Weekend Shorts: Tiny Cooper and Terry Pratchett

Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story, by David Levithan
Hold Me CloserTrue story: I almost didn’t read the adorable and wonderful Will Grayson, Will Grayson, because I didn’t want to deal with Tiny Cooper. And yet, when I saw this ridiculously shiny book coming out earlier this year, I was like, yeeeeeah I’m totally going to read that.

Hold Me Closer is, I guess, Tiny’s draft of the big gay musical he puts on during Will Grayson, Will Grayson, with all the songs and talking but also little notes about how Tiny sees particular scenes going and jabs at Will’s love life. The musical itself is great and pretty realistic for a teenager’s first musical — the songs are obviously not professionally written but are pretty darn good, and the content is infused with that hopefulness that teenagers have in spades.

And Tiny is a wonderful character, full of self-confidence and self-doubt alike as he navigates his childhood and the wonders of dating and friendships and family life as you get older. Even if you are not a large gay teenager, you will still relate to a lot of the ideas of this book.

I’m not sure if you could get away with reading just this and not Will Grayson, Will Grayson, but you should read the original book anyway so why not do both?

A Slip of the Keyboard, by Terry Pratchett
A Slip of the KeyboardAnother true story: It took me five whole months to get through this book. To be fair, I started off reading one short essay per day, and then kind of completely forgot about the whole thing, and then came back to it and read it much more quickly. I think you can read it either way — slowly parceled out or in huge gulps — and still have a fine time with Sir Terry.

This was kind of a weird book for me to have picked up, really, as I’ve only read three of Pratchett’s books, all fiction, and this is a book of non-fiction essays whose only commonality is that Pratchett wrote them. So there are essays about books and reading and fantasy and science fiction and all those great things, but there are also introductions to books I know nothing about and asides about books of Pratchett’s I’ve not read yet and essays about weird Christmas things and nuclear power plants and stuff. I feel like I probably needed at least five more of Pratchett’s books under my belt before attempting this.

But it was still pretty darn good! And the reason I blazed through it at the end is that I got to the section where Pratchett rants about Alzheimer’s and how it’s a terrible thing, and you need not have any of his books in your house to agree with that sentiment. You may not agree with his stance on assisted death, on the other hand, but in these essays he’s clearly done his research and it’s fascinating to see the various opinions in this debate.

All in all I would definitely recommend this more to Pratchett mega-fans, but even if you’re not you’ll make it through all right.

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Equal Rites, by Terry Pratchett

Equal RitesI read my first Terry Pratchett novel almost a year ago after picking it up by chance in my favorite Cleveland used bookstore. So obviously, when I found myself in said bookstore again, and there were three used Pratchetts just sitting there waiting for me, I snapped them all up without reservation. And when I found myself on a plane in a middle seat with my intended next read up in the overhead bin but those three paperbacks sitting under the seat in front of me, I grabbed the one on top and settled in for a good read.

And it was! I was a little iffy at first on the premise, which is that there’s a baby girl accidentally given wizard powers by a dying wizard who meant to give them to a baby boy, because of course boys can be wizards and girls can be witches and neither the other way around. Yay.

It’s a premise that has been done before, but Pratchett does it in his own reasonably amusing style and so therefore it’s done better. The girl wizard, Esk, grows up not knowing about her wizardliness, and when her magic starts to show her witchy grandmother tries to teach her the witchly ways but soon realizes that just won’t be enough. So Esk and Granny Weatherwax set off on a journey to the wizard school, a journey that is of course full of adventure and danger and magic. Sold!

There is also, as you might expect, a bit of discussion about women’s rights and the nature of girls versus boys, but it’s surprisingly nuanced and intelligent for an ostensibly humorous book. That Pratchett is wily!

As before, what really makes the story is Pratchett’s way with words. From the first page: “This is also a story about sex, although probably not in the athletic, tumbling, count-the-legs-and-divide-by-two sense unless the characters get totally beyond the author’s control. They might.”

From a random page in the middle: “For the first time in her life Granny wondered whether there might be something important in all these books people were setting such store by these days, although she was opposed to books on strict moral grounds, since she had heard that many of them were written by dead people and therefore it stood to reason reading them would be as bad as necromancy.”

Like Guards, Guards!, this book is pretty simple plot-wise and character-wise, but writing-wise it is doubleplusgood and therefore the perfect plane or beach or lunchtime or anytime reading. I am very glad I have two more of Pratchett’s books on hand, and more glad that there are like eight million more to read after those!

Recommendation: To copy myself, for fans of British humor (i.e. Douglas Adams, Monty Python) and fantasy novels and satire and fun.

Rating: 7/10

Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

Good OmensHee. Teehee. Hehehehehe.

