Wednesday, February 12, 2020

CAT TALE :: Craig Pittman

A version of this review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness and is republished here with permission.

Equal parts cautionary and alluring, Cat Tale is a story about which Craig Pittman warns, "This being Florida, there's going to be some weirdness sprinkled into this tale." The state's reputation as home to the bizarre is enhanced by Pittman's recounting of efforts to save Florida's official animal (and how that came to be is itself an oddity within oddities). A Tampa Bay Times journalist and author of several books about zany goings-on in his native state (Oh, Florida!), Pittman turns his environmentalist eye to the plight of the Florida panther.

Panthers (aka cougars, mountain lions, catamounts--all pumas) once ranged across North America, playing a crucial role in ecosystem health. As development expanded, so did conflicts between fierce predator, man and machines, until just between six and 20 big cats remained in the state. Those stragglers were in bad shape, and at risk of disappearing altogether by 2016. Cat Tale shares the extraordinary efforts of the individuals who set out to save the Florida panther from extinction.

As advertised, Pittman provides plenty of the peculiar, sprinkled liberally over absorbing science (and attempts to undermine it), dedication and courage (panther mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, anyone?), colorful heroes and villains, local lore and, naturally, political and governmental shenanigans. Pittman admirably distills decades of history and research with a reporter's acumen and a humorous soul. An enthralling story that begins with "a fussy archaeologist, a tiny wooden carving, and a wealthy playboy with a ninety-foot houseboat" ends up as a timely cautionary tale of what it takes to undo humanity's continuing ravaging of the Earth.

STREET SENSE: Florida. Need I say more?

COVER NERD SAYS: I'm not entirely sure why this cover is yellow/orange (Sunshine state? Oranges? Eye-catching?) Whatever the reason, the striking coloring along with the funky font makes this cover stand out and marks it as a little nutty. I love that the panther is rolling its eyes at its own story. That look was EARNED.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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