Because animals cheer us up.
Just a glance at Twitter and Facebook shows that a lot of people like animals. Videos, pictures, gifs about cats, dogs, goats and anything else prove that featuring fauna is always going to be popular. As we are all inside at the moment and as it’s spring, the time of lambs and small chicks, I personally feel we are missing out. It’s my favourite time of the year but this time round we can not be immersed in nature.
That being said there are plenty of books that can try and fill that void. Two of my favourite writers are known for their works about animals and they are great feel good reads, which is another positive thing for us all at the moment.
James Herriot’s works are probably better known from the 1980’s TV series All Creatures Great And Small, but they were merely an adaption of his books. I do have fond memories of watching them on a Sunday evening when I was young, there was always someone with their arm up a cow, for a child that is very funny.
I discovered the books years later, It Shouldn’t Happen To A Vet was in a second hand book shop I used to frequent. I bought it and took it with me to the south of France one winter, I spent a freezing January day in Tende waiting for a train to take me to Italy, but it wasn’t going to arrive until well after 9pm; the only connection after I arrived there just before lunch. Being mid-winter there were only two cafes open so I made a nuisance of myself by staying far too long in each one just to keep warm, until they closed or I felt the stares of the staff finally get too heavy. I then had to wait outside on the platform. James Harriot’s book kept me well entertained as I was lost in a world far different from my own, but nearer to the one I found myself in. It didn’t make me any warmer though.
Set around the time of the Second World War, James Herriot has written eight books based on his time as a country vet in the magnificent Yorkshire Dales. Each book is a series of short episodes in his life revolving around the farms his practice looked after, smaller domestic animals the locals had, and life in general. Each story is a gem and many make you laugh out loud. These are based on his own experiences, although his real name was James Alfred Wright, and those of his colleagues.
You can tell he has a real fondness for the characters he paints as he goes about his work, and not just the humans but the dogs, cats, sheep, cows, horses and everything else that came his way.
As stated this is set in the rural Yorkshire Dales around the 1930/40’s. Life was harder, simpler and people had a lot more skill and endurance. It does of course make you a little concerned as this was a time before drink driving was considered a bad thing and some stories tell of men getting very drunk in a pub and then driving home as if there was nothing to worry about, but as I said it was a very different world. If you like animals then you will love these books.
It was a bit late to stand on my dignity. I went over to the animal and seized her by the ear. Inflating my lungs to the utmost I bent down and bawled wildly into the hairy depths. The cow stopped chewing for a moment and looked at me enquiringly, then her eyes drooped and she returned contentedly to her cudding. ‘We’ll give her another day,’ I said wearily. ‘And if she’s still down tomorrow we’ll have a go at lifting her. Could you get a few of your neighbours to give us a hand?’
― James Herriot, It Shouldn’t Happen To A Vet
Also known for his love of animals is Gerald Durrell. Once again probably more connected to several TV adaptions, the latest of which was only very loosely based in his books, but there is far more to his work than Corfu Trilogy.
Of course My Family And Other Animals, the most famous and first in the trilogy, is a perfect starting point. Set just a few years before James Herriot’s experiences, Durrell’s books recount his very eccentric family’s move to, and life on, the Greek island of Corfu.
Just as the title says My Family And Other Animals is about his family but also his love for nature, which would prompt him in later life to set up ecological programs and a conservationist zoo.
The books are, once again, laugh out loud funny, as his family get into various scrapes and situations. He also describes the fauna and flora about him in such a way that makes the reader want to be there with him.
Gerald Durrell wrote many other books about his experiences with animals, often times abroad on expeditions to try and conserve endangered species. Often this is done is a way that is out dated by today’s standards but it was people like him that pushed for us to care about wildlife and that got us to a more advanced state today. Most works set post Corfu follows a similar path to each other, but when you just want to sit and read something enjoyable these certainly hit the spot.
“It’s all your fault, Mother,’ said Larry austerely; ‘you shouldn’t have brought us up to be so selfish.’ ‘I like that!’ exclaimed Mother. ‘I never did anything of the sort!’ ‘Well, we didn’t get as selfish as this without some guidance,’ said Larry.”
― Gerald Durrell, My Family and Other Animals
Both James Herriot and Gerald Durrell have left a wealth of literature that means when you’ve finished one of their books, it won’t be long until you are back in the gentle worlds with them and all the animals they cared about.
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