You never see your loved one’s flaws. You fall in love too quickly, in a rush of delight at finding such a person, a burst of wonder that, in all this wide and fragile world, there exists a mind just like your own. Before long, they have settled down inside of you, in the vulnerable parts of your chest. Any doubt, any flaw, is drowned out by the rhythmic thump of a voice that says you are not alone.
It’s like that with books.
There are so many books, so many writers I could tell you about, which would make me look clever, or deep, or wise. But let’s be honest with each other for a moment: those are not the books which live within you. The books you fall in love with are the books with flaws. They are the books you devoured late at night under the sheets, until their spines cracked, until you had parts of them memorised. They are the books you read and read again, like comfort food on a cold night. They’re the books which make you laugh.
Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels are the single greatest achievement in the English language. I will brook no argument. Don’t come to me with your Shakespeares or your Miltons – I will have none of them. The Discworld series comes in forty slices of perfection, served with custard. Discworld is where my heart lives.
Let me explain. I first began to read the Discworld books at around the age of twelve. I’d read some fantasy before, but not enough to really understand all the jokes in the first two novels, The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, which are mostly a straight parody of various fantasy themes and stock characters. Still, the bits I did get were really, really funny, so I carried on. The books are set on the probably-fictional Discworld, a flat disc supported on the back of four elephants, in turn standing upon a cosmic turtle moving through space. Magic holds the Discworld together, but the intrusion of modern technology often drives the plot, when it’s not creatures from the Dungeon Dimensions. You don’t really need to read the series in order, but there are a few storylines which develop around groups of characters, which do reward a chronological approach: the jokes are a lot funnier that way. My favourites are the Witches and the City Watch.
I carried on reading and enjoying in a cheerful fashion (my local library had the set) until I reached the 29th novel, Night Watch. This is the best novel I have ever read. It’s simultaneously a time-travel romp, a parody of Les Misérables, a bildungsroman, a crime thriller, and an absolute punch in the gut by the end. I sobbed like I’d never sobbed before. Suddenly it didn’t seem to matter that I was pale, and lonely, and so very, very ginger. Samuel Vimes, the hard-boiled cop with a heart of gold, took up residence in my chest then, and he’s never left.
The Discworld books are getting darker and more cynical (most readers acknowledge that) and it could be that that’s what I was beginning to notice. But even when I read the early ones now, I see that the stories are really about humanity, in all its petty, venal, greedy, glorious and generous forms. I could tell you about Pratchett’s deft plotting and structure, the brilliance of jokes whose punchlines come three books later, the amusing trappings of a world run on magic. I could even tell you about the flaws of the series, the bits that don’t quite work. But really the Discworld lives in my heart because, as a lonely teenager, it said to me: people are strange. You are not alone.