I used to love reading. As a child I had a book in my hand wherever I went. This love of reading continued as a teenager, but faded during my uni years as academic reading took priority over fun reading.
This year, I resolved to get back into books and read 25 in one year, a considerable increase from the 4 or 5 I read last year. And I just about managed to do it.
These were my favourites.
Mort by Terry Pratchett
In 2013 I began the slightly daunting task of reading through the 40-odd books that make up Terry Pratchett’s acclaimed Discworld series.
After umming and ahhing over where to start (some are standalone, so you can jump into the series easily, but some are part of little series within the series that focus on a particular character, and even the standalone ones feature several nods and references to previous books that newbies will miss and, oh, what a headache), I decided to simply start at the start, despite reading that the earliest Discworld books are not even close to Sir Terry’s best work.
I enjoyed The Colour of Magic enough to continue onto The Light Fantastic and Equal Rites, but was still feeling slightly underwhelmed. I liked the world that Pratchett was slowly putting together, the spoofs of fantasy conventions were fun, I liked the creative locations and characters and the nonsensical but oddly logical rules and traditions of the Discworld, but I wasn’t amazed.
I wasn’t disappointed, as I knew the early Discworld books weren’t the best and were very much about Sir Terry figuring out what he wanted to do with his imaginative creation and find his feet before he could really get into the swing of things, but I had yet to be bowled over. There had not been a moment where everything clicked and I thought ‘Ah, so this is what all the fuss is about.’
But then, in 2014, I read Mort. And I loved it.
I knew it was something special when it made me laugh. I don’t really laugh when reading books. Plenty of them, including the first three Discworld novels, are advertised with quotes that use words like ‘Hilarious’, ‘laugh-out-loud,’ ‘side-splittingly, gut-bustingly funny’, ‘so rib-destroyingly hilarious you’ll shit yourself’, etc, but usually these books massively under-deliver on their promised hilarity. They provoke the occasional appreciative smile, a quiet ‘Heh’, or maybe even a chuckle or two.
Not Mort. It snuck up on me. It charmed me, lured me in, then it caught me off guard. It threw in a particularly clever bit of wordplay or a wonderfully awful pun or a wry aside during a descriptive passage or a bone-dry one liner from Death himself, and I burst out laughing. Not a smile or a ‘Heh’ or a chuckle, a loud guffaw. This happened several times, and I after I’d stopped laughing, I’d go back, reread the last sentence and laugh again.
I’m not sure why this, of all the Discworld books that I had read, made me laugh so much. None of the humour was any different to that of the first three books. The footnotes, the puns, the silly similes, they had all been there. Death had appeared in them, too, but only for brief cameos (which, incidentally, were always a highlight).
Perhaps the broad silliness had been refined, perhaps the bizarre world that had been introduced to me three books ago now felt familiar and comfortable, perhaps I have a really morbid sense of humour, perhaps the sheer amount of comic potential to be mined from Death getting an apprentice and then having a day off for the first time in several millennia was just so huge it couldn’t not be hilarious.
Whatever the reason, it was a delightful ‘Aha!’ moment. I understood the hype. Impressively, the book also managed to tackle a fairly weighty and serious subject that can send even the most level-headed person into a deep and despairing existential crisis. It used jokes to make the subject more palatable but never to water it down or dilute its serious nature.
The book had raised my expectations very high indeed, so when I moved on to Sourcery, I was a bit disappointed. It was a light, likeable and perfectly fine tale that was similar to Colour of Magic and Light Fantastic, both of which I had enjoyed, but it felt like a step backwards after Mort. I started to worry that perhaps I had raised my expectations too high and now my enjoyment of the rest of the series would suffer because of it.
Then I finished Sourcery and moved on to Wyrd Sisters.
I laughed three times on the first page alone. Ah, this is gonna be fun.
I didn’t want to clog up my blog’s front page with a lengthy entry, so I hid the rest of the best under this Continue Reading button. Click it. It’ll be worth reading, honest.