Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Slip of the Keyboard

A Slip of the Keyboard by Terry Pratchett
Knopf Doubleday: 9/23/2014
eBook, 336 pages
ISBN-13: 9780385538305

A Slip of the Keyboard is the first collection of Pratchett’s nonfiction work, and it brings together the finest examples of his extraordinary wit and his persuasive prose. Whether in short opinion pieces (on death and taxes), or in long essays, speeches, and interviews (covering a range of topics from mushrooms to orangutans), this collection is a fascinating look inside an extraordinary writer’s mind. It includes his remarks at science-fiction and fantasy conventions, his thoughts on the importance of banana daiquiris on book tours, his observations on fan mail, and his belief that an author is obligated to sign anything a fan puts in front of him (especially if it is very sharp). He also writes about the books that shaped his love of language and legends, not to mention his entrance into science-fiction fandom when he attended his first sci-fi convention as a teenager.
Filled with all the humor and humanity that have made his novels so enduringly popular, this collection brings Pratchett out from behind the scenes of Discworld to speak for himself—man and boy, bibliophile and computer geek; a champion of hats, orangutans, and Dignity in Dying.
With a foreword by Pratchett’s close friend and Good Omens coauthor Neil Gaiman to lead off, A Slip of the Keyboard is a must-have for any Pratchett fan.

My Thoughts:

A Slip of the Keyboard by Terry Pratchett is a very highly recommended, consistently entertaining collection of short nonfiction pieces.

The  work presented in A Slip of the Keyboard showcases a wide variety of work that can be both serious and humorous. This is a wonderful collection of nonfiction that should appeal to fans of his writing as well as those who enjoy a well written, insightful essay that can also take a wry look at life.

After a Foreword by Neil Gaiman, the collection is divided into three parts:
A Scribbling Intruder (On bookshops, dragons, fan mail, sandwiches, tools of the trade, waxing wroth, and all the business of being a Professional Writer)
A Twit and a Dreamer (On school days, scabby knees, first jobs, frankincense, Christmas robots, beloved books, and other off-duty thoughts)
Days of Rage (On Alzheimer's, orangutans, campaigns, controversies, dignified endings, and trying to make a lot of things a little better)

Neil Gaiman writes in the foreword that: "There is a fury to Terry Pratchett’s writing. It’s the fury that was the engine that powered Discworld, and you will discover it here: it’s the anger at the headmaster who would decide that six-year-old Terry Pratchett would never be smart enough for the eleven-plus, anger at pompous critics, and at those who think that serious is the opposite of funny, anger at his early American publishers who could not bring his books out successfully. The anger is always there, an engine that drives. By the time this book enters its final act, and Terry learns he has a rare, early-onset form of Alzheimer’s, the targets of his fury change: now he is angry with his brain and his genetics and, more than these, furious at a country that will not permit him (or others in a similarly intolerable situation) to choose the manner and the time of their passing.

While there may be anger, especially in some of the later works included in the collection, this anger presented itself as passion for me. In many of the pieces, I found myself reading along, agreeing with him, and then he'd throw out a couple lines that had me snorting aloud or chortling guiltily. How could you not at something like the following concerning others that might be at a book signing, "If you have got a TV personality promoting something with a title like The Whoops-Where-Did-That-One-Go? Christmas Fun Book, don’t pass comment if they spend a lot of time reading their book while they’re in the shop. It may be the first time they’ve seen it. Do not offer to help them with the longer words."

There are, quite naturally, a lot of pieces that concern fantasy writing or what others perceive as fantasy. There is a lot of advice to be gleaned from this collection if you are an aspiring writer, like this gem from" Elves Were Bastards" (1992):"I get depressed with these fluffy dragons and noble elves. Elves were never noble. They were cruel bastards. And I dislike heroes. You can’t trust the buggers. They always let you down." Pratchet continues, discussing escapism "But the point about escaping is that you should escape to, as well as from. You should go somewhere worthwhile, and come back the better for the experience. Too much alleged “fantasy” is just empty sugar, life with the crusts cut off."

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Knopf Doubleday for review purposes.

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