When Animals Come Alive in Books
I live in a house full of animals. Not giraffes and elephants or penguins and seals, not even emus and iguanas or antelopes and ostriches but cats and dogs. A rabbit, a hawk and even a rooster have stayed in my house for a while before moving on to more permanent sanctuaries. It’s fun having so many animal friends in the house, but it can also get pretty chaotic. Sometimes the chaos reminds me of one of my favourite authors when I was a boy – Gerald Durrell. Durrell was a conservationist and a zoo-keeper. His fascination for rare and exotic animals inspired him to travel the world looking for examples of endangered animal species and bringing them back to zoos where they could be studied and kept safe.
Durrell’s fascination with the living world around us began when he was a young boy, living with his mother and siblings on the Greek isle of Corfu. His memoir of his boyhood there, My Family And Other Animals, is a hilarious account of his boyhood, diligently gathering all kinds of insects and other creepy-crawlies to the abiding chagrin of his family. It was his first major bestseller and is still a classic, even if the title didn’t endear him to some of his relatives! It wasn’t his first book though, nor would it be his last.
Today Durrell is best known for his books about his own expeditions into the wilderness. They are hilarious, exciting and full of his love for animals and nature. These include Birds, Beasts and Relatives, The Overloaded Ark, about an expedition in Africa, The Whispering Land, set in Argentina, and Menagerie Manor, about his own home zoo on the island of Jersey.
He wrote novels for both adults and children. The Talking Parcel is an enchanting fantasy novel about a talking parrot who takes three cousins on holiday into Mythologia, a hidden land where legendary creatures and talking animals live.
Reading Durrell’s books will give you many a laugh — and the good news is his books are never hard to find in Indian bookstores. They will introduce you to many amazing animals and make you think, and maybe even do something to help save the many endangered species living around the world. Durrell saw the destruction of any animal species as a criminal offence, like destroying a great work of art.
Much as I love his books, once you read them you will agree that the wonderful animals in them should not live on only in those pages.
As someone with a lot of pets, I spend a lot of time visiting vets! I go to a very popular veterinary hospital and there is always a long line of people waiting with all kinds of pets — cats and dogs, of course, but also rabbits, hamsters, sometimes a rescued calf or sheep among others. These waits at the hospital remind me of another writer whose books I spent uncounted childhood hours over, James Herriot.
James Herriot was the pen-name of a British vet who spent much of his life working in small towns in Yorkshire, looking after farm animals. At the age of 50, Herriot’s wife challenged him to write. He tried his hand at various kinds of stories and finally decided to write about what he knew best. His first book of tales about his life as a country vet, If Only They Could Talk took some time to become a hit, but it was eventually followed by six other volumes in the same vein. These books contain down-to-earth, authentic tales of responding to animal emergencies at odd hours of the day and night, dealing with sick horses, cows and more and just as importantly, dealing with their often eccentric owners.
The stories tell us of a time when veterinarians dealt more with animals kept for a purpose than with pets, and they show us how far veterinary science has come since then. But most of all, they are funny, moving and full of love for the countryside and the people and animals who live in it.
Herriot also wrote a series of charming books for children, and these are collected in the volume James Herriot’s Treasury for Children. There was a popular TV series based on his books, but the books themselves are so readable and enjoyable you’ll want to return to them time and again.
You may have to visit a library or a second-hand bookstore to find these copies.
I hope you enjoy reading these books. If you have pets, be sure to read the books to them! They probably won’t enjoy a word, but at least they’ll know you’re crazy.