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Category: Books

Kafka's salesman-turned-cockroach reimagined as a cute kitten in 'The Meowmorphosis'

I can has Kafka

It's been well established that cats own the Internet. Now, apparently, they have set their sights on classic literature, according to our colleagues at The Times' books blog, Jacket Copy.

You've heard of literary mash-ups like "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," "Android Karenina" and "Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters," perhaps? Or "Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter"? Well, get ready for the next in a quickly lengthening line of silly takes on serious literature and history: "The Meowmorphosis."

A play on Franz Kafka's "The Metamorphosis," the cat-themed mash-up book is due in May from publisher Quirk Books. In it, Kafka's famous character Gregor Samsa wakes up one day to find himself transformed not into a cockroach, as he does in "The Metamorphosis," but into an adorable, fluffy kitten instead.

"His family must admit that yes, their son is now OMG so cute -- but what good is cute when there are bills to pay?" reads a blurb about "Meowmorphosis" in the publisher's catalog. "How can Gregor be so selfish as to devote his attention to a ball of yarn? And how dare he jump out the bedroom window to wander through Kafka's literary landscape?" These are all good questions.


-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: ICanHasCheezburger.com

New book tells the story of Oogy, rescued bait dog with an inspiring tale

Oogy A family's relationship with a rescued "bait dog" that recovered from horrific injuries to become their much-loved pet is the subject of a new book, "Oogy: The Dog Only a Family Could Love." Our colleague Rene Lynch reviewed "Oogy" recently on The Times' books blog, Jacket Copy.

Oogy was found, badly mauled, abandoned outside Philadelphia when he was just a puppy. He was nearly euthanized due to the severity of his injuries -- which included a smashed jaw, a large open wound on his head and the loss of one of his ears -- but the staff at a veterinary hospital decided to try to save him.

After extensive surgery and rehabilitation, Oogy was deemed ready for adoption and eventually went to live with the Levin family -- father Larry, the book's author, his wife and their twin boys. Oogy, initially thought to be a pit bull, was later discovered to be a Dogo Argentino, a breed known to its fans for its devotion to its family.

The Levins decided to train Oogy to become a therapy dog, with a focus on working with those who have been wounded and disfigured. "I believe that Oogy will be able to help those in need to understand that scarring, disfigurement, and trauma, whether physical or emotional, do not have to define who they are.... That no matter what has been inflicted upon them, love and dignity are attainable," Levin writes.


-- Lindsay Barnett

New books based on 'ZooBorns' website inspire conservation efforts through cuteness

Tamandua What makes a good baby picture? On ZooBorns.com, the babies have to be wild. Maybe obscure. Possibly endangered. Mostly, they have to be cute.

"Cute always comes first," said Chris Eastland, an artist and photographer from Brooklyn, N.Y., who joined forces with Andrew Bleiman of Chicago to create ZooBorns.com two years ago.

Their website delivers birth announcements from zoos and aquariums around the world, and gets about a million hits a month.

The men are publishing a pair of hardcover books through Simon & Schuster -- "ZooBorns!" a 32-page children's book released last month, and a longer book for all ages also called "ZooBorns," out next week. The Assn. of Zoos and Aquariums gets 10% of sales.

"It's win, win, win for us," said Jill Nicoll, AZA's senior vice president of marketing.

The AZA benefits not just because of the royalties but also because promoting zoo babies is good for the conservation cause. "And it's cute," she added.

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What California students learned photographing desert tortoises could -- and did -- fill a book

TortoiseBook Thirteen Southern California high school students are the artists behind a new photography book that explores the lives of desert tortoises, a species considered vulnerable to extinction.

The publication of the book, "Tortoises Through the Lens: A Visual Exploration of a Mojave Desert Icon," culminates an 18-month, $27,000 project sponsored by the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Assn.

Students from Barstow High School, Needles High School, Desert High School, Excelsior Education Center, Victor Valley High School, Pete Knight High School, the Academy for Academic Excellence and a home-school program participated in the project. 

"It was all about perspective, illumination and snapping the shutter at the right moment to get that ultimate shot," Victor Valley senior Keya Cason, 17, told The Times. "The shot that says, 'Tortoises -- elders of the desert' and the land in which they live are important. " Cason now aspires to be a wildlife photographer.

