Book of the Month- May A Slip of the Keyboard by Terry Pratchett

The Discworld. Rincewind. The Unseen University. And, of course, antipasta.

Do you even read science-fiction if these words are alien to you? Terry Pratchett, the author of over 70 books, was a literary mastermind (who created the aforementioned words, or in the case of antipasta, decided that it was actually pasta that was prepared, like all antimatter, several hours after you ate it). He created the Discworld, a mega-series that contained no less than 41 novels. In 2000, he was voted the nation’s favourite author by the people of Britain. (Well, 2nd favourite author, if you include Rowling!) But Pratchett was also a remarkable campaigner for Alzheimer’s, animal rights and having a bit of sense of a sense of humour.

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In this collection of his most celebrated speeches and articles, there is hardly an instance where one isn’t littered with a witty pun or sly joke. This book surveys almost the entirety of Pratchett’s lifetime, reflecting on his time at school, the nuclear power station (who knew?) as well as his career in journalism. Given that Pratchett, as far as I know, has no official biography, this is all we have. This snapshot of various moments of his life is all the people who admired this man, who’d become a knight in his lifetime, can go by.

“Build a man a fire, and he’ll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life.” Pratchett

And why would you want to go without? By reading this, I have gained such an invaluable insight into not only his writing methods, but more memorably his stance on Alzheimer’s and assisted death in the UK. Pratchett was probably one of the most famous sufferers of the disease when he was alive, donating £1 million to their charity and creating various documentaries. Reading this has given me such a remarkable perspective on the topic of euthanasia, that it was starting to become a much more philosophical read than I had bargained for!

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I was incredibly moved, too. To be able see in the articles the progression of topics from childhood anecdotes, to his endless book signing tours- where he always wrote about how incredulous he was at his popularity- to hearing the frustration and anger in his words as he described the onset of the disease. How he could no longer type, because the letters would disappear from the keyboard. How he could no longer read his own speeches, and had to have someone else present them for him. To hear such a renowned and literally accomplished person describe their struggles is something that is painful, yet if you respect them, necessary to endure.

In a way, this is possibly better than a biography. The pointless parts, the vague relationships and holes between occupations have already been melted away, so only the quality information is left for us to experience. Of course, occasionally there was repetition of a phrase here or there, yet this was only to be expected since Pratchett had given more interviews and written more articles than anyone could possibly perceive, so to expect every piece to be completely original is borderline ludicrous.

When I was younger, I wrote Terry a letter. I even him drew a dragon, something that I was truly proud of, and was even slightly reluctant to send it away. I did it nonetheless, but I never received a reply from him. It’s not in bitterness that I mention this, but merely in recollection. Particularly towards the end of his life, Pratchett noted that he was receiving so many emails and letters that it he would never have the time to rely to  even a fraction of them, and the immense feeling of regret that filled him at the thought of this.

I suppose this book really is only relevant it to you if you like science-fiction, or at the very least Terry himself. And if you’re unfamiliar, then make it your priority to explore one his books straight away- you’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised. I guarantee it.

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Stuff Matters by Mark Miodownik

We are all avid readers. We have all discussed, at one point or another, that topical debate. What is your preference: the rising E-book or classic paper tome? Why is it that we are so obsessed, so comforted by the thin pages, when faced with the bold technological alternative? Everyday we are surrounded by this material, whether it is in our note paper, train tickets, toilet paper or bank notes. So it is not a surprise, perhaps, that we are unwilling to let it drift away from society. After all, it is what we have grown up with, yet fundamentally this marvellous invention, one which has been utilised by generations, is largely a subject of ignorance.

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For example, why are ancient pages honoured with a musk of yellow, and why are long-forgotten  receipts faded?

Thankfully, I have found a novel which can satisfy these inquisitive questions, one which dutifully gives us an insight into 10 common materials. It thrusts them into the limelight for a chapter, primarily focusing on their composition, how they were created, and their role in society today. Does that sound technical. A bit too educational for your liking? It shouldn’t. Because along the way we learn about why razors blunt, that concrete never drys out (at least it doesn’t set in the way we perceive it to) and how it is conceivable that the lightest solid in the world is 99.8% air. Miodownik has ambitiously turned a subject which could be lined with boredom into one which is delightful and captivating.
Today, we are constantly, ironically, being pestered by mindfulness fanatics to live in the moment and to appreciate everything around us. That can be difficult when there is tumultuous rain, and you have just missed your train to an important meeting, but no said it was easy. But, it would be easier if we understood what we were appreciating. These materials make up our lives, and the manipulation of these materials could arguably be what isolates the human race from all other species. Yet do you know how plastic is made? Did the fascinating nature, the mere possibility, of surgical implants ever grip you? I profess now; none of these questions applied to me until I read this book. Each chapter is brimming with mind-blowing, quirky information, interspersed among rich anecdotes and charming writing that manages to make even the most mundane materials a source of thrill.

This book has reignited my dwindling faith in non-fiction writing, and I think that one is ever trying to understand society better (because these things are so fundamental to it), appreciate life more (start with the small things) or is simply curious, then this is a brilliant place to start. It was a concise too, which meant that although the information at times was detailed and scientific, it wasn’t winding on for eons, leaving me bored half a chapter away. A surprising yet gratifying holiday read!