This book, it is delightful. I was hooked from the prologue, which begins with “It was a nice day,” ends with, “It was going to be a dark and stormy night,” and has many humorous sentences in between. By a few pages later, I was texting the friend who had recommended it to me, saying, “I am on page 12 of Good Omens and I may already be in love with it.”

And love it I do. It reminded me very much of the only other Terry Pratchett I’ve read (which was also amazing), but it still felt fairly Gaiman-y to me even though I can’t for the life of me think of a purely funny thing that I’ve read of Gaiman’s. Maybe it’s the pacing of the story that does it? I don’t know. It’s not important.

What’s important is that this book is a, uh, let’s say a divine comedy of errors? Because the two main protagonist-types are Crowley and Aziraphale, the former the apocryphal serpent of Eden and the latter Eden’s angel guardian. One fights for the evil side, one for the good, but both of them spend a lot of time hanging out on Earth, so when the evil side gives humans eleven years to enjoy their universe Aziraphale and Crowley find themselves working together to see if they can’t maybe postpone that end of the world thing a little while.

Their plan is to keep an eye on the Antichrist and get him to make appropriate world-saving decisions, but of course it turns out that they’re keeping an eye on the wrong kid and with just a few days left in the world they have to go find the right one. Others are looking for the child, too, including the Four “Apocalyptic Horsepersons” and an occultist following the predictions left by her always-correct-even-if-you-don’t-know-it-until-later ancestor.

Although there is this plotline — Save the Antichrist, Save the World — most of the story dances around it, focusing instead on how the different characters interact with each other, what the meanings of “good” and “evil” really are, and how our human world came to be so immensely screwed up. And as I may have mentioned, it’s really all about the writing, and passages like the following:

“God does not play dice with the universe; He plays an ineffable game of His own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players, to being involved in an obscure and complex version of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won’t tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time.”

The ending goes on a bit long, and it takes rather a lot of contrivance to get there (but how else would you?), but I was still quite satisfied and mostly I plan to remember those delightful parts anyway.

Although I read about half of it in print, I did end up listening to the whole thing on a quick road trip, and I can say that the audiobook narrator is a perfect fit for the book. Martin Jarvis has a lot of fun making up voices for the large number of characters and imbues them with the incredulity required to live in this very strange universe. If you need a good listen, check this out.

Recommendation: For lovers of Gaiman, Pratchett, Fforde, and other fine masters of British humor, or really just anyone who needs a laugh.

Rating: 9/10

Guards! Guards!, by Terry Pratchett

Guards! Guards!I’ve vaguely known about Terry Pratchett and Discworld for years, but was never really interested in reading any of it. Then my brother’s girlfriend started showing up to family events with her nose buried in a Pratchett book, a new one for every event, and since I generally trust her opinions I figured I’d give the guy a try. So when I found myself in one of my favorite Cleveland bookstores with some time to kill, I picked the one that sounded most interesting and it came home with me.

And apparently I was lucky in my book choice! According to the bro’s girlfriend you don’t have to read the series in publication order, but you should read the individual storylines in order, and this book is the first in the “City Watch” storyline. Good work, self! If you are of another mind about how to read Discworld (I hear there are many of these minds), well, oops?

So, anyway, back to this particular book… Guards! Guards! is a weird little story that is part miniature epic fantasy novel and part commentary on epic fantasy novels. It reminds me a bit of Redshirts, except without a weird and headache-causing twist in the middle. I’m not super well versed in classic fantasy, but I knew enough about swords and magic and DRAGONS to get me through this one!

‘Cause see, there’s a Brotherhood of… Something… whose leader decides it’s totes time for change in city leadership, so he summons up a dragon to come kill a few people here and there so that the leader can bring in a ringer to be the long-lost rightful heir to the throne of said city, Ankh-Morpork, and then have lots of power or whatever. As you do. But there is also a bumbling sort of police force called the City Watch who are usually just for show, but with the addition of an officer who has actually read the book of laws they end up investigating the whole “appearance of a heretofore imaginary dragon” thing. There’s also a whole bunch of other stuff that happens, including the theft of a book from a library which leads to some fantastic quotes about libraries and bookstores and magic and whatnot, so that’s awesome.

And really, I think those quotable lines, of which there are many, are what this book is about. The plot is pretty simple and straightforward, but it is not shy about dashing off on a tangent for the sake of a joke or even a pun. I approve, and I approve also of Pratchett’s ability to use fantasy clichés to alternately advance the story (e.g. this is how things work in fantasy novels, so therefore this thing works) and to completely derail it (e.g. this is how things work in fantasy novels, too bad this is actually real life!) — sometimes using the same cliché to both ends!

I found this book “reasonably amusing” (to quote myself) and a perfect sort of brain-candy read, and I will definitely pick up another Pratchett book in the future, if I can ever figure out which one should come next!

Recommendation: For fans of British humor (i.e. Douglas Adams, Monty Python) and fantasy novels and satire and fun.

Rating: 7/10
(RIP)