Tuesday, January 25, 2022

A Slip of the Keyboard: Collected Nonfiction, by Terry Pratchett (author), Neil Gaiman (foreword), Michael Fenton Stevens (narrator)

Random House Audio, ISBN 9780803193634, September 2014

Terry Pratchett was a popular, indeed beloved, fantasy writer, with many bestsellers, many of them featuring the Discworld, a flat disc carried on the backs of turtles.

He also wrote quite a few non-fiction essays, speeches, newspaper articles, and pieces for the souvenir books of science fiction conventions. This collection spans his entire writing career, It reflects the range of his interests, and is roughly divided into three themed sections.

Naturally, he had a good deal to say on the subject of writing, the life of a writer, and his development as a writer. I was particularly fascinated by the fact, not that he began as a journalist writing for a local paper, but the fact that he had an actual, formal apprenticeship as a writer for that newspaper, with apprenticeship papers his father needed to sign. It sounds so alien, to me, probably a combination of the fact that I'm nearly a decade younger, and that I'm an American.

The next section mainly concerns his life, his travels, his great range of interests. Many of those interests developed from his habit of finding refuge from the frustrations of school by hiding out in the library, and discovering all the good books and fascinating, exciting, and sometimes scandalous history that isn't taught in history class. Other interests developed almost by chance. In Discworld's Unseen University, he decided that the Librarian would be an orangutan. He describes it as almost a random choice; on another day, he might have chosen to make the Librarian an aardvark.  Picking the orangutan, and then seeing one at zoo, became the first step in a growing interest in animal conservation, animal rights, and protection of animal habitats.

The last section collects his speeches, essays, and articles about his Alzheimer's diagnosis, his experiences, and the frustrations of getting the treatment he needed (to the extent that treatment is available), and the fact that Alzheimer's had replaced cancer as The Disease That Dare Not Speak Its Name. Terry Pratchett, of course, went public. He was not going to hide it, or retreat from writing or from public life before he had to. He made a donation of US$1,000,000 to the Alzheimer's Research Trust, expressing his shock that funding for Alzheimer's research was 3% of funding for cancer research. He became an advocate for both that research, and for what he preferred to call assisted death, rather than assisted suicide.

It's no surprise that this section contains a few rants.

It's a fascinating collection, published in 2014, about six months before his death in 2015, and I think it's a collection that no Pratchett fan should miss.

Highly recommended.

I bought this audiobook.

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