The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

January 21, 2018

January 21, 1864

A Place: Spitalfields , an east London slum, a furrier's home and work place, where:

...over everything was the trail of the fur. The air was full of a fine fluff —a million little hairs floated about the room covering everything, insinuating themselves everywhere, getting down the backs of the workers and tickling them, getting into their lungs and making them cough, getting into their food and drink and sickening them till they learnt callousness. They awoke with “furred” tongues, and they went to bed with them. The irritating filaments gathered on their clothes, on their faces, on the crockery, on the sofa, on the mirrors (big and little), on the bed, on the decanters, on the sheet that hid the Sabbath clothes— an impalpable down overlaying everything, penetrating even to the drinking-water in the board-covered zinc bucket, and covering “Rebbitzin,” the household cat, with foreign fur.

A Time: 1892, when Jewish immigrants are becoming English citizens.

An Observer: Israel Zangwill (January 21, 1864 to August 1, 1926) , teacher in the Jewish Free School (funded by Rothschild beneficence) and

Author of this sketch, excerpted from "Flutter Duck" a story in Children of the Ghetto, included in Works of Israel Zangwill (1921).

January 20, 2018

January 20, 1946

You probably have heard of Susan Vreeland (January 20, 1946); her The Girl in Hyacinth Blue (1999) made a splash. What Love Sees is her first novel, published in 1988. This story, based on actual events, involves a couple who are both blind, raising a family on a ranch. This is the context of a scene where we read, "Feeling for the pan of soup, she found the cat on the counter, her head in the pan. ... She pitched the cat as hard as she could outside."

A Guardian review of another Vreeland book, The Passion of Artemisia (2002) (about a 17th century female artist) points out:

'It is a truism that, with writers who are gifted but not the best, literary quality often is in inverse proportion to plot or storytelling. This month's best debuts are cases in point....
The author describes herself as being like 'a painter who clothes figures from centuries earlier in the garb of his or her own time', but here it is their thoughts and attitudes that are anachronistic...
Artemisia is far too much of a feminist to feel the shame of being raped - which even our enlightened contemporaries often cannot help feeling. Then, when a sucker is found to marry her, she is surprised and disillusioned to discover that he was after her dowry. Theirs becomes a Ricky Ricardo-and-Lucy union: a painter himself, he is jealous of her talent and success.
Then there is Artemisia and pal Galileo, appreciating the higher things as only geniuses together can do. And finally her attitude to being an artist: that art is a high calling worth sacrificing other parts of life for - in an age that regarded it as jobwork. She is such a genius that she anticipates the Romantics by about 150 years....'

The writing habits of Vreeland are interesting if not unexpected. Here are details from an interview, slightly reformatted:

'Are you a daydreamer too?

I sometimes work myself into a quiet mental space whereby the next chapter of a novel will come to me, or the next thing a character says or does.'

'Have you always wanted to be a writer?
No. The urge started in 1984 when I was forty.'
'Where do you write, and when?

I have a beautiful office with wood built-ins. From my desk, I can look through the glass French doors onto a patio. When? Morning, noon, and night, my dear.'

'What is your favourite part of writing?

'What do you do when you get blocked? 
Change activities, while keeping the chapter that comes next floating in my thoughts.'

'How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
I remind myself to listen to the one divine Mind of the universe which is offering me ideas and directing me. I deeply feel gratitude to this source for what I've just written.'

'Do you have any rituals that help you to write?
I try to do some reading of a spiritual nature in the morning before I start work.'

'Who are ten of your favourite writers?
Virginia Woolf
Robert Frost
Sena Jeter Naslund
Stephen Dunn, poet
Emily Dickinson
Emily Carr, Canadian painter
Harper Lee'

'What do you consider to be good writing? A delicate touch of imagery, a compelling story, a handful of themes that resonate currently even though the work may take place ages ago, an appealing voice, an occasional surprise.

Even bad writers make good stories.

