Gab, a successful but burned-out corporate attorney. Howe’s mother-in-law, Kay (whom he describes as the “Mike Tyson of Korean grandmothers”) has experience working in convenience stores. Their plan is to buy the store for Kay to manage, recoup their debts, pay off student loans, and move out of Kay’s basement, where they had been living in order to save the nest egg that is now part of the store investment.

The resulting story is a candid and funny look at how a well-educated New Englander adapts to life centered around a Korean deli in Brooklyn. He openly describes his difficulty with handling money and counting change, his tobacco law violation for selling cigarettes to a minor, and his attempts to diversify the inventory by adding gourmet hot sauce and cookies to the shelves of Ding Dongs and beef jerky.

Ben prefers to analyze, consider, and weigh outcomes. The inertia this produces is the antithesis of the drive for action Ben’s mother-in-law Kay has in abundance. Ben’s description of Kay is both tender and critical. He shares his frustrations with her single-mindedness and unrelenting work ethic, but also explains to the reader Kay’s history, which sheds light on her motivation to work. Choosing a store to buy was the first challenge, as evidenced by one of the aspects of store ownership Ben considered: 

There is something that scares me even more than us getting a store in East New York or Brownsville, and that’s the possibility of ending up in a perfectly safe part of the city, on a perfectly okay block, in a decent building even, but in the local loser store. The loser store---every neighborhood has one---is the store in your neighborhood that inexorably fails year after year under different owners, first as a sports memorabilia shop, then as a florist, then as a Pan-Asian bistro or ‘wrapperia.’

But the memoir isn’t just about the deli; Ben spends a good bit of the story telling about his life as an editor for The Paris Review, the whimsical and somewhat amateur way in which the review is produced, and how it helped support his “second life” as a deli owner. He writes about how the deli affected him, what he learned about himself, his wife, and his in-laws, and some of the colorful characters in his life, including Mr. Plimpton and Dwayne, a reliable yet worrisome shift worker at the deli.

My Korean Deli is an enjoyable book, and would be particularly eye-opening for anyone with a thread of entrepreneurial spirit. My Korean Deli was published by Henry Holt and Company in 2010.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Pollyanna, by Eleanor H. Porter

Another novel from my “Grandma’s Bookcase” series, Pollyanna was written in 1913 and is the book from which the term “Pollyanna” is derived. Someone might be said to be a “Pollyanna” who is na├»ve or given to cheerful optimism when circumstances might not encourage it.

Eleanor Porter's heroine, Pollyanna, is the eleven-year-old orphaned niece of her spinster aunt Polly, who resides in a quaint New England town in Vermont. After Pollyanna's father, the Reverend Whittier died, who had been preceded in death by Pollyanna’s mother Jennie, the orphan is sent to live with her aunt Polly, who accepts the charge out of what she thinks is “her duty.” In Aunt Polly’s opinion, Jennie had married poorly. She turned down a wealthy suitor whom she did not love in favor of the poor reverend. And now, she feels obligated to raise Jennie’s only daughter.

Pollyanna is full of life and spirit, something Aunt Polly’s house has been lacking for many years. An unhappy love affair many years prior left Aunt Polly bitter and reclusive. Fortunately, Aunt Polly’s housekeeper, Miss Nancy, and gardener, Mr. Tom, give Pollyanna the attention and gentleness Aunt Polly can’t seem to offer.

What makes Pollyanna unique is her “glad game” which she learned from her father. The “glad game” began when a “missionary barrel” (a donation of clothes and other household goods to the Western missionary minister) included crutches instead of the doll she wanted. In order to assuage her disappointment, her father tells her to think of something to be glad about--which in this case, was that she didn’t need the crutches.  Pollyanna revels in finding something for everyone to be glad about, and the more gloomy the outlook, the better.

Pollyanna teaches the glad game to almost everyone she meets, and spreads her grateful optimism to the entire town except Aunt Polly, who can’t abide hearing about Pollyanna’s father.  It takes a tragedy affecting Pollyanna for Aunt Polly’s heart to soften completely, and not toward Pollyanna alone.  Toward the conclusion of the book, Aunt Polly tells Pollyanna: 

"So you see, dear, it's just you that have done it.  The whole town is playing the game, and the whole town is wonderfully happier--and all because of one little girl who taught the people a new game, and how to play it." 

Pollyanna contains some fairly far stretches for the modern and more cynical reader. But there is a good lesson in the “glad game.” Finding something to be glad for every day is a good exercise in putting things in proper perspective, no matter how overwhelming they might seem.

Pollyanna, written by Eleanor H. Porter, was published in 1913 by the Page Company.  Pollyanna is also available as a free digital download through Google Books.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Don't Stop the Carnival, by Herman Wouk

When Norman Paperman reads a sale advertisement for a tropical resort hotel in the New Yorker, the lure of leaving the city life for paradise was too strong to resist. Paperman’s doctor had just handed him a list of activities he should cease and desist immediately to prevent a fatal heart attack, and a tropical resort seems like the best prescription for his ailments. After a brief but alarming negotiation (in which he finds himself indebted not to his friend and financier Lester Atlas but to the previous owner through the local bank), Paperman immediately assumes host duties and everything that entails.

Norman Paperman has no experience as a hotelier. As a New York City press agent, he has no experience in management of any kind. And, he has no idea what to expect doing business in the Caribbean. Things quickly go from bad to worse, when the hotel manager, Thor, absconds with the previous hotel owner as her new yacht’s captain. When he attempts to promote one of his native workers from boatsman to bartender, he discovers there are regulations and politics which govern how he can assign his workers. Things become more complicated when he learns that those who have the support of the current political structure are more likely to get things done, and he has no idea who might be in the support of the governor or the ruling party.

The Gull Reef Club, Paperman’s hotel, has a series of structural disasters, including the failure of the water system which leaves the hotel toilets unable to flush, an unfinished remodeling project, and a machete-wielding contractor who is on the lam. Figure in a fading movie star with a drinking problem and a number of colorful island characters, and you have a rollicking novel that is cringingly funny, sweet, and sad all at the same time.

Don’t Stop the Carnival was originally published in 1965 by Doubleday, so readers should anticipate that references to race, religion or socio-economic class are dated. Wouk is the author of The Winds of War, War and Remembrance, and The Caine Mutiny, among other novels.