HERE’S THE PLAN: to pull out a book from my tight-packed bookshelves and share it. Qualifications? It has to be one I’ve read over and over again, one that has inspired my own writing, and one that gave me a lasting experience of some sort. There are so many older books that are just too damned good to be buried in the mosh pit of publishing fashions and frenzies. So I’m going to pull them out and have another dance with them. And hopefully encourage others to do the same.
James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Smallbegan my love affair with Yorkshire.
All Creatures Great and Small also remains the book that inspired me to NOT become a veterinarian.
It wasn’t the bits one would think, like squelching about in blood and dung, dealing with breech births and uterine prolapses, or sticking your arm up a cow’s arse. I’m not squeamish about such things, and with the vet tech & equine reproductive training I needed in my career, I actually ended up doing a lot of that.
No, it was the lack of sleep.
(Well, okay, there was the realisation of college funds and college math—lots of it—that also nixed the vet career. But when the book first came out, Teenage-Me glommed onto it, read it cover to cover, and said, “No sleep? No way!” And then read it all over again, thinking See, veterinarians can still write books…)
It’s that real, that evocative. When opening All Creatures Great and Small, one is soon immersed in the early-20th-century of a Yorkshire country vet.
Check out the cover: he’s rolling up his sleeve! Because that’s what vets spend a lot of time doing, believe me.
The people are the vehicle for getting to know the animals, and refreshingly, none of them are perfect—quite the contrary! There’s a refreshing acceptance of quirks, both human and animal. Many of the animal cast have recurring roles, and in the doing, define their people’s foibles. In the first book (yes, a whole series, and I’ll detail the titles below) we meet James who, as a young veterinary intern, comes to the Yorkshire Dales. He’s newly-employed at a country practice, and that owned by two brothers who aren’t exactly as he imagined—complete with a spoiled pack of delinquent dogs.
Because it’s all too true: animal practitioners don’t always practice what they preach. 😉
And oh, the countryside! In these books, northeast Yorkshire maintains its own character—and it should. You drive through the heartbreaking beauty of the Dales (sometimes in an old beater with holes in the flooring and less-than-adequate brakes!) and open an endless supply of gates; you lie on frosted cobbles with the wind icing your veins to save the life of a cow and twin calves—and sometimes, receive an invitation to warm yourself by the fire with a fine tea. Moreover, you hear the sometimes-incomprehensible, essentially-beautiful dialect that inspired the language of elder texts like Gawain and the Green Knight or The Tale of Gamelyn.
Immersive and real—if that’s your bag, the entire series is well worth a read. Myself, I really miss books like this. It’s lovely to revisit them and find, not less, but more of a treasure.
All Creatures Great and Small
All Things Bright and Beautiful
All Things Wise and Wonderful
The Lord God Made Them All
Every Living Thing