January 19, 2018

January 19, 1808

Lysander Spooner (January 19, 1808 to May 14, 1887) was a 19th century American thinker. Little known today, Spooner was influential in his own time as a theorist making the argument that slavery was unconstitutional. 

Many of his writings, are available here, along with thoughtful glosses. Here is a sample of Spooner's logic, from his "The Deist’s Immortality:"

'There is, in every rational being, a moral sense, or reverence for right. This seminal principle of an exalted character never, in this world, becomes extinct; it survives through vice, degradation and crime: it sometimes seems almost to have been conquered, but it never dies; and often, even in this world, like a phenix [sic] from her ashes, it lifts itself from the degradation of sensual pollution under which it was buried, and assumes a beauty and power before unknown. How many, whose virtuous principles had been apparently subdued by temptation, appetite and passion, have suddenly risen with an energy worthy an immortal spirit, shaken off the influences that were degrading them, resisted and overcome the power that was prostrating them, become more resolutely virtuous than ever, and had their determination made strong by a recurrence to the scenes they had passed. This has happened in multitudes of instances in this world.'

In summary Spooner has a gift for spotting an obviousness overlooked by most today. But our interest now is his arguments against the national government being able to use or demand a paper currency, when the law specifies "coin."

'This attempt, on the part of Congress, to alter the tender, from what the parties to contracts have agreed on, and to require parties and courts to recognise any thing but “coin ” as “a legal tender” in fulfilment of contracts for the payment of coin, is one of the most naked, impudent, and wicked usurpations that can be conceived. There is not a syllable in the Constitution that gives the slightest color of authority for any such enactment.....

'When a man has contracted, for value received, to deliver a plough, have Congress any constitutional power to enact that he may tender a gun, in fulfilment of that contract? Or if he has contracted to deliver a horse, have Congress power to enact that he may tender a bull? If a man has contracted to convey his farm, for value received, have Congress any power to enact that he may tender cats, dogs, snakes, and toads, in fulfilment of that contract? If a milliner has contracted to deliver a bonnet, have Congress power to enact that she may tender a wheelbarrow, or a handcart? If a jeweller has contracted to deliver a necklace, have Congress any power to enact that he may tender a coal hod?'

The citation for this excerpt is at a misclassified book at Google Books: Collection of Pamphlets by Lysander Spooner.

January 18, 2018

January 18, 2015

Jock Kinneir (February 11, 1917 to August 23, 1994) is responsible for designing the road signage in Britain, and via that influence, much of the world. As his website states:

Transportation Graphics: [is concerned with]Where Am I Going? How Do I Get There?...
[And something that might be on the test] “Consistency in design is the visual equivalent of grammar in language.”

It is not common to see a road sign involving cats, but here is one, a charming if solitary example. Do not buy anything at that link. The picture was taken 18 January 2015 at Monk Road, Horfield, Bristol.

Here for those wanting to pursue the topic of Jock Kinneir, are excerpts from his ODNB article.

'Kinneir, (Richard) Jock.... typographer and graphic designer, was born at... Aldershot, Hampshire,... the son of Guy Kinneir (1892-1964), a second lieutenant in the Manchester regiment and later a medical practitioner, and his wife, Helen Elizabeth Margaret, nee Smith (1890/91-1956). The Kinneir family claimed an unbroken line of sons following fathers as medical doctors since the late seventeenth century....but Jock Kinneir pursued a career in the visual arts. His early training was as a student of engraving, illustration, and painting at Chelsea School of Art, London, from 1935 to 1939, where his tutors included Henry Moore and Graham Sutherland. During these years he made some early connections with the world of transport for which his later designs were so renowned [,] through commissions to undertake a small number of poster designs for Shell's advertising campaign 'You Can be Sure of Shell'. These included '... 'These Men Use Shell: Riders to Hounds' (c.1938). He married on 2 January 1941 Joan Illingworth Lancaster (1915-2008), daughter of John Lancaster, postmaster; they had a daughter and two sons.

