All Creatures Great & Small (1970-72): James Herriot


My late grandfather spent many years as a farmer, the proud manager of a prizewinning herd of cows. Having spent most of his life outdoors, he wasn’t a great one for reading, but he did have one entire series of books: James Herriot’s (aka James Alfred Wight’s) fictionalised memoirs of his work as a vet in the Yorkshire Dales. These were the 1970s paperback editions, with covers by Norman Thelwell (a childhood favourite of mine, thanks to his pony cartoons). I don’t remember whether I read Granddad’s James Herriot books piecemeal during visits, or whether I borrowed them, but I definitely got through several of the series. Twenty years have passed and I didn’t remember the finer details of the stories, only a general sense that Herriot spent most of his time with his arm up the rear end of a cow. Now I’ve come back to these warm, cosy stories in an omnibus edition, reading them alongside the 2020 TV adaptation (which is wonderful). While cows’ rear ends do feature in abundance, All Creatures Great & Small is also full of wonderful characters, from Siegfried Farnon to Tricki Woo; and yet they aren’t its main appeal. That lies in Herriot’s evocation of the Yorkshire landscape, and his loving record of a world that was, even then, beginning to disappear. Magical, comforting fare.

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The Enchanted April (1922): Elizabeth von Arnim


As London wallows in an almost Mediterranean heatwave, it seemed the perfect time to embark on this book, first published in 1922. It’s the first thing I’ve read by Elizabeth von Arnim, and it’s so established a modern classic that I really should have read it years ago. Despite its fame, I had no idea what to expect, but the novel captured me with its opening scenes in a wet, grey, almost monochrome London, and carried me off (genuinely enchanted) to its sun-kissed Italian shores.

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