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On Cats

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  1,319 ratings  ·  187 reviews
Doris Lessing's love affair with cats began at a young age, when she became intrigued with the semiferal creatures on the African farm where she grew up. Her fascination with the handsome, domesticated creatures that have shared her flats and her life in London remained undiminished, and grew into real love with the awkwardly lovable El Magnifico, the last cat to share her ...more
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published October 7th 2008 by Harper (first published 1967)
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Dewey by Vicki MyronThe Cat in the Hat by Dr. SeussOld Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. EliotAlice's Adventures in Wonderland / Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis CarrollA Street Cat Named Bob by James Bowen
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Dewey by Vicki MyronHomer's Odyssey by Gwen CooperThe Cat in the Hat by Dr. SeussInto the Wild by Erin HunterOld Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot
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Average rating 3.86  · 
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Jan 21, 2015 rated it did not like it
Doris Lessing would be the one person on earth who would begin a book marketed to cat-lovers with a literal cat massacre. This event [and some other horrors, cats being mistaken for snakes and killed, kittens killed by eagles etc] sets the stage for Lessing's incredibly old-fashioned 'life is harsh, and to cats too' approach to pet ownership.

Stories about tom cats fighting over your cat are not charming. Spaying your cat is not a feminist issue. Don't characterize your spayed cat as a bitter, dr
Feb 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing
there exists within me, i am not ashamed to admit, a crazy cat lady who lives to talk about her cats in excessive and colorful detail, pretty much until my unsuspecting listener is fed up enough to stop me. this book is the vindication of my cat lady ways beyond any reasonable doubt.

i picked it up on a whim, in the mood for some light reading, and as we all know, nothing makes for good light reading like cute animal stories. little did i notice that this dinky little book was written by doris l
(From 2012) — By the time I finished this little book—which I took many weeks to slowly peruse while I had other things going on—I was quite sorry I had come to the last page, as the final story was both sublime and heartbreaking; an ode to a cat who had clearly taken a special place in Dorris Lessing's heart and who was beyond a doubt still missed when she wrote the book. When I purchased this charming little volume, which fits in the palm of the hand, I wondered how it could be that a book on ...more
May 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I had no idea what I was getting myself into here. Checked this short book out of the library digitally on a whim and the next thing I knew, I was hooked. And the next thing I knew after that I was lying on the floor crying for all the cats I've ever known, loved, or had eye contact with. And Lyra was concerned, but annoyed because I kept trying to pick her up and squeeze her (she hates that).

Yes - I tend to be sentimental about my cats - all cats. And also about dogs, pigs, giraffes - pretty m
Oct 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Last week, my family accidentally acquired a fifth cat. It happened like this: As my father prepared to back out of the garage on Wednesday, he was suddenly stopped by the appearance of a small, black-and-white creature—“There’s a cat in here!” he cried. My mother moved forward to look: “It’s a KITTEN!” Said kitten was amenable to being picked up and held, out of the way of the vehicle; when we offered her food (as ailurophiles do) she gobbled and gobbled, and then looked around for more. By tha ...more
Deborah Pickstone
A memoir of her relationship with certain cats and her observations of them. Funny how many female novelists were fond of cats! As you would expect, well written and interesting.
Feb 09, 2018 rated it did not like it
I thought I’d like this book but I was wrong. Me and Doris Lessing clearly disagree on cats. I adore cats and I guess Lessing is a cat person too. But I don’t enjoy reading about cats that aren’t taken care of or cats that are killed because they are inconvenient or cats that are forced to breed because neutering them would be against nature. So I really didn’t like this book at all.
Feb 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
I always thought my first time reading Lessing would be The Golden Notebook since I’ve had an unread copy on my shelves for years now, but this little book showed up in the Little Free Library around the corner and I started it on a whim. The title and subject matter prompted me to assume I knew what I was in for, a kind of ode to cats by a writer smitten with them. My expectations were quite wrong.

Let’s face it: cats are assholes. They kill and torture for fun. They steal. They’re moody, finic
Mar 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
So I'm going to bother typing a disclaimer that anyone who knows me already knows, which is: I am the target audience for this book.

