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, January 14, 2012

A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, by Robert Olen Butler

A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, by Robert Olen Butler, is a powerful collection of short stories of Vietnamese immigrants, living post-War lives. Butler focuses on those who relocated in Louisiana, with its temperatures akin to the climate in their home country. Fifteen stories, including the story for which the book is named, stand alone but share the common thread of building a new life in a new world.

Themes that pervade the stories include a sense of not belonging—either to the old world or the new—or struggling to transition between them. In “Fairy Tale,” a Vietnamese prostitute comes to America with a dream to be a housewife. In “Crickets” a Vietnamese father wants to share the simple games he played in Vietnam with his Americanized son. In “Relic,” a Vietnamese man seeks to regain his fortune in America and buys a shoe he was told once belonged to John Lennon. The stories weave beliefs like honoring elders, and practices like arranged marriages, with beautiful imagery. In one passage about family, an elderly character says, “A Vietnamese family is extended as far as the bloodline strings us together, like so many paper lanterns around a village square.”

The war figures heavily in some stories, its nightmares and ghosts living on in “Open Arms,” “Love,” and “A Ghost Story.” “The American Couple” features participants in television game shows who win trips to a resort in Mexico. The Vietnamese-born man, Vinh, and an American-born man, Frank, act out war games during their short time together on the set of the iconic movie, “The Night of the Iguana.” The emotional scars from the War, the transplantation of these Vietnamese immigrants, and their adaptation to a new culture, make Butler’s stories intense, convoluted, and moving.

A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize. The hardcover edition of the book was first published in 1992 by Henry Holt.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Write It Down, Make It Happen, by Henriette Anne Klauser, Ph.D.

Write It Down, Make It Happen, by Henriette Anne Klauser is a treasure of a book.  While it falls into that ubiquitous "self-help" book genre, it is more of a science or psychology book.  It is about discovering how the way we think affects what we do.  Klauser dips her pen from time to time into the spiritual realm, but not in a heavy-handed way, suggesting that the way we think also affects what happens to us in terms of things we'd normally think of as outside of our control. 

Klauser describes writing (she is also the author of acclaimed books on writing, including Writing on Both Sides of the Brain) as a means to both "program" your thinking and discover what you really want.  She urges readers to dream big dreams, and quotes Nelson Mandela to inspire her readers to pursue their grand plans, "Your playing small does not serve the world," Mandela said.  "Who are you not to be great?" 

The author gives several examples of people who have long-standing dreams and use writing to help bring clarity to their desires.  Simply writing daily, clearly describing the desire, subconsciously helps them take action to meet their objectives, as well as helping them see when opportunities arise to further their dreams.  Not all of the people in Klauser's book find success, as some discover that they don't actually want what they think they want.  Writing gives them that clarity, and helps them focus on another goal.

Faith plays a significant role in Klauser's theories.  She writes, "Once you walk forward in faith with a conscious effort, all manner of support and tangible backing will be available to you."  Part of training the mind through writing includes increased awareness of those coincidences that support your desires.  Descriptive writing helps clarify the goal, tests your commitment to it, changes the way you think, and changes the way you see the world. And, according to Klauser, may help align other factors to support you. 

Write It Down, Make It Happen was originally published in 2000 by Scribner. Readers should consider Write It Down, Make It Happen as an experiment in achieving goals.  It's a quick book to read and poses a fascinating theory.  It may be the perfect way to set and meet New Year's resolutions.