Geneen Roth's The Craggy Hole in My Heart and the Cat Who Fixed It is a story of self-discovery and a struggle to fully and freely embrace the joys of living even while suffering its pains and sorrows. This time it's a cat, Mister Blanche, a 20-pound male with a feminine name who looks like a "furry pyramid or a goat with curly stomach hair" who selflessly and wondrously fulfills the need. "Why love someone who is just going to turn around and either leave or die?" Roth agonizes in the early pages of the book, but it is through the actual loss of first her father and then Mister Blanche that she learns how losing a person or a pet you love can ultimately help you learn to love without fear, without reservation. Roth writes with candor and humor and does not spare herself the barb of her own self-awareness. Paralyzed by her fear of her cat's death, she commissions an artist to immortalize Blanche by painting three portraits of him, and simultaneously makes a commitment to discover her true nature. "I figure it is good to cover all the bases: if I discover that my true nature is nothing to write home about, at least I will have a lot of nice paintings." Still reigning: cats and dogs If your brow is high enough and your quest for a deeper understanding of the intricate bond between animal and human life is strong enough, The Philosopher's Dog: Friendships with Animals (Random House, $23.95, 240 pages, ISBN 1400061105) by Raimond Gaita offers provocative insight. "The person who has rid himself of the need of others, who longs and grieves for no one, is not someone who is positioned to see things most clearly," Gaita suggests, and he extends this need to include the love of animals. A professor of philosophy, Gaita uses what he calls a mix of "storytelling and philosophical reflections on the stories" to analyze mankind's connection to animals. If you are as comfortable with quotes from Socrates and Kierkegaard as you are with tales of Jack the cockatoo and Gypsy the German Shepard, Gaita's book offers both intellectual challenges and anecdotal treasures.

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