If Only They Could Talk
It Shouldn’t Happen To A Vet
Let Sleeping Vets Lie
Vet In Harness
Vets Might Fly
Vets In A Spin
I read the above works by James Herriot for the first time almost twenty years ago, and I’ve reread them countless times since then. It’s hard to find a writer this lovable. As you probably guessed from the titles, James was a veterinary surgeon in the 1930s in Yorkshire, England. His compassion, love and sense of humor are obvious in his writings, both towards his patients as well as their owners. His opening chapter describes his struggle to deliver a calf in the middle of the night, while the farmer has little faith in him, as he is a young, inexperienced vet. The book has countless such anecdotes from angry bulls to delightful kittens and cheeky parrots. One of the most interesting segments is about Tricki Woo, a pampered Pekinese dog belonging to a rich old lady. Equal importance is given to the farmers, their crusty exterior hiding some of the most generous and wonderful people one could meet. And of course there is the love of his life, Helen, but I won’t say more.
Early in the book James joins the veterinary practices of Siegfried, one of the most interesting and entertaining characters you can meet in literature. One can only wish such hilarious and understanding bosses existed in real life too. James was certainly lucky to have one. And even more entertaining is Siegfried’s younger brother Tristan, a fun-loving veterinary student who waltzes in and out of the house and the books, adding more hilarity. But it is not all laughs. There are many moments when this writing can bring tears to your eyes, especially when a beloved animal passes away or has to be put down.
In the last three books James and Siegfried are enlisted in the Royal Air Force (RAF) to serve in WWI. He weaves those tales in and out of the ones of his old life as a vet with mastery. This is a large volume of writing, but it never gets boring because his insight into human and animal nature is profound. These books are so vivid and enriching, they leave you feeling that you lived in his world. James Herriot takes you right into the lives and hearts of the people he knew, and makes you feel as if you know them too.
PS: Sorry for the lousy picture but it's the only one of the edition I own that I could find online.
Am I Blue
Edited by: Marion Dane Bauer
Keywords: Young adult, LGBTQ, Authentic
This is a collection of short stories by various authors, all portraying the theme of growing up gay or lesbian, or with gay/lesbian parents, family or friends. They are realistic, humorous at times, and moving. Some of the stories illuminate that moment when a character realizes that someone she or he knows well is lesbian or gay. The tales explore the internal and external turmoil this can cause, and the reactions of other people. Emotionally rich, engaging and varied, this book is definitely worth a read. More significantly, it open our eyes to the struggles of the protagonists, and the complexity of trying to fit into a world that’s not yet progressive and accepting enough.
Kill Your Friends
Author: John Niven
Genre: Crime Fiction
Keywords: Dark. Extreme. Hilarious.
Normally, I wouldn’t read a book like Kill Your Friends because I tend to stick to other genres, but I’m glad I stepped out of my reading comfort zone for this one. From the get go it’s gripping, irreverent and dark. Told in the first person, the narrator is quite simply, a real asshole, with absolutely no moral compass or character whatsoever. His attitude and behavior is unlike anything you’ve read before. The second half of the book gets darker, as his evil side comes to the fore. This book is not for the faint of the heart or those who are offended by foul language and even fouler ideas. The writer has really got under the character’s skin, something that few can do with such flair. I read it in two or three sittings, as I couldn’t bear to stop. A refreshing, endlessly entertaining and slightly chilling read.
Author: Karen Joy Fowler
Keywords: Intriguing. Moving. Thought-provoking.
Imagine having a non-human sibling. That is essentially, what this book is about. Yet, it’s also about a lot more. It explores the deep bonds of sisterhood, the relationship between humans and animals, the human need to ‘fit in’, love, jealousy, devotion, resentment, and more. The novel is both humourous and heart breaking, a coming of age tale unlike any other. At times we’re rooting for the protagonist, at other times we’re disappointed with her. Moving beautifully between past and present, this is a story that challenges our notions of family and humanity.
Author: Jeet Thayil
Keywords: Evocative. Offbeat. Authentic.
Narcopolis takes you deep into the heart of another world. Welcome to the opium dens of 1970s Bombay, with their seedy little rooms, gritty alleys and notorious inhabitants. There are just a few main characters: a eunuch, a dealer, a Chinese officer, but each is endlessly fascinating. The overall mood of the book is dark, of course, but not as dark as one would expect. The writing style is riveting and intoxicating. Not many writers can write a first chapter that is one continuous paragraph, and yet not have the reader feel the strain of reading it. The writer touches upon the struggle to free oneself from addiction, and shows human nature with all its flaws. The drug world has not been glamourized (as it typically is in film/tv) or looked down upon (to send out a preachy ‘message’). Its story has been told with all its grime and glory. A semi-autobiographical tale, the authenticity of the writing shines through. The unsentimental storytelling makes for a refreshing read.
