Of Cats and Men: Profiles of History’s Great Cat-Loving Artists, Writers, Thinkers, and Statesmen by Sam Kalda

Of Cats and Men: Profiles of History’s Great Cat-Loving Artists, Writers, Thinkers, and Statesmen, Sam Kalda, Ten Speed Press, 2017

5 Stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A Crazy Cat Lady Reviews

Of Cats and Men: Profiles of History’s Great Cat-Loving Artists, Writers, Thinkers, and Statesmen by artist Sam Kalda is a book that sings to my soul.

This lovely illustrated work features 30 feline fanciers in history who were “forward-thinking” men (31 if you include the author).

The first quote in this book is Mark Twain’s statement: “When a man loves cats, I am his friend and comrade without further introduction.”

I could not agree more. What woman can’t resist a man who loves pussy?

CATS! Pussy cats. I’m just kitten around here!

Since the age of 17, I’ve always had a feline friend in my life. Also since that age, I’ve had a cat-loving man in my life as well. First, a high school boyfriend, then a year later, my college sweetheart who’d I go on to marry. Both males shared a commonality of being physical men with artistic bents. My first boyfriend was a linebacker and a wrestler who played piano and wrote short stories. My dear husband was never one for team sports, preferring one-on-one martial combats such as karate, boxing, or streetfights, although he has a philosopher’s soul and has dabbled in oil painting and poetry.

Book – Of Cats and Men: Profiles of History’s Great Cat-loving Artists, Writers, Thinkers, and Statesmen by Sam Kalda

Kalda’s book portrays men who unashamedly loved cats. While domestic canines typically have been depicted as man’s best friend, cats have held an equal place in the lives of many. The dog might have helped Paleolithic cavemen survive by hunting, but the cat aided Neolithic man into the age of civilization.

Cats have been historically associated with women, particularly women on the fringes of society. Men with cats were the cerebral types, thinkers, not doers.

On the other hand, men with doggy companions are seen as heroes, athletes, and warriors. The macho US General Patton loved his English Bull Terrier, William the Conqueror, or Willie. Conventionally masculine men are depicted as being more in tune with their emotions, only with their beloved canines rather than with women. Harlan Ellison wrote of such devotion in “A Boy and His Dog.”

Upon my first quick read of Kalda’s book, I was a bit disappointed that all the men depicted were (as he clearly states) “Artists, Writers, Thinkers, and Statemen.” As I’ve noted in my experience, loving cats doesn’t make a man less physical.

Then on a second reading, I realized how silly & biased my preconceived notions were! A man who appreciates the company of cats isn’t less of anything. He is, perhaps, simply more in touch with his introverted side, as cats are not outgoing creatures. Introverted natures tend towards the arts or history, so it’s only natural that artists, historians, and philosopher-kings would be drawn to these quiet, pensive animals that delight their humans with their strange, adorable habits.

Cat Crazy Men

“Like Prometheus to the fire, generation of enlightened fellows have gravitated to the feline species. We stand with our cat-loving sisters as crazy cat men, proudly wearing our scarlet letters in solidarity.”

Of Cats and Men: Profiles of History’s Great Cat-loving Artists, Writers, Thinkers, and Statesmen

And who are these cat-crazy men? There was King Hywel the Good of Wales who introduced laws that protected domestic cats. A Mamluk Sultan named Baibars bequeathed a garden near a mosque to be dedicated as a cat sanctuary in Cairo. Sir Isaac Newton, Samuel Johnson, the aforementioned Twain, Haruki Murakami, Ernest Hemingway, and Andy Warhol are a few of the intelligent, creative, and avant-garde cat fanciers you’ll meet.

Finally, let me address the artwork. Kalda’s work is deceptively simple and modern. When briefly looked at, one sees colorful images of men and cats. Look closer, and there are layers upon layers in his work. It is in the details where Kalda shines. Whether it’s the fur pattern of a tabby cat, individual blades of grass, every leaf on palm trees, or a Mandala-like halo surrounding a deceased Zoraostrian pop star’s visage, Kalda painstakingly adds strokes and lines to create texture and nuance.