The students' photography was also exhibited for several months at the Mojave National Preserve's historic Kelso Depot Desert Light Gallery. Proceeds from "Tortoises Through the Lens," which retails for $14.95, benefit tortoise conservation efforts.

Learn more about the project at The Times' environmental blog, Greenspace.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Simon Tofield's new book takes Web video hit 'Simon's Cat' offline, into bookstores

We're big fans of the online video phenomenon that is Simon's Cat, an animated series that follows a troublesome-but-lovable kitty who bears a striking resemblance to some real-life cats we know.  Our colleague Charles Solomon has the details on the recently released book by the series' creator, Simon Tofield (hint: like the videos, it also features a certain feline); here's an excerpt:

Simon's Cat is the new kitty du jour, following in the paw prints of Garfield, Morris, B. Kliban's cats and other media felines. The creation of British animator-director Simon Tofield, the simply drawn character is the star of five online videos that have racked up more than 36 million hits (they can be seen at simonscat.com). Tofield's first book brings his popular character to the printed page.

Tofield is a perceptive observer: He understands how cats move and the poses they assume when they sleep, wash, eat and stalk real or imaginary prey. He combines his observations with a sense of caricature that pushes the exaggerations just far enough to reveal what the cat is thinking. And he does it solely through his drawings: Neither the cartoons in the book nor the films contain any words (only meows, purrs and human grunts in the videos), which makes their subject seem that much more believable and cat-like.

Although he began as a recognizable cat, Garfield quickly turned into a crabby little man in a cat suit, complaining about Mondays in a strip designed to be pinned up by the office water cooler -- replacing the previous week's strip complaining about Mondays. Tofield knows a cat doesn't care about Mondays: It eats from the same dish, sleeps on the same pillow and gets into the same mischief, regardless of the day of the week.


Video: The Simon's Cat episode "TV Dinner."  Credit: simonscat via YouTube

Palin protest: San Francisco bookseller will donate profits from 'Going Rogue' to Alaska Wildlife Alliance

Palin thumbs-upSarah Palin's new book, "Going Rogue," may have struck a chord with the former Alaska governor's many fans, but there don't seem to be many wildlife advocates among that group.  (We'd imagine Palin doesn't have too many fans among the vegan community, either, owing to her comments in the book that "If any vegans came over for dinner, I could whip them up a salad, then explain my philosophy on being a carnivore: If God had not intended for us to eat animals, how come He made them out of meat?")

Shortly after the book's release, independent bookstore owner Don Muller (himself an Alaska resident, but decidedly opposed to Palin's often controversial positions on that state's wildlife management) decided that he'd donate the profits from "Going Rogue" sales to the group Defenders of Wildlife, which has gone head-to-head with Palin in the past.  (By using Palin's book sales as a way to support the group, Muller said, he was able to "carry the book and do something positive.")  Now, Ecorazzi reports, Muller's not the only one.

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Alaska bookseller will donate profits from Sarah Palin's book, 'Going Rogue,' to Defenders of Wildlife

SarahpalinNow, this is mavericky.

An independent bookseller in Sarah Palin's home state is donating the proceeds he makes off her book to a group that is among the biggest critics of the former Republican vice presidential candidate.

Don Muller owns Old Harbor Books in Sitka. He's selling Palin's memoir, "Going Rogue," for $28.99, and says he will donate profits to Defenders of Wildlife.

The wildlife conservation group often butted heads with Palin over her support of the state's predator control program, in which bears and wolves are shot from aircraft.

Muller says he's not a fan of Palin. He tells the Daily Sitka Sentinel that donating proceeds to Defenders of Wildlife is a way to "carry the book and do something positive."

-- Associated Press

Photo: Palin listens as John McCain addresses supporters during his election-night rally Nov. 4, 2008.  Credit: Jim Watson / AFP / Getty Images

Food fight: Sarah Palin ticks off vegetarians and vegans in her new book, 'Going Rogue'

Palin and bear

Sarah Palin's highly anticipated book, "Going Rogue," is not likely to win any literary awards, but it's very likely to sell a gazillion copies.  (It's currently Amazon's No. 1 bestselling book, besting even the likes of Stephen King and Dan Brown.)  

But very few of those copies, we suspect, will be purchased by vegetarians or vegans.  In his review, our colleague Tim Rutten explains that a large portion of "Going Rogue" covers Palin's life before she emerged as a well-known public figure, "so there's a lot of winter, guns, fish guts, long hours at the nets under the midnight sun and a great deal about Palin's fondness for meat.... There's even a photo of her father teaching her to skin a harbor seal, an activity the caption informs is now forbidden for all but native peoples under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Ah, for the good old days."

