Reading Purrfection

Cat lying on verandah balustrade. In foreground is book, notebook, pen and bookmark

Our cat Whispy, keeping me company while I sit on the verandah reading.

It has been glorious weather in Sydney albeit unseasonably warm and dry. I have been enjoying sitting outside and reading. The photo above sums up my ideal reading environment – a good book, bookmark, reading journal, pen and a cat.

Where would we be without good books? I am struggling to imagine my life without regular reading. Even during my reading drought during university and my early twenties (reading economics and accounting text books does not count!), I loved reading the weekend newspapers with their long book reviews, travel pieces and articles giving rich background to the news. That has largely gone now, replaced by websites. I snuggle up to my tablet for weekend news reading but it is not quite the same.

I don’t review anywhere near the number of books I read. Among the books I have enjoyed this year but not reviewed is Lost Relations by Graeme Davison, a well known historian who in this book wrote about his own family history.  I have also enjoyed reading Awakening: Four Lives in Art by Eileen Chanin and Steven Miller which is about four women artists born in late nineteenth century Victoria each of whom had successful careers in Europe and the United States. The book in the photo is From Moree to Mabo: The Mary Gaudron Story. I remembered Janine Rizzetti’s review when I found the book in a second-hand bookshop recently. I became very absorbed reading about the legal and political history of the late twentieth century – a time when Mary Gaudron was involved in some significant court cases in various capacities as a legal professional and then as a High Court judge.

A bookmark of some sort is essential for reading, but I don’t like to grab any old slip of paper to mark my place. I like a beautifully designed bookmark and have quite a stash of them, often given away for free. It is an ideal way for an organisation to advertise a website if it is aimed at book readers. The bookmark I am currently using advertises ‘The Encyclopedia of Women & Leadership in Twentieth-Century Australia’. As well as telling me the URL for the site, the bookmark tells me that the website is edited by Judith Smart and Shurlee Swain and lists the sponsors. A bookmark is a much more effective form of advertising for people like me than an annoying television advertisement.

A messy pile of bookmarks

Some of my bookmarks

The State Library of NSW does a fabulous job of their bookmarks. Over the years I have collected quite a few. I also have many bookmarks from bookshops. It is the ideal way for shops selling new or second-hand books to advertise themselves to readers. I am also grateful to the bookmark produced by the Manly Warringah Pittwater Aboriginal Support Group years ago. It includes suggested text for acknowledgement of country. I have referred to this text when I have organised events to ensure that I get this important part of proceedings right. A brochure or a flyer is thrown out soon after being read, but a bookmark is kept and re-used, though I sometimes find a forgotten bookmark that has been sitting for several years in a book.

Our cat sitting on an wooden outdoor chair

Whispy also likes to sit on a chair next to me on the verandah. Now that winter has come and Whispy has put on weight we have found to our surprise that her fur is really too long to be described as a shorthair.

A couple of weeks ago I finished another book and another reading journal. Each history I read I jot down my notes and comments about the book. If it is for work, I do this on my computer so that I can easily find a particular note by the wonderful keyboard combination Ctl + F. Computers are work, so when I read histories for pleasure I put away my computer and use pen and paper.

My reading journals are lined A5 notebooks. The notebook is chosen carefully. The lines must be Goldilocks lines – not too dark and not too far apart. The cover of the notebook must be distinctive in some way. A notebook that looks like a school exercise book will not do, neither will one with a severe, plain black cover. I love wandering through stationery sections in stores. When I see a distinctive notebook I like, I buy it and add it to my stash.

Even though I read history books for pleasure, I might want to refer back to them for a blog post or work which is why I jot down notes as I am reading the book. As I write in the journal I number each page. It is easy to remember books I have read recently and find them in my reading journal but when I have finished a two hundred page notebook it is hard to find where notes are for a particular book, so I create a table of contents for the reading journal which I print out and paste into the front of the book.

While I am a heavy user of computers in my work and leisure I still think pen and paper have an important role in thinking and writing. I do most of my technical work on a computer at my desk, historical writing on a laptop sitting on a couch but if I get stuck I print it out, sit away from my computer and scrawl all over it. A pen never needs internet or network access, neither does it need a power point or working batteries. I make sure I always have a spare at hand so I am not caught when the ink runs out.

When I am reading I jot down thoughts in my reading journal. I am particular about the pen that I use, but my choice is not sophisticated. I have found a ball point pen that is not too expensive and can be found at most stationers. With this I find I can produce writing that is neat enough without aggravating the achy tendons caused by mild RSI (repetitive strain injury).

This was an emaciated Whispy late last year with two of her kittens. We were shocked when we rediscovered this photo recently, but at the same time glad that we could make such a difference to an animal's life.

This photo of a skinny mother cat with two of her kittens was taken last year. We adopted the mother (Whispy) and the ginger kitten (Boo) not long after. Recently we rediscovered this photo on a mobile phone and were shocked at the contrast between Whispy then and now. We are glad that we have made such a difference to an animal’s life.

A cat brings the ideal reading environment to luxury level. We live in a neighbourhood where stray cats abound. Quite often when you go onto our quiet street at night you can see cats lazing next to cars and sometimes in the middle of the street. Over a few months we got to know them and given them names. There is Michael Jordan, so called because he dribbles and Lynx with big ears and tufts of fur growing on the pointy ends. Our street is also home to Scarface Claw and Sidekick – all readers will know what those cats are like!

A portrait of our male kitten called Boo.

A portrait of our male kitten called Boo.

A few months ago some cats living on the street adopted us. We knew the street’s cats well enough to know that the mother cat had the most adorable personality. A couple of weeks later she introduced her son to us. He was probably three months old.

We named the mother cat, Whispy, in recognition of her quiet, soft nature and her feathery tail. Her son is called Boo befitting his kitten personality. Whispy was painfully thin. Living on the street is hard for a female cat who has had kittens. Boo was in better condition. We had the two cats desexed, immunised, de-flead and registered. The vet identified them as ‘domestic short hair’ – a polite term for mongrel. I don’t care too much about breeds – personality rules in my view. 

During the unseasonably warm Autumn days Whispy has taken to lying on the railing of our verandah while I sit and read. Boo accompanies me while I am watering the garden or digging up weeds.

Cat lying on a narrow beam above the verandah

Whispy flat out sleeping on the verandah as only a cat can do!

And so our cats complete my perfect reading environment. I know I was rather shameless in peppering this post with cat photos, but I figure that I can indulge myself every now and then on my blog 🙂

8 thoughts on “Reading Purrfection

    • Thanks for the comment Sonia. I have been thinking of making some Stumbling Through the Past bookmarks if I can produce some good ones at a reasonable price.


  1. Your balcony looks to have just the right combination of sunshine to look at but shade to sit under. Whispy is very well behaved, sitting on the railing like that, instead of walking all over the book and chewing the end of your pen, like SOME cats I could mention.


    • I was too polite to mention Boo’s behaviour in this post, but I reckon the gloves are off in the comments. Boo and I have been having a tussle this week because he has decided to be my companion when I am working at my desk. He thinks sitting on the mouse and keyboard preferable to the nice pile of material I have placed on on the chair next to me for his benefit. Today he deigned to sit on the chair but decided that playing with the USB cord would be a good thing. Sigh.


  2. What a wonderful post. Thank you. I think you’ve inspired me to write a post of my own about bookmarks – stay tuned. And LOVE your cat, btw.


  3. Pingback: Bookmarks | Adventures in Biography

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