Reviewed by Jeanne
Back in 1982—a half a dozen years before a cat named Dewey was put in a bookdrop-- a small town in Nevada had a new library with a little problem. Actually, a lot of little problems: the new site was on an alfalfa field which meant that the library was flooded with mice. Jan Louch, a library assistant and cat lover, made the pitch that what the library needed was a cat and she knew just the breed to get: a Scottish Fold because the breed tends to be placid and shouldn’t cause problems with patron or staff interactions. Jan and co-worker Yvonne saved their money to buy one of the pure-bred cats for the then princely sum of $75.
Choosing a name wasn’t much of a problem once Jan looked around at all the boxes with “Baker & Taylor” written on them. For those not in the book biz, Baker and Taylor is the name of one of the major book distributors and libraries are, of course, one of their target audiences. So the cat was dubbed Baker and Jan started saving to buy a “Taylor” to keep Baker company while the library was closed.
That’s when Baker & Taylor the company stepped in and offered to buy a second cat with the stipulation that they could use the two in advertising. Louch agreed, and soon a second Scottish Fold joined the staff. Then came the photo shoot.
The cats were not enthusiastic: they were downright terrified of the lights and attempts to pose them. The whole thing seemed to be a disaster. Louch thought that would be the end of the publicity but as it turned out, there were some useable shots of Baker & Taylor (the cats) which Baker & Taylor (the company) put on some posters and shopping bags to hand out as freebies at library and bookseller convention.
To say the items were a hit is an understatement. Everybody loved the cats! The library started getting letters and calls from all over the country. A second grade class formed a Baker & Taylor Fan Club. An ingenious librarian from another state sent in an Inter-Library Loan request to borrow the cats. Tour buses even stopped to see the famous cats.
But the real difference the cats made was with the staff and the patrons. There’s just something about the way cats and books go together that made the library seem more welcoming.
I’ll admit I started The True Tales of Baker and Taylor with some trepidation. Here was another story of library cats trying to follow in the pawprints of Vicki Myron’s Dewey, and while that book certainly made literary waves, why would I want to read another? Sure, I love libraries and I love cats; and I had actually followed the stories of these kitties while they were still alive, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to read another book. Also—spoiler alert-- I am not big on reading books where the animal dies at the end because I tear up. Still the book was here, so I gave it a shot.
I loved it. Loved it even more than Dewey. Louch and co-author Lisa Rogak know how to tell a story. Part of the story is, of necessity, Louch’s own though she concentrates on the cats and community; but to tell the truth, I enjoyed her story as much as I did the cats. Not only is she an old- school librarian with whom I could identify, but she has a tart sense of humor which I enjoyed. This book goes on my list of books to buy to give as gifts this Christmas, which says a lot about how I feel about the book. Of course, one of the “gift” books will somehow end up on my shelves.