The Lives Of Others
Author: Neel Mukherjee
Keywords: Family. Epic. Political.
In this well-titled book, the author takes us deep into the lives of a large joint family who live in Calcutta in the 1960s. There are the elderly parents, their children, and their children, growing up and growing old together. There are the servants, who play a critical role in the household in more ways than one. Within this one building we see different characters, their insecurities, fears, their political leanings, and how they clash and merge with one another. One character leaves home to help farmers in the Marxist struggle. Another struggles to accept that she is perhaps too dark-skinned to get married. Their lives are a fascinating labyrinth of emotional connections and intersections and arguments. They are just one family, but they are a world within themselves and that makes this book a fascinating read.
The Garden Of Evening Mists
Author: Tan Twan Eng
Keywords: Intriguing. Mysterious. Historical.
This is the tale of a judge who has been a prisoner of war in a Japanese internment camp in Word War II. After the war she tries to make sense of her life. She is also battling an illness in private. While visiting old friends, she meets a Japanese artist who was previously the Emperor’s gardener. She is conflicted, as she wants to learn the Japanese art of creating a garden from a master, but she also hates the Japanese for what they did to her and her people.
The Japanese philosophy of building a garden, which goes beyond the obvious, affects her without her knowledge. She also overcomes her hatred and anger against the gardener to become friends, and later lovers. This tale moves effortlessly across different times of her life. Her journey draws the reader in. Although the book is set against the backdrop of war, it is not only a war story. We see her young days with her parents and sister in Malaya before it was torn by war. We get to know her as a well-known judge, and later, as a person searching for peace, and searching for herself. The slow revealing of her character, and the story, makes for a wonderful read.
All My Sons
Author: Arthur Miller
Genre: Realistic fiction (maybe)
Keywords: Moving. Intense. Disconcerting.
I don’t read many plays but All My Sons is more than just a play. Based on a true story, it reveals the deeply complex and fundamentally flawed nature of human beings. It delves into ethics and idealism, and questions how personal greed and selfishness allow people to ignore their moral responsibilities. Its broader themes hint at the corruption prevalent in any system, and it questions the American dream of the 1950s. All My Sons is so relevant to India today; it will strike a chord in many readers’ hearts. A story that stays with you, and haunts you for a while.
Up The Down Staircase
Author: Bel Kaufman
Genre: Epistolary novel
Tags: Realistic. Humourous. Unconventional.
My cousin – a school teacher – never stops raving about this book. So I finally got my hands on it. And no wonder teachers love it, because no book explains the life of a teacher with all its trials and triumphs as well as this one.
Set in a school in the New York area in the 1960s, Up The Down Staircase rings true even today. The book unfolds in different voices, in the form of dialogues between people; notes between teachers, from the trash, or the suggestion box; letters between characters; scribbles on papers and so on. This lends authenticity, landing the reader smack into the life of a teacher, with all its challenges and rewards. It also makes for an interesting read, as you experience school life from various points of view. We see the growing pains and difficult lives of certain students, the insecurities and pettiness of some of the staff, and the dedicated teachers who truly love their profession. There are plenty of little stories sprouting around the main theme. Even fifty years later and continents away, one can relate to and enjoy Up The Down Staircase.
Author: Alex Haley
Tags: Realistic. Historical. Poignant.
Human lives often makes for the most interesting stories and Roots is no exception. This is the story, or rather the history, of one family. It starts seven generations back, with the first ancestor, Kunta Kinte. He is a young boy living with his family in a Gambian village in Africa in the 18th century. He is captured by white slave hunters and brought to America. He tries to escape several times, with brutal consequences. Finally, he is resigned to his fate. Later, he marries and has a daughter, but his deep hatred for the white race always remains, and with good reason too.
The book recounts the story of his daughter, her children, their children, and so on and so forth until it ends with the author himself. The African words and tales from Kunta Kinte had been handed down through each generation, connecting all of them to their origins.
This however, forms just the background narrative of the book. The main story recounts the lives of slaves on the white-owned plantations, their work, their families, their struggles for survival, identity and freedom. At times, the oppressed identifies with the oppressor. We see the attitudes of both black and white communities to one another. The story weaves in and out of important moments of American history, such as the abolition of slavery. It is a fascinating, and at many moments a heart breaking read. This is the best and worst of human nature told through one long family story.
The New Yorker