Acres of Books’ Gumbie Cat Sits by the Dying Embers of a Warm Hearth 

Library cats, cats in laps with a cup of tea and a book, cats and cozy mysteries, cats asleep on the bookshelves in Greenwich Village flats. They’re clichés only if you’ve never experienced the harmonious correspondence between cats and books.

One of these furry archetypes is an icon within an icon—a little muse curled up within a soon-to be closed historic landmark. Penny is Acres of Books’ very own Jennyanydots, the Gumbie Cat from T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. Penny, like Jenny, has a coat “of the tabby kind” and sits and sits and sits and sits in warm, cozy places, which are still plentiful among the labyrinthine stacks; upstairs in the office aerie; in the arms of booklovers as they wander through Wonderland; or in the lap of Jackie Smith, the proprietor of the beloved bookstore.

Penny and Jackie Smith

Today, however, Penny is tucked inside her little penthouse condo on top of one of the wooden beams that span the area above the entrance. We arrived at the store this time not to buy books (although Judy later wound up in the children’s literature section looking for treasures for her grandkids and Kate couldn’t resist the Penguin Book of Ghost Stories) but to ask the resident bibliofeline to grant us an interview. She possibly couldn’t be bothered, or as Jackie Smith suggested, she’s been disturbed by the upheaval and by the great numbers of people who’ve been coming and going daily since Acres announced its closing sale. She’s been making herself scarce as cats’ beaks, whatever the reason. Frankly, we’re familiar with the proclivity of cats to tune in to the feelings of anyone who’s around them (just think “vet” and “carrier” in the presence of your own cat, and you’ll see what we mean), and so we imagine that she’s depressed, angry, frustrated and terribly, terribly sad.

We were intent on an interview, however, and so we dug in our claws. We wanted to let bookstore patrons and readers of any stripe know Penny’s story: how she came to live at the bookstore, what books put her to sleep soundly enough so that she can nap on them, her catastrophic moments and stray thoughts and, most of all, how she’ll spend her next couple of lives, and with whom.

“We get calls daily about who’s going to take her,” said employee Aaron Olson. “They all want her.”

When Penny realized that we weren’t going anywhere or giving up on the weak feline puns until she let the cat out of the bag about herself, she agreed to let us talk to her people. Then, she went back to sleep.

Penny, according to Smith, first made herself known as a homeless single mother who birthed her kittens under a friend’s porch steps. The friend took the new family to the vet and had them spayed and neutered. Homes were found for the kittens, but an adult cat with a ragged ear—probably the result of an untreated injury, according to the vet—was another story.

Poised and ready

“My friend called me with ‘We have this most wonderful cat—you must have her,’” Smith said. In no time, Penny was the most popular item to be pulled off the shelves. When she’s not busy knocking pencils off the desks, she’s often sitting on a customer’s shoulder or resting in one arm of a reader who is holding a book in the other arm.

“There’s probably a natural connection between animals and reading,” Smith said. “They’re good to have—they make people feel a calmness.”

Customers seek Penny out and give her cuddles and cat treats. (“No catnip, though,” Smith said. “She’s a mean drunk.”) She has sat on some famous laps during the lives she’s lived at Acres of Books. She’s cozied up with disk jockey Gary Owens, actor Lou Ferrigno, and a number of sci-fi authors: Tim Powers, Ben Ferd and Gary Bear, not to mention several brushes with Ray Bradbury. “A cat may look at a king,” she was heard mumbling during one encounter with the great man.

She’s had her adventures, too. Olson recalled a day when Penny disappeared—someone had grabbed her in the store and drove away with her. She was gone nearly the entire day. Later, someone saw a red truck pull up to the store and drop her in the parking lot, from where she catapulted—sorry—herself into the store. No one knows the motives behind the Penny-dreadful theft and release, but she must have managed to convince her abductors that a library fine would be nothing compared to the consequences of the theft of an icon.

Even before this incident, Penny has always been particular about her associates. There are people she loves, and people she runs and hides from. Age doesn’t seem to be a factor, only character. Smith told of a 7-year-old girl who fell in love with Penny and lugged her around for an entire day, and then drew a picture of her. The picture is at Smith’s house and will stay on the wall “forever.”

The most popular item on the shelf.  Photo by Jackie Smith

“There’s also one silly lady who’s terrified of cats and won’t come into the store,” Smith said. “She waits outside with the cash, tells us what she wants, and we bring it out.”

Because, after all, Acres is Penny’s home. For now. When the last book is sold, as Smith puts it, and Acres of Books has become a cherished, lamented memory, Penny will go home with the Smiths and turn up her snub nose at deli roast beef. Later, she will travel with them in an RV and see the countryside. After living among all the books, one could expect that she’d write her own version of Harry and Tonto, but she doesn’t have opposable thumbs.