'Immediately following the Second World War, Kinneir worked as an exhibition designer for the Central Office of Information, and in 1950 was invited to work for the Design Research Unit, Britain's first multidisciplinary design agency. He was involved in one of the major projects of the post-war years, the Festival of Britain exhibition (1951), for which he designed the polar display in the Dome of Discovery on the South Bank London site.

'In 1956 Kinneir established his own design practice in Knightsbridge, London, and was invited by Brian Robb, head of illustration at Chelsea School of Art (and also a designer of Shell posters in the 1930s), to take up a part-time lecturing post in graphic design there. In the following year a fortuitous meeting with architect David Allford led to a commission for the signage for the new Gatwick Airport, commissioned from the architectural firm Yorke, Rosenberg, and Mardall, Allford's employer. Realizing the scale and importance of this project Kinneir invited Margaret Calvert (b. 1936), one of his most diligent students at Chelsea School of Art, to assist him. This inaugurated the highly successful and creative working partnership of Kinneir and Margaret Calvert that flourished for over twenty years. It also marked the start of Kinneir's distinguished career in public signage.

'Kinneir and Calvert's highly legible, foot traveller-focused signs for Gatwick Airport attracted the attention of Colin Anderson, chairman of the P&O shipping line, a committed campaigner for better standards of design in the inter-war and post-war years. Anderson commissioned Kinneir to undertake the design of a baggage labelling system for P&O that would simplify baggage handling and improve performance. Following this, Kinneir was appointed as a design consultant to the Anderson committee on Traffic Signs for Motorways, established in 1957. This marked a significant change from earlier government initiatives .... since the committee's membership included considerable design expertise such as that of architect Hugh Casson, designer and writer Noel Carrington, and Sir William Glanville, director of the Road Research Laboratories. Background research included investigation into motorway signs in California and Germany and Kinneir's new signage system was tested on Britain's first motorway standard road, the Preston bypass, in late 1958. The Anderson committee's final recommendations were characterized by white sans serif lettering and diagrams set on a blue background, with a new typeface developed specifically for motorways. Some felt that Kinneir and Calvert's Motorway font was aligned with the spirit of European modernism at a time when sensitivities about Britain's relationship with Europe were strained with the signing of the treaty of Rome (1957) and the inauguration of the European Economic Community (1958). Debate ran in the media with press coverage in The Times and The Guardian, a colloquium on transport signage organized by Design magazine in 1959, and even a television debate hosted by Cliff Michelmore on the BBC current affairs show Tonight between Kinneir and one of his fiercest critics, stonecutter and typographer David Kindersley.

'In 1961 Sir Walter Worboys, former chairman of the Council of Industrial Design, was appointed by the minister of transport to establish a second road signage committee 'to review traffic signs on all-purpose roads, as distinct from motorways, including roads in urban areas, and to recommend what changes should be made'. This resulted in the publication of Traffic Sign Regulations and General Directions, introduced in 1965 with a new font designed by Kinneir and Calvert (Kinneir's company had been renamed Kinneir Calvert Associates in 1964). The new signage system was to be in line with the recommendations of the 1949 UN World Conference on Road and Motor Transport, subsequently adopted by thirty countries, and informed the decision to adopt the continental practice of using pictograms rather than words for warning and information signs. Design magazine remarked in May 1967: 'The directional road signs for Britain's primary and non-primary roads have been evolved by a combination of research, design and committee work that has resulted in a single design solution to a vast and complex problem.' Kinneir and Calvert's success lay in the legibility, titling system, and layout of the two alphabets they devised, Transport Medium for lettering on dark backgrounds and Transport Heavy for lettering on light backgrounds. The Transport font was also the basis for signage for the National Health Service (the Health Alphabet of 1965).

'In 1965 Kinneir and Calvert commenced work on the design of Rail Alphabet, the typeface that replaced Gill Sans in British Rail's crisp new visual identity programme co-ordinated by the Design Research Unit. They also worked on signage for airports in Glasgow, Melbourne, Sydney, and Bahrain, as well as for the Tyne and Wear Metro, completed in 1980.