Some of My Favorite Images:

MARLON BRANDO:

marlon brando cat

CHARLES SWAIN:

charleswain

SULTAN BAIBARS:

catgardens

FREDDY MERCURY:

FREDDYMERCURY

However, the omission of this fella does irk me:

bubble kittty

But there are lots of cat lovers out there, so it’s a forgivable act.

My Opinion

Of Cats and Men: Profiles of History’s Great Cat-Loving Artists, Writers, Thinkers, and Statesmen is a must-have for any man who loves cats. Or a woman who loves cats. Or a man or woman who loves men who love cats. Or just cats. I couldn’t find this book for the longest time, and it was due to one of my kitties sleeping on it.

The Stranger Beside Me: Ted Bundy (The Shocking Inside Story) by Ann Rule

The Stranger Beside Me: Ted Bundy (The Shocking Inside Story), Ann Rule, Signet, 1981

4 Stars

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Book – The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule

On my Goodreads account I filed The Stranger Beside Me: Ted Bundy (The Shocking Inside Story) under my “so bad it’s good” and “unintentionally hilarious” shelves. Without a proper review to qualify the categorization, it occurred to me perhaps people might misconstrue my reasoning.

The all-too-real crime of a depraved serial killer who raped and murdered countless defenseless females was not what “amused” me, for lack of a better word. Author Ann Rule’s defensive narration of her relationship with the murderous Bundy was akin to watching the Hindenburg burn up or Titanic go down. It made for quite a spectacle.

Ted Bundy

As a GenXer, I’ve heard of Ted Bundy for most of my life. I remember his execution in 1989 when they showed his dead body in the media. Tabloid news TV and the daytime talk shows were obsessed with Bundy and his depraved murders. Perhaps it was his well-mannered appearance in contrast to his heinous actions, but the Bundy killings made for a strangely fascinating tale.

True crime author Ann Rule built her reputation on Ted Bundy. Rule was his friend and co-worker. They worked together at a crisis hotline center. To her, he was a handsome, hard-working, sensitive, up-and-comer. As a writer who penned detective stories and worked with the police department, she could not see what was before her. Bundy a narcissistic sociopath who preyed upon innocent women.

Everybody knows the tale of Ted Bundy. He’s as notable a character to 20th-century American culture as Jack the Ripper is to the British Victorian Era.

The parents who raised him for the formative years of his life were, in actuality, his grandmother and grandfather. Bundy’s true mother his elder sister. Born outside of marriage, he spent the first months of infancy in an orphanage. Ted’s grandfather was abusive to him, yet Ted looked up to as him as his lone source of male authority. When Ted was older, he moved to live with his mother and her new husband, who adopted Ted as his son.

Ann and Ted, Friends

Ted was a respectable-seeming guy, a college student at the University of Washington who was majoring in psychology when Rule met Bundy. Rule was a decade older than Ted and found him charming. She trusted him so much she let her children play with him.

Rule goes on at length in her book about how she wasn’t sexually attracted to Ted. Sure, sure. Ok, so maybe her feelings were wholly platonic and she just saw Ted as a kid brother. Whatever it was, she was drawn to him and liked him.

Rule makes a big deal about her friendship with Ted. However, she only knew him for a couple of years. Of course, during part of those years, he was abducting women, butchering them, and violating their corpses.

Later, Rule writes how she never knew the real Ted Bundy. They were just casual friends. He seemed nice, so she had taken him under her maternal wing. Eventually, like many in friendships, they lost contact.

But Ann never forgot about him.

The True Crime Writer and the Killer

After Bundy was arrested for murder, the two wrote and called each other. Ted insisted on his innocence, and Ann listened to his denials. Rule believed him so much she sent him money for his defense. When Bundy escaped from prison and there was a nationwide manhunt for him, Bundy sent her letters, still proclaiming his innocence.

