leah's stupid life

Leah re-reads: The Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats

Wow, what a blast from the past this was! I figured if I’m going to do a project where I take my favourite books and re-read them, why not start with a childhood favourite? And so, I present to you: The Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T. S Eliot.

Right, so backstory: I am not a big poetry fan. That isn’t to say that I don’t see the beauty in it or that I can’t appreciate a good poem, I just… Poetry just never really resonated with me. I’ve never gotten into it. So you might be wondering why I ranked a book of poetry among my favourites, well… It was mostly the cats, the theatre and my mum that made me love this book.

I loved cats (the animal) and I loved theatre. It was something my mum and I did together. TLDR, I was bought this book as a prelude to seeing the musical, Cats, and me as a 7/8 year old loved this book so much it lived under my pillow, the spine is so withered it is starting to disintegrate. This book is so old my mum has written my name in it. So, does it stand the test of time? Do I as a thirty year old still love this book? Well, here are some thoughts I had while re-reading this.

  • Some of the illustrations in this are proper strange
  • I wonder if this is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s favourite book? He strikes me as more of a dog person.
  • My cats are so much like the cat in the Rum Tum Tugger poem!
  • I miss having cats
  • Whomp, there it is, casual bit of racism there.
  • Mr Mistoffles is still my favourite.
  • Oh, wait, the railway cat is my favourite
  • SPATS! When I was a kid I was vaguely obsessed with spats because of this book.
  • Oh, some more racism. Lovely.
  • Feel like I should have listened to the Cats soundtrack when reading this.

So, is this still one of my favourite books?
Yes. No. idk. Maybe?

This guy thought it was pretty tasty.

The poems are still enchanting and funny, they resonate with me as someone who grew up with and love cats. I think I’ll always love this for the warm, nostalgiac feeling I got just by touching this again. It reminded me of being little, of being in my childhood bedroom and sneaking in little reads of this when I was supposed to be asleep. It took me back to experiencing stage shows for the first time and getting to share that with my mum.

At the same time, I am much more woke now than I was as a child and finding little snatches of racism hurt. Like, even one racist line is one racist line too many. Plus I got the impression that there was a little classism going on too. The cats with biblical or full names like Deuteronomy and Bustopher Jones are shown as being well respected whereas cats like Mungojerry and Rumpleteaser are criminals and that made me feel a bit weird… Idek. Anyway, finding little things like that did get to me a little and the idea of having a book that is a little racist on my list of favourites doesn’t sit well with me.

I guess I’ll have to chalk it up to being a product of its time and to be thankful that I’ve grown and learned enough to recognise it as being prejudice.
If I read this for the first time now it wouldn’t be anywhere near my favourites, but being something that meant so much to younger me, I guess it’ll always have a place in my heart.

Want to see my real-time reactions? (Plus Kylo falling over quite spectacularly?) I filmed my re-reading experience:


This was a pretty fun experiment and I’m excited for what else I’ll rediscover during this project!


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