'During much of this period Kinneir had maintained an interest in higher education, becoming head of graphic design at the Royal College of Art, London, from 1964 to 1974. He also undertook a number of other visual communication projects such as the horizontally striped cover for the 1964 edition of Alex Comfort's Pelican paperback, Sex and Society. In the same year he was one of a number of mainly Scottish designers commissioned by the General Post Office to put forward 'non-traditional design proposals' for the Robert Burns portraiture stamps released in 1966. These were proposed during Labour politician Tony Benn's period of office as postmaster-general. Benn wished to modernize postage stamp design by discontinuing the inclusion of the queen's head. Kinneir's 'non-traditional' stamp designs were originally the preferred choice for the Burns issue, but with the addition of the queen's head. Later the stamp advisory committee chose another design and Kinneir's were never produced.

'Kinneir's book, Words and Buildings: the Art and Practice of Public Lettering, was published in 1980, the year in which he lost sight in his right eye. He retired in 1981, moving from London to Winderton, near Banbury, Oxfordshire, where he had designed a new home.... . Although his is not a household name, Jock Kinneir's design legacy is familiar to the general public through his visual transformation of the design of lettering and signage in public spaces across the face of Britain, including airports, motorways and roads, railways and hospitals.'

The ODNB also mentioned that Jock Kinneir's wealth when he died was £114,484.

January 17, 2018

January 17, 1968

Rowan Pelling, is a British writer; she is a past, and present editor of the Erotic Review. Her columns present a charming picture of married life among writers. I quote from an April 23, 2014 piece in The Daily Telegraph (I think) :

'To say I am pathologically untidy does not begin to do justice to the thick soup of chaos in which I swim. When I found I could no longer access my study for towers of bills, books and shoe-boxes, I simply closed the door and moved my centre of operations to the loft.

'Sometimes, I’d hear a faint rustling from behind the old room’s door and would idly wonder if a long-forgotten houseguest lay trapped under a tsunami of newspaper. I’d never have investigated, but my older son turns 10 this week and has pleaded for a bedroom large enough for bunks and sleepovers. Nor could I ignore the symbolism of Easter: a moment for renewal and so a little spring-cleaning. It was time to break into the room, armed with bin-bags, J-cloths and a bamboo pole for gently dislodging spiders.

'My resolve was strengthened when I took delivery of 10 large flat-pack cardboard boxes. There’s something akin to the pleasure of origami in picking up a two-dimensional rectangle of card and folding it into the kind of clean-lined, clutter-munching receptacle that would make an archivist purr. My husband, who was orderly to the point of obsession in his bachelor days, was instantly on my assembly line, soon to be joined by both sons, demanding containers for superheroes and Lego. Who knew, outside the world of cats, you could create so much rapture in a simple cardboard box?....'

Her Who's Who article mentions she graduated from St Hugh’s College, Oxford (1991). And that she was a judge for the 2004 Man Booker Prize. Her recreations include "red wine, TV detective dramas, and Maine Coon cats", among other items.

January 16, 2018

January 16, 1927

A biographical note:

'Anne Browning Williams...[(January 16, 1927, to April 28, 2017) was born in] in West Englewood, N.J. Her father, Arthur Williams Jr., was a Wall Street executive who was ruined in the 1929 crash. He died when Anne was still a child. Her mother, Hazel Johnson Williams, moved back home to St. Louis with her children.

'....[Anne] was a 20-year-old student at Washington University when she met her first husband, Richard Rubenstein, a poet from a well-off St. Louis family. He helped found the little magazine "Neurotica" — “for and about neurotics, written by neurotics” — which was an influence on the budding Beat generation.

'The couple moved to San Francisco, had three daughters, and immersed themselves in the vibrant local poetry scene. They started another poetry magazine, "Inferno", and then a third, "Gryphon", which published early work by Robert Creeley and Denise Levertov.

'On a whim, the couple moved again, in 1955, this time to Point Reyes Station, an isolated farming community north of San Francisco. In 1958, Richard Rubenstein was being treated in an East Coast psychiatric clinic for depression when he abruptly died, apparently from an allergic reaction to tranquilizers.

