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Cycles & Cats Featured in New Books

Barry Barnett Keith has been up. He’s also been down, very down. He recalls some of these cycles in his newly published book, appropriately titled “The Cycle.”

“Now that it’s all over, I don’t mind telling people,” said Keith. “I wrote it to try to help somebody else. It’s a testament of what God can do.”

Going along with this, Keith also spends time speaking to groups, particularly children, about not doing drugs.

Keith is now a husband, a father and a responsible worker. But it wasn’t always that way. He spent years living on the street, drinking and doing drugs.

“When I walk by people lining up for the soup kitchen, they look at me with a glimmer of recognition,” said Keith. Sadly, many of the people he shared the street with are still there. Keith was fortunate to make good.

“I’ve been sober for 10 years,” he said. “Once I made that decision [to give up drinking], everything fell into place.”

Keith had blamed a lot of his problems on his family, but when he sobered up, he reconciled with them as well. “They hadn’t seen me in 14 years, they didn’t know if I was dead or alive. Once I could go home and had my family connection, everything was easier.”

Keith worked as a waiter at Bilbo Baggins for years and is now is a waiter at Portner’s Restaurant. He is taking courses to become qualified as a high-school English teacher. His first book, “The Waiter,” has enjoyed modest success, and he plans to release “The Apocalypse” next year.

“It’s a sequel to ‘The Waiter,’” said Keith. “It talks about the decline of the restaurant business after 9/11, and how the fear was so pervasive.” Fortunately, he does see the restaurant business starting to come back.

In writing about his experiences, Keith personifies the drugs and has conversation with drugs throughout the book. They fill his head with prejudice and fear. Yet this isn’t a book that only somebody who’s been down and out can relate to.

“The tricky thing is once you begin to read, you may forget that you’re middle-class. The feelings in the book are not so different from your own,” said Keith.

“I want to be known eventually as a great writer. I don’t want to be known as a formula writer, but as one who writes books that get down to the business of people,” said Keith.

One reader said, “This is one of the finest books I have read in quite some time. I enjoyed ‘The Waiter,’ Mr. Keith’s first novel, and ‘The Cycle’ has a lyrical quality to it that I really enjoyed. The reader can really feel the pain of the narrator through his experience with drugs. This is unlike any book I have read on the subject in that it eventually brings about the flaws of the main character, a la Greek tragedy.”

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO, Barbara Bradlyn Morris started writing a book about her Siamese cats. “It just didn’t work,” she said. Then, three years ago, she sat up in bed one night and thought, “I need to write about my cats.” When she started thinking about it, she realized that she needed to write about all the cats that had come into her and her husband’s lives, not just her two Siamese cats.

Morris’ last book, “The Kennedy Center: An Insider’s Guide to Washington’s Liveliest Memorial,” chronicles her years as a volunteer at the Center. She has also written for The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times and other publications.

All told, Morris and her husband, Ward, took in eight cats during their lifetime. Each one of these cats had a story, and Morris captures it with humor and nostalgia.

There were Max, Petrouchka, Neunsig, Donner, Tristan, Taiho, Mikko and Maile.

Readers are sometimes fooled by the cover, which makes it appear like it’s just a cutesy book about cats. She was pleasantly surprised when a reader told her, “There’s more to it, it’s true life - your life.”

And indeed it is, “Crazy for Cats” chronicles the Morrises’ adventures as they follow Ward’s orders in the Navy through Germany, Hawaii and Japan as well as back in the states.

Read about Frau Schmidt, “an ancient crone from a Dickens novel, short and frumpish, swathed in a shabby black cape and crowned with a sprawling top-knot of faded hair.” She was one of the few people in Bremerhaven, Germany, who was able to get kittens, so Morris had little choice but to go to her run-down tenement house to try to get a kitten.

Laugh while reading about Trushkie’s reaction to being left alone in a room at a quaint German inn while Barbara and Ward dined downstairs. “The Cry” was so loud that they had to cut their meal short to go play with her.

Share their sad moments as they nursed their cats through sickness, watched them die, and made decisions about what to do with them when they moved from place to place.

Morris said that they don’t own any cats now, because her husband is retired and they travel too much to properly care for an animal. She gets her “cat fix” volunteering at the Animal Welfare League of Arlington.

“Once a week, I’m a cat socializer. I play with them and hold them, which makes them more trusting and more adoptable. It’s nice for me to do that,” she said.

Another reader said, “The back jacket says you don’t have to love cats to love this book. That’s absolutely true. It’s such a beautifully written account of the author and her husband’s relationship with their pets. ... The author has managed to go right inside the heads and the hearts of the cats she and her husband have owned. When she speaks for the cats, you absolutely know that’s what they’d be saying if they could. She’s totally convincing.”