That said, I absolutely adored this book. And it is not a cutesy, "awww, aren't kittens grand?" kind of book. Lessing is not a hugs and puppies kind of writer. There is an onslaught of gruesome cat death in this book, some of it carried out by Lessing herself. There is a kitty forelimb amputation; there are many scraggly and starving cats, ailing and scabbing and pu
Rachel Smalter Hall
Jan 19, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I feel kind of weird giving one of those special five-star ratings to a book about, well, cats , but this was a pretty special book. Squeamish cat-lovers beware ~ Doris Lessing starts out by telling of her girlhood growing up on a farm in South Africa, shooting baby kittens with her father because they simply couldn't manage to keep them all. I actually love her for refusing to be sentimental. Yet somehow there is an acute tenderness in her writing about her cats, especially as she grows older, ...more
Annie Yang-Perez
Jun 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Enchanting, delightful, honest, and sorrowful - it is incredible how cats can ever be understood so well by a human, or how much we see ourselves through cats. A most exquisite little book, about the most magical creatures ever existed.
Emine Akkülah Doğan
Prepare yourself for reading disturbing things like murdering kittens and cats. not what I expected!
camilla  m
Jan 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"human and cat, we try to transcend what separates us."

I started this book when I was traveling, away from my cats. I picked it up because I needed some comfort, as I missed my two babies so much. In the beginning I thought I wouldn't find any comfort but only pain and disgust, as I stopped to think how awful humans can be to animals. I think the beginning of this book is a bit too harsh and painful for cat lovers to read, which makes many people drop the book and move on.
I didn't do it and I do
dead letter office
Feb 15, 2009 rated it really liked it
Doris ranks 4th from the bottom on my personal list of people I'd like to grab a beer with. But I guess that's not the point. She may be as finicky and uptight as her writing makes her seem, but this book is strangely readable, and anyone who has written a book of cat biographies that ends up being pretty interesting has accomplished something.

Doris writes, "Knowing cats, a lifetime of cats, what is left is a sediment of sorrow quite different from that due to humans: compounded of pain for thei
Amy Palmer
Nov 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Cat lovers
Recommended to Amy by: @kayakgal
Upon seeing a book titled simply "On Cats" I knew I would love it. As it turned out, I was right, but some people would be surprised at my adoration of this work when they read some of the less "fuzzy" feelings toward cats that are described. There are many cat deaths at the hands of humans, including the author herself. It should be noted that many of these instances were in times much different than the one we are in now, not to mention a vastly different land.

It is not a warm, cuddly kitty ca
This book is opened with an unpleasant, brutal chapter, something not the easiest to stomach and I am not sure whether it would be recommended to cat lovers. The latter parts get more compassionate, but gosh, what a reckless pet caretaker she was. I personally thought I would really enjoy this book, but some parts turned me off. I can understand how the nature of this book became like this though. She was not taught the further benefits of spay/neutering the cats, and despite there were many cat ...more
Aug 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
On Cats is an omnibus edition of three books by Doris Lessing, a significant contemporary author: Particularly Cats, Rufus the Survivor and The Old Age of El Magnifico. We are treated to stories, enchanting fragments, about some of the cats who have shared her life; in vivid, masterful prose we are shown quirks, conflicts, tender moments, and are made to love these creatures as if we had truly met them in person. While reading I wept, giggled, cooed over the book, seeing in my mind's eye the var ...more
Jane Oldaker
Apr 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: cats
This little book is an intimate memoir of Lessing's life with cats. Frankly it is at times very difficult to read. It demands both pragmatism, as well as the insight that the place of cats in the world in a different time and place is very different from what it is now. Lessing seems to dislike the idea of spaying and neutering because of what it puts the animals through, documents what unwanted cats and kittens experience, but doesn’t seem to factor that in to her own perspective.
However, her s
Iowa City Public Library
I feel kind of weird giving one of those special five-star ratings to a book about, well, cats , but this was a pretty special book. Squeamish cat-lovers beware ~ Doris Lessing starts out telling of her girlhood growing up on a farm in South Africa, shooting baby kittens with her father because they simply could not manage to keep them all. I actually love her for refusing to be sentimental. Yet somehow there is an acute tenderness in her writing about her cats, especially as she grows older, ...more
Oct 22, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2010
This is a book truly about cat.It shows how lovable cat is without resorting to sugar coating cat's behavior or pretend that human can read cat's mind or vice versa as in Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World. Cats will always be its own master no matter what human would like to otherwise believe. And yet because of it the relationship between cat and human is even more special. Black cat, Grey cat, Rufus, El Magnifico, their stories truly touched me and made me missed my faraw ...more
Kai Schreiber
Quite an odd book, and an odd voice. Brutally unsentimental in outlook, yet tender in her description toward individual cats, Lessing manages to both capture the sadness inherent in the idea of keeping pets and the joy of sharing existence with them.

