Ask Umbra Book Club: What should we do about cats killing birds?
In our final Book Club chat about Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, I want to discuss two things: the problem of cats killing birds, and the challenge of discussing environmental issues with the unconverted.
Franzen talks about both of these topics in his exclusive interview with Grist:
The one small part of the book that had an actual activist motive was the very end, where we’re introduced to a predatory housecat that’s running outside and killing songbirds by the scores. When it occurred to me that I could end the book with the main character Walter’s problems with this cat, I realized that I could also perform an educational service. Most people aren’t aware of the degree to which free-roaming outdoor cats are a problem in this country. At least a million birds a day are killed by them, so we’re talking about a minimum of 365 million birds in America alone in the course of a year — perhaps as many as a billion. So there was an educational impulse there.
Readers, were you aware that free-roaming cats kill so many birds? Do you keep your own cats indoors? Do you think Franzen’s style of educational activism in a novel works?
The environmentalist character, Walter, initially annoys his neighbors by pestering them to keep their cats indoors, then baffles them by handing out cat bibs, before finally hitting on a better idea. In this clip from his interview with Grist, Franzen talks about how Walter learns that it’s more effective to help people “care about something instead of react against something”:
Readers, do you agree that this is the best way to engage people around environmental issues? Do you think Walter’s neighbors will be more inclined to keep their cats indoors once they have a connection to the woods and birds around them?
Have you ever attempted to show people what you love in order to get them to care, as Walter does? How do you talk to not-necessarily-like-minded relatives and friends about these issues?
Thank you all for being a part of this rich conversation. And thanks to Jonathan Franzen for writing this conversation-worthy novel and chatting with Grist about it.
I’ll be announcing our next Book Club pick soon, so stay tuned!