Generally speaking animal-themed books tend to be for those people who adore, in a near-obsessive way, the animal in question. The readers of Best Hikes with Dogs: North Carolina are dog people. Those who buy How to Think Like A Horse: The Essential Handbook for Understanding Why Horses Do What They Do probably own riding boots—and not just for the fashion statement. But, when it comes to Ghost Cats of the South (John F. Blair, 2008) by Randy Russell, being a cat person isn’t required. In fact, finding cats a little creepy might add to the book’s intended effect.
Cats contains 22 short stories collected by the author—a self-proclaimed “ghostlorist”—from across the American South. The tales range from eerie (in “Chicken Soup Cat,” an over-fed feline leads a stranded couple to a busting diner with a secret past) to gory (in “Bump-Heads Cat” the truth about how witches get their night vision is made all too clear). There are benevolent ghost cats and malicious beasts. Some stories (“Rose Perfume,” set at the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, Fla.) are seeped in history while others (“Cat Cookies,” based on a famed baker in Sylva, N.C.) smack of local lore.
Though the book’s only consistency is that all the stories posses a cat of some sort, Russell approaches his subject matter with the cozy, tall-tales-around-the-campfire treatment that renders each chapter fluid and too quickly over. This is a well-currated group of fun reads that also impart nuggets of Southern history (“In the 1700s, the Cherokee more openly tolerated the practice of dark arts by a few elders of the council governments”), lingo (“It was a cold Autumn come down … People called it “airish” when it got this cold”) and culture (“Those aren’t normal cats. They’re agents for that granny woman … Those old swamp women use cats to do their voodoo”).
The book also contains antique pictures of cats, all of which seem appropriately creepy. Readers who’ve experienced their own versions of Russell’s ghost cats are invited to enter the Ghost Cats of the South photo contest. Deadline is 5 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 27. Submissions should be emailed, as a photo attachment with brief description, to firstname.lastname@example.org. The winning photo will be on display at the John F. Blair Web site for Halloween. The prize-pack includes, a $50 gift certificate to groomer, vet, or pet store of your choice or an equal donation to the winner’s local humane society, and a copy of Ghost Cats of the South.
Randy Russell gives a pre-Halloween reading at Malaprop’s on Saturday, Oct. 25. The 7 p.m. event is free. Info: 254-6734.
—Alli Marshall, A&E reporter