Oddly, the publisher chose to include so much glimpses into Lessing's other works with the ebook, that On Cats itself actually only made up a third of the file. On the one hand, that's fine, as it costs neither me nor them something to do that. On th
Oct 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
Doris Lessing's keen look at the relationships cats enjoy with each other and with us. While Lessing may anthropomorphize feline emotions and motivations, I would hazard most cat owners would view her musings as spot on while at the same time bring a knowing smirk to their lips.

My girlfriends 18 year old cat, Sassy, finally succumbed to her advanced age while I was reading this book. It definitely proved to be good comfort in relieving my mind of the haunted echos of Sassy's last few miaowings.
Rhiannon Hart
Mar 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Not for the faint-hearted, this book starts with the deaths of about 100 cats on the family's remote farm in Rhodesia in the 1920s. It's world that doesn't exist anymore (colonial Africa) remembered through a childhood lens of cats, family and the cruelty of nature.

While later sections thankfully don't deal with animal death, it's a very lump-in-throat read as Lessing examines what place domestic animals inhabit in our lives, their fragility and their transience.

I loved Lessing's prose so much
Feb 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: auto-biography
Sweet and sometimes heart-breaking reflection on the cats in Ms. Lessing's life. Better than you would think a book about the cats in her life would be, which is a testament to the incredible talent of the author. ...more
Jan 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
ranges from flat out disgusting to positively enchanting. full of astute and poetic observations of the cats the author has loved & lost... with interesting accounts of how cats are treated in different cultures and in different times.
Feb 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Imagine spending a sunny afternoon in a small city garden, with a grandmotherly neighbour who tells you about the various cats that have inhabited her life, those thriving and those long departed, while she serves you tea, scones, jam and biscuits. Voilà, On Cats!
Feb 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Having adopted a cat a few months ago with minimal previous cat experience, this book opened me to a world of cat culture I didn't know existed. Not a human culture of cat appreciation, but a culture made by cats.
This might sound strange, but peering into 1970s and 1980s London cat culture feels a lot like looking into human culture of decades past. Fads come in and out of style, new technologies pave the way for new behaviors, the development of the world forces change. Essentially, there are f
Aug 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is the second time I have read this book. The last time was some time in the '70s. I love her writing and she clearly loves cats. However, the times she lived in were different. Spaying and neutering were not routinely done and cats went where they chose. There were many kittens, and Ms. Lessing seemed to find homes for most of the ones born to her cats, but also described a time when she drowned some because there were just too many to deal with. This clearly affected her and she never did ...more
Mar 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
A lovely little book about cats, by one cat lover to other cat lovers. The book gives you insight into Doris Lessing's many cats through the years, their personalities and quirkinesses. And it gives you insight into what kind of a cat person the author is, which adds a new perspective to her character. Lovely, easy read. ...more
Jul 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was an emotional rollercoaster from which I'll never recover ...more
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Both of her parents were British: her father, who had been crippled in World War I, was a clerk in the Imperial Bank of Persia; her mother had been a nurse. In 1925, lured by the promise of getting rich through maize farming, the family moved to the British colony in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Like other women writers from southern African who did not graduate from high school (such as Oliv ...more

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