I read T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats last year and found out it was the book on which the musical Cats was based. I didn’t think I would get to see the musical on its Manila run because the tickets are fabulously expensive, but a couple of orchestra tickets magically fell into my hands on Friday afternoon, courtesy of my boss (thank you! thank you!), so my sister and I got to watch the musical that same night.

Cats is one of the longest-running shows in the history of musical theater. Its composer, Andrew Lloyd Webber, counts Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats as one of his favorite childhood books, and most of the musical is based on the cats in Eliot’s verse, except mainly Grizabella the glamor cat  (who has grown old and gray) and a few other cats, who (presumably) were written in to tie the story together.

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Edward Gorey

Edward Gorey is one of my favorite writer-illustrators. I love his lyrical and wickedly macabre stories — like a twisted Edward Lear or Lewis Carroll) and his equally macabre pen and ink illustrations!

I’ve blogged about acouple books of his in the past — Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (illustrations) and The Curious Sofa (story and illustrations), and I’ve got a couple more to show you in this post: The Iron Tonic and the pop-up book The Dwindling Party, both rummaged in bargain bins in two separate occasions, at P20 (US$0.5) and P95 (around US$2) respectively.

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One for Tomas (Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats)

In memory of Tomas :)

I love cats. I like dogs, and animals in general, but I love cats most of all (shh, don’t tell my dog!).

Having raised two cats from birth (and feeding several other neighborhood strays), I find that cats are one of the smartest creatures (and yes, smarter than dogs, as I’ve raised more than my share of those too) on earth.

They’re clean, they’re naturally housebroken, and they’re low-maintenance. They won’t give their loyalty freely, but they make the most loyal and affectionate companions when they do.

And I love how easily they learn even without training. While I love our dog as much as my cats, my cats can open doors, climb onto bed with me and pull a blanket over themselves,  use their litterbox and keep it clean (our dog has a spraying problem), and get up and down the stairs faster than lightning (our dog forgets how to go up and down the stairs like every other hour).

Last year, my cat Tomas, an orange mackerel tabby that I raised since he was a kitten,  passed away due to kidney failure and subsequent cardiac arrest (I really suspect it was canned cat food tainted with melamine), and it was one of the hardest things I ever had to get through in my life.

I got a lot of cat books since then, including a beautiful copy of 99 Lives: Cats in History, Legend, and Literature, that was a present from fellow book lover Triccie. I still can’t get myself to finish reading that book (because I end up bawling), but I was able to find another cat book to cheer me up: Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot (book #112 for 2009).

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Curiouser and curiouser…

The Curious Sofa: A Pornographic Work by Ogdred Weary
Book #29 of 2009
I took a break from reading In the Company of the Courtesan first, as I dropped by Mall of Asia after work to hit Book Sale, and get my stash of “carmel”-cheddar popcorn from the Chicago Popcorn Shops (yum!) with my sister.
So I got home around 10 and stretched out on the padded divan with The Curious Sofa. When I picked it up at Book Sale, I actually recognized Edward Gorey’s illustration style instantly, so it was a cinch to figure out that Ogdred Weary was a pseudonym, an anagram of his name.
To those who don’t recognize him, Edward Gorey is an artist/writer known for his macabre pen and ink illustrations and over a hundred books, the type that blur the line between adult books and children’s books.

The Curious Sofa
instantly caught my attention due to the subtitle (a pornographic work), so of course I had to buy it, haha, I thank my lucky book-scavenging stars that it was only P25 (Squee!).
The book is about a young woman named Alice, who meets the well-endowed Herbert in the park, and they hop from place to place and are joined by more and more “well-endowed” people, and they all do, erm, “naughty” things together.

“Naughty” is in quotation marks because Gorey leaves it to the reader’s imagination. The picture book is actually as just as pornographic as you think it is, because while it makes a lot of suggestions, it doesn’t actually contain anything overtly pornographic, and the characters could all be twiddling their thumbs or having wild wild sex, depending on how much fun you want to have with the book.

Curiously (pun intended), the book reminds me of one other book on my shelf — Audrey Niffenegger’s The Three Incestuous Sisters, which is about six times the size of this book. I got my copy at the National Book Store cut price sale, for P299.

The Three Incestuous Sisters is in full color, albeit a muted palette and sepia undertones, painstakingly created using watercolor and a technique called aquatint, where a pattern is scratched through a layer of wax on a zinc plate. The plate is then submerged in an acid bath. The acid erodes the zinc where the pattern is scratched and creates grooves for the ink to fall into to create a print. No wonder it took Niffenegger 14 years to finish the book! The paintings are haunting, and bizarrely beautiful at the same time.

Niffenegger (author of The Time Traveler’s Wife), calls it a novel in pictures. It tells a twisted story of three sisters who lived by the sea: Ophile, the smart one; Clothilde, the talented one; and the youngest, Bettine, the pretty one. When Ophile and Bettine fall in love with the same man, the storyline goes off on a surreal tangent, as tragedy after tragedy strikes, and the sisters’ relationship is never the same again.
Both books employ the noir style and surrealism, although The Curious Sofa was some three decades ahead, copyrighted in 1961. They differ in tone, though, as Gorey’s work is cheeky and humorous while Niffenegger’s is evocative, and deep-seated in emotion.
I lean more towards Gorey though, as I felt really drained after reading The Three Incestuous Sisters, as if I’d absorbed all the emotions flying around in the book. And also because I’m not a big fan of the surreal; there’s just a point where it becomes hokey to me.

My copies: The Curious Sofa, hardbound; The Three Incestuous Sisters, hardbound

My rating: The Curious Sofa, 5/5 stars; The Three Incestuous Sisters, 4/5 stars