Surprise Sellers: Feline Fauves

Why would 20,000 readers -- so far -- want to buy a book on the great cat painters of the world? (Not artists portraying felines, mind you, but cats who paint.) A spokesman for Ten Speed Press in Berkeley, Calif., guesses, "It panders to animal behaviorists, art historians and people who like Spy magazine." Sounds weird, but Ten Speed must know something. Why Cats Paint (96 pages. $14.95) is leaving bookstores at the rate of 5,000 copies a week. There are 30,000 copies in print, and a ship is on its way from Hong Kong with 50,000 more.

Yes, cats can paint. The phenomenon has to do with territorial marking, acrylic paint smelling a little like cat pee and a lot of pet spare time. Cats overwhelmingly favor abstract expressionism, and none imitates Andrew Wyeth. "Why Cats Paint" spoofs -- or does it? -- these discoveries with some witty, staged photographs of artists such as "Tiger, Spontaneous Reductionist" and their, uh, work. Best, it nails the pretentiousness of art criticism to the wall: "Time will tell if this peculiarly violent form of painting . . . develops an integrity and viewpoint that would justify its inclusion in a future survey of this kind."