'Three weeks later, Anne Rubenstein met a new couple who had just moved to town, Phil and Kleo Dick. After a whirlwind affair, Dick moved in with Anne in the spacious modernist house she had shared with Rubenstein.

'“He used to help with the cooking,” Anne Dick said of the author. “He would mop the floors. He was lovely with the children.”

'Bored with science fiction and unable to interest publishers in his mainstream novels, Dick quit writing to help his new wife in her jewelry business. He liked that even less, and so he pretended to work on a new novel. To make it look realistic, he said in a 1976 interview with Science Fiction Review, he had to start typing.

'What emerged was “The Man in the High Castle.” It was dedicated, cryptically and not altogether favorably, to his wife, “without whose silence this book would never have been written.” (In the 1970s, Dick changed the dedication, dropping Anne Dick entirely.)
'Much of Philip Dick’s work explores the slippery nature of reality. His third marriage proved no less elusive.

'“I never did understand why he left me; I don’t think people really understand other people,” Anne Dick said. “It took me years to get over him. I swear, I thought about him almost continually, obsessively.”

'The couple had a daughter, Laura. “I think he was like another child,” Ms. Dick said. “He was really a very, very nice husband.”

'Nice, except for when his paranoia kicked in. One day they were driving out of a field after putting lumber in the barn. Philip Dick opened the gate; Anne Dick gunned the motor, and he ran off.

'“I guess he thought I was trying to kill him,” she said.

'She often gave as good as she got, however. Dishes flew during quarrels, and so did furniture. Husband struck wife, and wife struck him back.

'She remained in the same house in Point Reyes Station for the rest of her life. In later years, as her jewelry business waned, she used it as a bed-and-breakfast inn. For about $100 a night, people could rent the room where Dick had worked on “High Castle.” In truth, though, most visitors were focused on hiking the nearby national seashore....'

The same article notes that of his wives, it was Anne Dick who exercised an extraordinary effect on his writing.

'Philip K. Dick was a writer of modest accomplishment when he met Anne Rubenstein in late 1958. By the time the couple broke up less than six years later, Dick had written more than a dozen novels and was well on his way to eminence as one of the most influential of the postwar American writers.

'The events and emotions of that marriage turn up again and again in Dick’s novels, transfigured into science fiction. Anne Dick, ... made custom jewelry, which was a major plot element in his best-known novel, “The Man in the High Castle.”'

Later, and her daughters grown, Ms. Dick was inspired to revisit the marriage. Her memoir, The Search for Philip K. Dick, was published in 1995. Anne Dick in her book about her husband (she never remarried) recalls, as the couple was returning home once, that

'Phil, seeing a dead cat in the road, pulled the car over, picked up the cat, and gently, almost reverently, laid the little cat body on the grassy shoulder....'

A lovely tribute to Dick, and to his wife, who relayed the incident.

January 15, 2018

January 15, 2018

January 15, 2018 is the date in 2018 the  T. S. Eliot Prize is announced for the preceding year's poetic works.

Per the Poetry Society: 'The T. S. Eliot Prize is run by The T. S. Eliot Foundation. This is the richest prize in British poetry, with the winning poet receiving a cheque for £25,000 and the shortlisted poets each receiving £1,500....The winner of the 2017 Prize will be announced at the Award Ceremony ... 15th January 2018, where the winner and the shortlisted poets will be presented with their cheques. This continues the tradition started by Mrs Valerie Eliot, who provided the prize money from the inception of the Prize.'

Of the 2018 nominees The Telegraph said: 'Virginia Woolf once called T S Eliot the kind of man who would wear a four-piece suit. Now in its 25th year, the poetry prize set up in Eliot’s name risks looking similarly buttoned-up and unadventurous.'

But we are not concerned with the state of British poetry now now; we are concerned with cats. CATS that is---Lloyd-Webber's musical. For the licensing of Eliot's work, after his death by his widow, for this enterprise is where the money comes from, for the Eliot prize. Reality is always more than a three-piecer.