Three recent reads.

by waxbanks

Born Standing Up (Steve Martin)

I read most of this in one sitting last year, and finished it this morning on a lark. A well-written memoir of Martin’s standup comedy days. Pleasant diversion.

Guards! Guards! (Terry Pratchett)

Pratchett died. It seems impossible, though we’ve known for years it would happen. I decided it was time to read more Discworld books; I’d only read the first two and Reaper Man — the latter many many times over the years. It’s one of my favourite novels.

I’m sick today. Reading a book seemed like just the thing.

I’ll say a couple of things.

The tavern brawl is one of the funniest things I’ve ever read.

There are passages in this book so humane, so generous, so piercingly insightful, they took my breath away and left me in tears.
When Lady Ramkin took Vimes’s hand as they faced death together, I thought my heart would burst, despite knowing that of course they’d survive.

Pratchett wrote harried-everyday-people-running-around-madly-to-accomplish-they-knew-not-what as well as anyone I know. He wrote real human beings as well as anyone I know.

He was a furiously angry man. You can tell.

Only needing to pick up Feliks at daycare is keeping me from starting the next one.

Thank you so much, Mr Pratchett. For this world you made.

Mort (Terry Pratchett)

Reaper Man is dearer to me than almost anything I’ve ever read; it’s something like Riddley Walker and Jurassic Park (or, in far different frames, Little, Big and the CLR Algorithms book) in the effect it’s had on my thinking and living. I picked up a paperback copy of Mort years and years ago at a church rummage sale on Mass Ave. The paperback probably smells a bit musty, though I’ve been sick so I can’t be sure. I grabbed it that day (paying, what, a dollar? fifty cents?) because of the title, an obvious clue to the main character: Death, my favourite of Pratchett’s creations.

The trouble is, Reaper Man (it turns out) is a kind of do-over of Mort, featuring a more complex portrayal of Death — ‘lived in,’ you might say — and a cast of extraordinarily vivid supporting characters, Renata Flitworth chief among them. Mort‘s Death is a bit chilly; the gags are at times low-hanging fruit; and Mort, Ysabell, Keli, Cutwell, and Albert are rendered sympathetically but without the full complexity that famously characterizes the later novels. What’s more, the metaphysics get more than a bit tangled here, and the characters’ motivations with them: I’ve no idea what the final ‘plan’ was (if there was one), or where Albert’s loyalties finally lay, or why Mort started changing into Death…it’s a weird feeling to be swept up in a plot, rooting for the main characters, while still having little idea what the hell’s going on. It’s not as perfectly formed as Guards! Guards!, say.

Not to say it’s a bad book. It’s a wonderful book. It just feels like a first encounter with some unusually big ideas, some surprisingly deep feelings, which Pratchett and the Discworld need to deal with and move beyond, so that the rest of the world can rush in.

This has not been a well written or incisive review, I know. Today I don’t have it in me.

I’m so grateful to have so much Discworld to look forward to. I’ve been waiting for these stories for most of my life. No more waiting.

I’ve got some nonfiction to read next, and the rest of Joy in the Morning (there’s an essay to write about Wodehouse, Pratchett, and Douglas Adams, but not today). But I think I’ll come back to the Discworld soon. And I think I’ll read them in writing order. Tour the world, or rather the evolving idea of the world, with the author.

Funny little note: I read Guards! Guards! in my non-Retina iPad Mini’s Kindle app, but read Mort on plain ol’ paper. The latter took half the time and felt indescribably better to my eyes.