That part about Palin's love of meat products, perhaps unsurprisingly, is raising the hackles of some animal-loving vegetarians and vegans, according to our colleague Johanna Neuman of The Times' politics blog, Top of the Ticket.  Especially offensive to the animal-byproduct-free set?  Palin's comment that "If any vegans came over for dinner, I could whip them up a salad, then explain my philosophy on being a carnivore: If God had not intended for us to eat animals, how come He made them out of meat?"  (Humorous news-aggregation site Fark.com's snarky rejoinder: "In other news, Sarah Palin endorses cannibalism.")

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'Eating Animals' author Jonathan Safran Foer: Visiting factory farms, slaughterhouses part of writing process

Author Jonathan Safran Foer's latest, "Eating Animals," represents a departure from his previous work (he's published several novels; "Eating Animals" is nonfiction), and it's getting tongues wagging about its subject matter -- factory farming and its effects on animals, human health and the environment.  Our colleague Carolyn Kellogg had an interesting question-and-answer session with Foer recently on The Times' books blog, Jacket Copy; here's an excerpt:

Safran Foer Jacket Copy: In your research, did you ever find yourself in a place you didn't want to be, or observing something you didn't want to look at?

Jonathan Safran Foer: All the time. I would say that was the better part of my research. I didn't especially want to go inside factory farms, certainly not in the middle of the night. And I didn't like being in slaughterhouses. But -- that's OK. It was more important to me to see with my own eyes, rather than trust somebody else's version, or watch a video. Who knows how representative videos are.

JC: Did you take notes when you were in the slaughterhouses? When you were in the moment, how did you document what you would be writing about later?

JSF: Often I would go back to the car and write everything down. I had a camera, but usually what would happen was I would get back in the car, and then spend however long was necessary to write everything down.

JC: As a writer, you set yourself a difficult task -- in order for me as a reader to understand how horrible those scenes are, you have to evoke them.

JSF: Well, they're naturally horrible. Sometimes just a simple description is enough. I think often, in the book, I am detailing some of the most horrible things in the most plain unadorned way.


Photo: Foer in a 2002 photo. Credit: Robert Spencer / For the Times

Novelist Jonathan Safran Foer tackles nonfiction with his latest effort, 'Eating Animals'

Animal advocates everywhere are talking about author Jonathan Safran Foer's latest book, "Eating Animals."  Foer, known primarily as a novelist whose prior works include "Everything is Illuminated" and "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," went the nonfiction route with "Eating Animals," which tackles the issue of factory farming and the toll it takes both on animals and the environment.  Here's an excerpt from our colleague Susan Salter Reynolds' review:

Jonathan Safran Foer Looking forward to your turkey dinner? Think twice. It's time, argues Jonathan Safran Foer, to stop lying to ourselves. With all the studies on animal agriculture, pollution, toxic chemicals in factory-farmed animals and exposés of the appalling cruelty to animals in that industry, he writes in "Eating Animals," "We can't plead ignorance, only indifference. Those alive today are the generations that came to know better. We have the burden and the opportunity of living in the moment when the critique of factory farming broke into the popular consciousness. We are the ones of whom it will be fairly asked, 'What did you do when you learned the truth about eating animals?' "

Some of our finest journalists (Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser) and animal rights activists (Peter Singer, Temple Grandin) -- not to mention Gandhi, Jesus, Pythagoras, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, John Locke and Immanuel Kant (and so many others) -- have hurled themselves against the question of eating meat and the moral issues inherent in killing animals for food. Foer, 32, in this, his first work of nonfiction, intrepidly joins their ranks, inspired by fatherhood, the memory of his grandmother (who survived the Holocaust by scavenging her way to freedom) and something else.

This something else is what made critics of Foer's fiction, the novels "Everything Is Illuminated" (2002) and "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" (2005), fall over themselves to praise him. It is a kind of fearless modernity: one part "whatever," one part descendant of Holocaust survivor (we've only got this one life, if that, to get things right) and one part soaringly beautiful, annoyingly entitled liberalism. What did you do when you learned the truth about eating animals?


Photo: Jonathan Safran Foer in 2007.  Credit: Granta


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