Sunday, November 11, 2007


Today I received an email calling for a boycott of the movie, The Golden Compass. This boycott is based on the premise that since the author of the book is an atheist, this movie will turn its viewers (especially kids) into atheists, too. This is, mind you, before its actual release date. Of course, that’s the problem with most censors and the people that line up like sheep behind them--they’re rumor-driven. They never even read the book or see the movie before they begin their campaign to censor it.

As a librarian, I was aware of and/or subjected to numerous censorship attempts. Censor groups wanted Shel Siverstein's books pulled from the our public libraries and school libraries because he was gay and "he wanted to make everyone gay." (I ended up testifying at a public hearing over that one.) I was asked to pull Mark Twain's books because he was an atheist. Likewise, works by Noel Coward, because he was a gay atheist--a double threat. There were many, many more examples, including a group who wanted the Smurf books removed from our bookshelves because they were "communistic."

When I write my books, I don't try to make people Methodists. What sense does the phrase, "The author of this romantic comedy is a Methodist, so she's trying to get her readers to convert to her views" make?

Granted, there are books written specifically to proselytize. But how many people became atheists because they read Tom Sawyer? How many children became gay after their parents or teacher read them poems from Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends? Was there a mass conversion to Islam after people read The Kite Runner? Of course not.

If we judge books and movies by the religious and political beliefs of the person who wrote them, we're going to have a mighty limited selection from which to choose. Each work should be judged on its own merit, and maybe The Golden Compass movie is just what it's claiming to be--an entertaining fantasy.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Cats! (Not the Musical)

Anyone who thinks all cats are the same has obviously never lived with one. Notice I said “lived with,” and not “owned.” No one really ever “owns” a cat.

Cats are persnickety. (Don’t you love that word?) They decide when--and if--they’ll suffer your presence.

Cats were revered in Ancient Egypt. If you ask me, that spoiled it for the rest of us.

You read a lot about cats in books. That’s because of the writer-cat connection (more about that later.) There’s Lilian Jackson Braun’s “The Cat Who” series, which features Koko and Yum Yum. These clever felines help solve murders.

Then there’s Cleveland Amory’s The Cat Who Came for Christmas. Amory loved animals to the point where he was buried beside his cat, Polar Bear.

Did you know there’s even a national Cat Writers' Association that gives awards, including the "World's Best Cat Litterary Award?" Shirley Rousseau Murphy, whose mysteries feature Joe Grey and Dulcie, has won several of these honors.

Geneen Roth learned the emotional benefits of being with a cat, and wrote about her experiences with Blanche in her book, The Craggy Hole in My Heart and the Cat Who Fixed It: Over the Edge and Back with My Dad, My Cat, and Me.

I know too well about that “craggy hole.” We lost my dad and my cat within a couple of weeks of each other. They both left emotional holes that will never be filled. After their deaths, our home was so quiet it was as though the house itself was in mourning.

A few weeks later, we went to the Humane Society. Two kittens, one a regal female tabby, and one a male American domestic with beautiful, swirly sides, picked out my daughter, Jessica, and me. My husband, David, who insisted on naming them, dubbed the male Blaise Pascal, later shortened to “Pascal,” and the female Ada Lovelace. Pascal (1623–1662) was a French mathematician and philosopher. Augusta Ada King (1815-1852), Countess of Lovelace, mathematician, Lord Byron’s daughter, and the world’s first computer programmer, is known for her work on an early mechanical computer. This is what happens when a computer engineer names your pets.

Back to the writer-cat connection. The two kittens brought joy back into our house with their constant antics. However, both of them were determined to undermine my writing time--Pascal by chewing through my computer cables, and Ada by demanding to be held the minute I sat down at my desk.

Last year, at only six years of age, Pascal died suddenly from a misdiagnosed fatty liver disease. The tragedy devastated all of us, and Ada wandered through the house looking for him. We decided the best thing to do was to get a companion for Ada. Wrong.

My husband and my daughter went to the Humane Society and came back with Chewie Bacca, a lively orange tabby with hair the color of his namesake’s fur. We did everything in the book to introduce “Chewie” to Ada. Nothing worked. Every time he came near, the normally even-tempered Ada would hiss and growl. Eventually, she developed laryngitis, and had to be treated for a throat infection. Chewie loves the hissing game, and still takes as many opportunities as possible to try to get her to play.

Like his predecessors, Chewie is determined to destroy my writing career. And what a bag of tricks he has! When I’m barefoot at my desk (writers aren’t known for their dress codes), he bites my toes until I pay attention to him. If I wear socks, he tries to pull them off. When I really get desperate and put on my shoes, he pulls on the strings. Chewie never gives up--he has enough energy for six or seven cats. If I’m deep in concentration, he makes a dive for the cables. If I’m extra deep in concentration, he throws his bedraggled mouse toy at me and cries at the top of his lungs until I play fetch with him.

I have a friend whose cat lounges quietly by her side while she writes her columns. Where’s the challenge? Still, I wouldn’t trade her laid-back pet for either Ada or Chewie. But don’t tell them. They already have the advantage.