I remember my first bookstore cat. He was a big, handsome fellow weaving between the shelves and comfortable chairs of a midcoast Maine antiquarian and used book dealer’s shop and soliciting affection from the owner and visitors alike.
Since then, I’ve met bookstore cats in other Maine cities and in one well-known independent bookstore in Seattle. All of these cats have been quiet and friendly, much like your average indie bookstore employee. Unlike your average bookstore employee, though, bookstore cats enjoy spending time in the laps of the readers who welcome them.
However, that’s not what Lit Hub contributor Jason Diamond believes. In his essay on why cats love bookstores, which is replete with literary name-dropping and other examples of poetaster-ish pretentiousness, he writes, “Cats generally seem above it all — that’s what I tend to like about them.”
Although Diamond refers to bookstore cats as the apex of domesticated pets and says that he likes cats as much as he likes dogs, he also says, “It’s pretty obvious that cats haven’t really gotten over the sort of treatment they received in the time of the pharaoh.”
And, of course, even the essay’s subtitle — “Protecting books and withholding affection for centuries” — which Diamond may or may not have written, doesn’t show any affection for bookstore cats … or cats in general.
You’d think that as a writer, Diamond would be wary of using hackneyed ideas and one-dimensional characters in his craft, but apparently he doesn’t feel the need to see cats (or dogs, for that matter) as individuals with souls and minds.
Let me tell you why I think cats really love bookstores. It has nothing to do with protecting books from rats or looking down upon customers with disdain and everything to do with the people who operate and patronize bookstores.
You see, people who read tend to be quiet folks who are comfortable sitting still for long periods of time, absorbed in their favorite novel — or perhaps their favorite pretentiously written memoir — which goes down just fine with cats! Cats love a good, warm lap, and they certainly don’t enjoy noise and chaos.
Whether I’m at home or at my favorite bookstore, nothing is better than settling into a comfortable chair with a book and a delicious coffee drink and losing myself for a few hours, with a furry lap warmer as my companion.
But the other thing is that people who go to bookstores, being readers, tend to be on the smarter and more erudite end of the intelligence continuum. Since we have scientific data indicating that cat lovers are smarter than dog lovers, it’s only natural that books and cats are “two great tastes that taste great together.”
If I had a bookstore of my own, there would certainly be at least one cat prowling the shelves and chairs, looking for a lap to sit on while enjoying my customers’ adoration and love — not, as Diamond would have you believe, looking down from a high perch with disdain and making people work hard to prove their worthiness.
“Of course, if you asked a [bookstore] cat, he’d say he was the main attraction, but that’s what you get from a species that once reached god-like status,” Diamond writes in his closing paragraph.
Nope. I think cats are smart enough to know that the books are the main attraction. They’re also smart enough to know that a bookstore filled with comfortable chairs and maybe even a coffee bar is a great place for a cat to be, because there will always be a good supply of smart, quiet people — which is just what cats like because they themselves are smart, quiet creatures.