Pratchett.

Who was Britain wild about before Harry came along? You might be surprised to find that before J.K. Rowling took over as that country’s best-selling author, the title was held for most of the 1990s by another fantasy writer: Terry Pratchett.

My science fiction and fantasy group enjoyed a delightful meeting this month after readingSmall Gods any title by Pratchett. With over 30 Discworld books and around a dozen other titles available, there were plenty of books to discuss. Although they are set in a fantasy world, Pratchett satirizes and spoofs everything: religion, philosophy, race, gender, music, Shakespeare, fables, psychology, city life, movies, cultures from around the world, schools, and perhaps most important, every aspect of human behavior. He may very well be the best humorist working. This writer is not just for speculative fiction fans.

Pratchett is layered. Upon first acquaintance, one is likely to be knocked silly by a few of the jokes. Then, as one consumes his books like potato chips, the wonderful recurring characters, themes, and locations will start to take a starring role. In recent years, his plotting skills have also improved. His veteran readers begin to appreciate his artistry as a storyteller, bringing big multi-faceted tales to a satisfying conclusion.

Good OmensWe had a good time advocating the best book to start one’s tour in the delightful Discworld. (There were many candidates, but we were unanimous in suggesting that the first two books, in which Pratchett’s humor is in place but not his plotting skills, be saved for later reading). We discussed the merits of the various subseries. We took turns reading favorite passages aloud. We identified our favorite recurring characters. We discussed the merits of his various audiobook readers.

The author’s personal life is also of interest. One of his early jobs was as press officer for the British nuclear power authority, a job that must have honed his skill for subtle satire. Wee Free MenHe’s worked hard for the Orang-Utan foundation (his Unseen University Librarian, who gets remarkable range from his one-word vocabulary OOK!, would surely approve). We discussed the tragedy of Pratchett’s early-onset Alzheimer’s and passed along the URL of Match It for Pratchett (http://www.matchitforpratchett.org), the website dedicated to matching Pratchett’s million dollar donation to Alzheimer’s research.

Share Wee Free Men with a child or grandchild. Try one of Pratchett’s books about The Watch with a mystery reading group. Laugh through Good Omens, his collaboration with Neil Gaiman. Pass Small Gods to a friend who enjoys debating religion, philosophy, or science. Hunt for Shakespeare references in Lords and Ladies. Revisit the early days of rock and roll with Soul Music. Laugh at bureaucracy with Going Postal. There are many ways to enjoy this deeply funny, deeply insightful writer. He’s a treasure that every book group should open.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

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