Even his final murderous spree in Florida where he killed a young girl, did not fully dissuade Rule about his guilt. Only after being confronted with genuine forensic evidence in a court of law, could the “savvy” writer of detective stories concede the man she considered a friend was a monster.

Conclusion

The Stranger Beside Me was an enlightening source of insight into the life and crimes of Ted Bundy. But it was even more so for the Ann Rule, who used this to catapult her career.

Denial ain’t just a river.

American Desperado by Jon Roberts and Evan Wright

American Desperado, Frank Jon Roberts and Evan Wright, Crown, 2011

4.5 Stars

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

A Very Evil Man

American Desperado is the story of Jon Roberts’ life as told to author Evan Wright. Just who was Jon Roberts?

He was an orphan, a kid who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, small-time hood, a Vietnam Veteran, a thief, a Mafia associate, a prominent NYC discotheque owner, a drug dealer, a racehorse aficionado and, most importantly, a prosperous businessman who was one of the most successful American importers of all time.

Of cocaine.

And by his own admission, a very evil man.

Reading this memoir of Roberts’ life, one might be fooled into thinking he’s not all that evil. He’s charming, funny, and a capable raconteur. His stories will either have you laughing, reeling in shock, or totally engrossed. His life story is entertaining as hell, having lived more in his 63 years on Earth than a dozen random people combined.

But don’t fall prey to his two-faced nature. Roberts was extravagantly generous to his many, many girlfriends, a cool-headed businessman (when he needed to be), and an absolute lover of animals, exceedingly kind to all creatures, whether feathered or four-legged (except alligators. Eff them.). However, all that pales in comparison to what Jon was truly about. He was a murderer, a rapist, a thief, a kidnapper, a blackmailer, a money launderer, an informant, and a criminal drug smuggler who, from the late-1970s to the mid-1980s brought in several billion dollars worth of cocaine into the US. He was one of several noted American “Cocaine Cowboys,” if not the most prominent.

Jon Roberts, Cocaine Cowboy

Jon’s father was a Sicilian-born Mafia soldier, who made Jon witness a grisly murder at an early age. After his father was deported, Jon turned to a life of crime, being pushed around from schools to juvenile detentions to reform schools. His first sexual experience was raping a young girl whose father considered Jon like a son. Stupidly naive of the man, of course, as Jon never hid his violent, antisocial ways. Though Jon did have an astonishing ability to charm people despite his wicked nature.

He became more entrenched in a criminal lifestyle, interrupted only by a violent four-year stint in Vietnam, which only made Jon more bloodthirsty. After the war he joined the mafia, first running small-time scores for them, then climbing up the ladder bringing in big bucks. Eventually, he became a major player in the night club scene, the owner of various big-named clubs like Salvation, where famous celebrities would turn up. Jon would often lace their drinks with LSD for laughs. Once, Jon spiked Ed Sullivan’s drink, driving the variety-show host to a mini-nervous breakdown after fondling a prostitute’s naked breasts while tripping out. Jon’s old-school mustachioed Mafia bosses were not pleased.

Jon eventually got involved in several murders which brought on too much heat for his mob contacts and was banished from New York. From there he moved to Florida, where in just a short while he became a major mover in the cocaine business, working this time for the Colombian cartels, and raking in millions.

All this before the age of thirty.

A Twisted Empire

I won’t summarize the rest of his life, as there are numerous articles, books, tv movies and documentaries about “The Cocaine Cowboys”’ exploits. If you’re unfamiliar with names such as Pablo Escobar, Griselda Blanco, La Familia Ochoa, the Medellin Cartel, Max Mermelstein, Barry Seale, Mickey Munday, or most shocking of all, the Bush-Clinton MENA connection, I suggest a brief internet search to inform yourself before reading this book. Although it’s doubtful readers who are interested in the biography of Jon Roberts’ life are unaware of most of the characters involved in the Golden Age of Cocaine.

