Bookworms, and Book Dogs and Book Cats and Book Rabbits
Cleo Le-Tan does not have pets. Not in the shop she recently opened. Not in the home she shares with her husband, Alex Detrick, and their two children, ages 2 and 6.
Which is not to say she doesn’t appreciate pets, or all animals, for that matter. She most certainly does — enough to establish a bookstore dedicated to them.
On Sept. 15, Ms. Le-Tan opened the doors to what she calls “the first animal-focused bookshop in New York,” Pillow-Cat Books, on East 9th Street in the East Village of Manhattan.
“All my favorite characters are animals,” she said of why she settled on the theme, pulling out a Little Golden Book about Little PeeWee, a circus dog, a favorite of hers growing up in France. “I do have all these technical books on poodle grooming and it just makes me want a poodle,” she said. (“We always had pets in the family, and now I’m waiting for my kids to be old enough to choose one,” she said.)
Canine companions of customers are greeted at the shop entrance with a jar of treats, and animals of the fictional variety are otherwise omnipresent in the 200-square-foot shop.
“Pillow-Cat is a cat in the shape of a pillow or a pillow in the shape of a cat,” said Ms. Le-Tan, 36, of the mascot. She had previously written “A Booklover’s Guide to New York,” and a roman à clef published in France called “Une Famille.”
“I’ve always been surrounded by books, and I wrote a whole book about bookshops,” she said. “I thought it would be so nice to have my own.”
The whole endeavor is something of a family affair.
Her sister, Olympia Le-Tan, the accessories designer known for small clutch bags embroidered to look like books, designed the store’s logo and mascot — a cat that wears glasses and a pussy bow. The logo now adorns totes, hats, shirts, key chains and matchbooks. Olympia will also illustrate a series of Pillow-Cat stories that Ms. Le-Tan has written.
And the grassy green color on the shop’s walls and shelves are a tribute to the famously green walls in the Paris living room of their father, the late illustrator and regular New Yorker cover artist Pierre Le-Tan. Ms. Le-Tan is still deciding if the shade works. “Everybody hates the green,” she said.
Ms. Le-Tan moved to New York City from France 10 years ago, and said she aims to make Pillow-Cat “like an old French shop where you can find something that’s been on the shelf for 59 years.”
“But I also had to have some neon and modern stuff for New York,” she added.
So far, Ms. Le-Tan has been fielding queries from visitors about what, exactly, an animal-themed bookstore is. “People say, ‘Oh, is this a kids’ bookshop?' And I say, ‘No, it’s just got animals,’” she said. Indeed, while “Hello Kitty” and “Babar” have their spots on the shelves, so does a photography book of animals fornicating.
The only guiding principle of the store is that “an animal or animal character has to be present” somewhere in the books for sale. Otherwise, the mix is loose and delightfully open to interpretation; heavy on vintage books but not exclusively.
Sweet Mother Goose stories coexist with “The Thorn Birds” (featuring sheep, a mythical bird and a homicidal wild boar); “The Leopard” (“We were the Leopards, the Lions; those who’ll take our place will be little jackals, hyenas; and the whole lot of us, Leopards, jackals, and sheep, we’ll all go on thinking ourselves the salt of the earth”) with “The Wind in the Willows” (mole, rat, toad, badger); “Snoopy in Fashion” (dog) with “Sinatra and His Rat Pack” (uh, rats?)
The shelves inside Pillow-Cat are organized by species (as is the store’s website). Dogs get the most shelf space (five and a half, to be precise) including “101 Dalmatians,” “Winery Dogs of Sonoma” and Mikail Bulgakov’s “Heart of a Dog,” whose cover Ms. Le-Tan likes “because the dog is dressed.”
There are also books on extinct and imaginary animals (dinosaurs, dragons), horses, cats, bears, birds, rabbits, insects, rodents, farm animals, forest animals (“Bambi”) and jungle animals. Kangaroos, hedgehogs, giraffes and a book called “The Adventures of the Jewish Mongoose” also line the walls.
Still, Ms. Le-Tan feels she has gaps to fill. “There might just be one sea horse book,” said Ms. Le-Tan, with some concern. “I didn’t know what a manatee was, and then this little girl came in who wanted flamingo books. I feel stressed out now that I might be missing animals.”
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