What I’m (re)Reading: All Creatures Great and Small

Well, hello again!

This post marks the start of a new occasional series I’m calling “What I’m Reading.” Imaginative title, eh?

Since I kicked off this blog by rediscovering the joy of reading books, it seems only appropriate that books should continue to come into play now and again.

Although not every adventure I’ve enjoyed over the past little while has “stuck” and become a permanent part of my daily life (I still eat meat regularly, for example, and I haven’t kept a diary in months, apparently), the recreational reading actually has.

After years of choosing mediocre television over great books in my free time, I now read regularly again, and avidly — almost as avidly, in fact, as I did when I was fourteen. (I may have been a terrible diarist back in those ancient days, but I was a terrific reader.)

I find not only that are books great for passing the time when I’m not on Facebook, but that many of them also give me an incomparable and authentic glimpse into days gone by — they help me put the “old” in “old fashioned,” if you will.

All Creatures Great and Small

All Creatures Great and Small

One example of this is the book I’m up to my elbows* in now: James Herriot’s classic veterinary memoir All Creatures Great and Small.

(Note: both the link above and the adjacent photo direct you to the website of St. Martin’s Press, the publisher of the book. You’re welcome, Amazon. Seriously, though: if this or any of my posts inspires you to go out and buy a book, please at least consider paying an old fashioned visit to your local independent bookstore. If you need help finding one near you, check out IndieBound’s helpful Indie Store Finder.)

Anyway . . . on to the book.  I first read it when I was a teenager (I may actually have been about fourteen), but a few days of glorious time off over the holidays this year inspired me to pick it up again for a second go-round.

I am so glad I did.

Firstly, James Herriot is an astonishingly good storyteller, whose characters (both human and animal) fairly leap off the page. The writing leaves me alternatively chuckling to myself and shaking my head in quiet awe.

Secondly, Herriot recalls a time and place in history that is utterly fascinating to me: the idyllic 1930s Yorkshire countryside just on the cusp of the modern era.  A few farmers in Herriot’s book use tractors and have recently gained access to electricity; many others, however, still use draft horses for plowing and oil lamps in the home. It’s SO cool to experience this critical historical moment in such colorful detail, even if it is only through literature.

Thirdly, his book is giving me a much-needed dose of reality regarding farm animals. For as long as I’ve dreamed of the old fashioned life,  I’ve also cherished a silly romantic dream of someday tending not only an enormous garden but also chickens, goats, and other useful livestock. Herriot’s book, however, is serving me up a huge dollop of “Woh, Nellie!” and splashing a rusty bucket of tepid barn water in my face.

Don’t get me wrong. Herriot obviously has a great deal of appreciation and affection for the animals he portrays in the book, and that appreciation and affection is contagious. However, he also spends much of the book up to his weary elbows* tending to those animals in their worst distresses. It’s sobering, frankly, to realize the broad variety the intense complications that can accompany animal husbandry.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not giving up my silly little daydream — no, no, no — but I imagine that after I come to the end of my (re)reading, my dream may smack a little less of romance and more of manure .

This is, I suspect, as it should be.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to enjoy another chapter or two before bed.

*Anyone who has read the book and recalls the frequency with which Dr. Herriot is called to attend breach births (and the vividness with which he describes them) will understand why this figure of speech keeps popping into my mind this evening.

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4 thoughts on “What I’m (re)Reading: All Creatures Great and Small

  1. LOVE his books! In fact, once, someplace, I ran across a list of “You might be a bookworm if” kind of list and one of the requirements was if you knew who Alf White is/was!

    Animal husbandry has changes a lot thanks to the miracle of vaccinations and better keeping conditions, and larger numbers create a greater chance of issues with a flock so don’t let the old troubles deter you in modern times! (My grandpa used to castrate his male lambs with his teeth, for example, thankfully it’s no longer done that way!)

    One of the best things you can do for your children is to give them the responsibility and joy of tending a few critters, there are more benefits than eggs and wool!

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