This is a fascinating story, but one so disgusting you may feel the need to take several showers afterward. Whether exaggerated or not, if only one-tenth of what Jon Roberts revealed in American Desperado is true, the War on Drugs is just a big dog-and-pony show that is supported by criminals and politicians alike, not to be redundant.

It’s a horrifying and infuriating notion.

Sister Queens by Julia Fox

Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile, Julia Fox, Ballantine, 2011

3 Stars

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Book – Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile

While Julia Fox’s attention to little details is meticulous, her book Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile is mistitled. It’s a lopsided historical account of Katherine of Aragon, with scant attention placed on her older sister, Juana of Castile.

It read to me like Fox intended to write a biography on Katherine and maybe came up a few pages short, so she crammed in some facts about Juana. They were sisters, both queens, treated cruelly by their husbands and then cast aside in vicious games of politics.

I figure 2/3 of the book pertains to Katherine, 1/6 to notes and pictures and the other 1/6 to Juana’s life. It’s understandable to an extent, as Fox is an accredited expert on Tudor history, and there is so much known about Katherine and her marriage to Henry VII of England, a marriage that ended up fragmenting the Catholic Church and changing the face of Europe forever.

Juana the Who?

Sections pertaining to Juana’s childhood and her marriage to Philp Hapsburg are frustratingly truncated. It’s understandable as Juana spent most of her life—well over 40 years—locked away at Tordesillas, kept prisoner by her beloved Father, then later her son. Not much happens when a person is shut off from the rest of the world.

Fox maintains the now commonly held position that Juana was never insane, and backs this up with accounts from respectable people who came in contact with the supposed Mad Queen.

While I agree that Juana would not be considered legally insane by modern standards, she did exhibit such emotional mood swings which could be diagnosed as bipolar or manic depression. Juana’s documented strange, erratic behavior is downplayed by Fox. Certainly Juana’s treatment was unjust and callous, but there is evidence that, for a while, at least after Philip’s death and then giving birth to her sixth child, Juana was not mentally capable or willing to fulfill her functions as Sovereign Queen. Worse, Fox speculates so often about what Juana felt or did and how we will never know certain truths as hard proof is lacking, that she rarely comes to any definitive conclusion about Juana. We’ll never know anything for sure, Fox frequently states, so then why write about it?

Katherine the Great

In contrast, the parts on Katherine were painstakingly detailed. From Katherine’s grand entrance into London, her marriage to Arthur, then to his younger brother, Henry, each of her pregnancies and miscarriages, the death of her son, how she prudently ruled England while Henry was away at war with France, and then how valiantly she fought to save her marriage from divorce, these facts are all described in a well-annotated, scholarly manner, so replete with minute details of clothing, food and castles that G.R.R. Martin and Bertrice Small would be proud.

Katherine’s letters and actions are documented facts. Her character is fully analyzed, so Katherine becomes a fleshed-out human being before our eyes. There may be a few mysteries about her motives, but there is never a doubt about who she is.

A Lopsided Account

Were this a book just about Katherine, I would have appreciated it much more, rating this at least a 4. I’d like to consider myself an amateur historian when it comes to the Trastamaras & Hapsburg Spaniards and I found the sections on Juana disappointingly sparse in comparison to Katherine’s. The only information new to me about Juana was the number of visits her grandchildren made to her while she was imprisoned (18 in 20 years).

It’s unfortunate that this book is so uneven with much more written about Katherine than Juana. The parallel themes Fox attempts to draw about the sister queens’ fates are not thoroughly convincing. If she had framed her book on a point by point basis, rather than writing this chronologically, perhaps she would have made a more definitive case. As it was, I’m not sure what her ultimate thesis was besides pointing out the obvious tragedies.

4 stars for the Katharine sections + 1.5 stars for Juana’s = 2.75, rounded up to 3 stars overall.