One of the fancier-looking books in my personal library looks a bit frayed at its red leather edges. That's the badge of a Sustaining Book.
The book is "All Creatures Great and Small," published in 1972 by James Herriott. Whether you're looking for sustenance during snowy weather, relief from tensions around your holiday preparations, or simply a wonderful gift for a lover of good, classic stories, this book and its sequels are there to help.
The book and its four sequels are the memoirs of a veterinarian in Yorkshire, England -- but not simply stories of "How I solved the case." They are on my "sustaining" list because they're stories about life -- not just life before World War II, although these first stories qualify; not just life in Britain, although Mr. Herriott (as his clients called him) helped Yorkshire's fame as much as any writer since the Bronte sisters; and not just life with animals
Herriot's observations of people are as clear and keen (and funny) as his observations of his patients. That's a big part of what keeps me coming back.
For instance, when he meets his new boss in Chapter 2, here's how he describes the man he knew until then only as Mr. Siegfried Farnon, M.R.C.V.S. (Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons):
"He was just about the most English-looking man I had ever seen. Long, humorous, strong-jawed face. Small, clipped moustache, untidy, sandy hair. He was wearing an old tweed jacket and shapeless flannel trousers. The collar of his check shirt was frayed and the tie carelessly knotted. He looked as though he didn't spend much time in front of a mirror.
"Studying him, I began to feel better despite the ache in my neck where it had rested against the tree."
(Farnon had kept Herriot waiting after inviting him for what amounted to a job interview.)
It's reassuring detail like that which calmed my mother down enough to let me keep reading the stories after she found out about the much more medical events of Chapter 1. She was concerned at first, but wound up loving the stories.
It's a pity that the PBS version, which featured Robert Hardy as Siegfried Farnon, has been in mothballs so long. Talking about missing that beautifully, faithfully done series got me back to the latest look at the books.
I'll be re-reading them throughout the coming weeks, and I'll feature sustaining stories in future posts. There you go -- something you don't need to worry about for calories or sizes. Just enjoy!
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Filed under: Sustaining Books