Smith figures that Penny’s about 13 now, and estimates that she’s lived out six of her good lives. Acres, she feels, has lived out five of its own. It’s a tragic flaw in the literature of our city’s history that, unlike Penny, Acres of Books won’t be able to live out the rest of them in merited fashion.

Acres of Books is located at 240 Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach, Calif., (562) 437-6980. You’ll be able to visit Penny and pick up a few books for a while, until the last book is sold.

“You can do without a lot of things in life, but not cats and literature.”
—Text printed on a poster

Here are some suggestions of classic books about, for, and even by cats. Acres of Books is having final sales, and they may still be on the shelves, along with many others.

The Cat Who… mystery series by Lilian Jackson Braun

The Mrs. Murphy mystery series by Rita Mae Brown and her cat, Sneaky Pie Brown

The Fire Cat by Esther Averill (a favorite I Can Read)

The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss (no introduction necessary)

The Silent Miaow by Paul Gallico

Archie and Mehitabel by Don Marquis (this one’s a classic)

The Cat and the Curmudgeon by Cleveland Amory (anyone who’s known a cat person who insists he or she isn’t one should read this)

Poetry by Vachel Lindsay, Ogden Nash, Eleanor Farjeon, and just about anyone else

Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll (you didn’t think we’d write about cats in literature without referring, albeit obliquely, to the Cheshire Cat, did you?

Kittens for Dummies

A TOY FOR EVERY ANIMAL The City of Long Beach Animal Care Services (LBACS) receives many requests for ways to volunteer to help the animals at our shelter. Currently, Animal Care Services is promoting the slogan “A Toy for Every Animal” to improve health and wellness. Chew toys like the Red Kong toys help keep animals’ minds and bodies engaged, leading to greater health and a higher rate of adoption.

HOW YOU CAN HELP The City of Long Beach Animal Care Services has implemented a new program for collecting all sizes of Red Kong toys for shelter dogs at LBACS. The irresistible chew toy is indestructible and safe. It can be easily cleaned and disinfected after each use.

PURCHASING A TOY Purchase all sizes of Red Kong toys directly here or at most pet stores. Either drop them off at LBACS, located on the same premises as the P.D. Pitchford Animal Shelter, or have them shipped directly to the following address:

Long Beach Animal Care Services
7700 E. Spring Street
Long Beach, CA 90815
Contact: Debra Brubaker, Public Health Associate (562) 570-7387

We are working closely with our registered rescue organizations, including the Friends of Long Beach Animals (FOLBA), to obtain toys for the dogs as well as the cats in the care of LBACS. Monetary donations to the Friends of Long Beach Animals’ will allow FOLBA to purchase Kitty Woofer balls for cats or the Red Kong toys for dogs. Send the check to:

Friends of Long Beach Animals
P.O. Box 92736
Long Beach, CA 90809-2736

Specify “dog toy” or “cat toy” on the memo line.

August 9
Friends of Long Beach Animals will hold its Yard Sale for SNIP (Spay/Neuter Incentive Program) at 5504 Monlaco Rd., right off Bellflower Boulevard. Money from all the treasures you buy will go toward helping animals through SNIP. FOLBA s is an all-volunteer organization with the goal of zero pet overpopulation and ending the euthanasia of any healthy animal.

Oct. 4

The Interfaith Blessing of the Animals takes place at noon on St. Francis Day at Marine Stadium, Long Beach. The event is free to the public and their pets. Seniors, families, singles, and children are encouraged to bring their dogs, cats, birds, lizards, rabbits, pot-bellied pigs, fish, tortoises and turtles, and other well-behaved pets. After brief orations from each of approximately seven leaders of various faiths in raiment representative of his or her faith, the menagerie of participants will have the opportunity to line up single-file to be blessed by any or all of the clergy. Olive branches and holy water will be available.  Contact [email protected] or (562) 439-3316

Please e-mail any Long Beach-area animal-related events to [email protected].

Ongoing Events and Adoption

Hearts for Hounds
10:30 a.m.–1 p.m. every Sunday.
Alamitos Bay Marina Farmer’s Market, E. Marina Drive, just south of 2nd Street, Long Beach, CA.
To view adoptable dogs, volunteer or donate, visit

Animal Match Rescue Team
10:30 a.m.–1 p.m. every Sunday
Long Beach Petco in the Whole Foods Shopping Center, 6500 E. Pacific Coast Highway, Long Beach, CA
To view adoptable dogs, volunteer or donate, visit (Long Beach Small Dog Adoption)