I wish I was reading something fancier right now. Something more ‘high’ culture. Something with literary cred and novelistic hoity-toit. Something that would make you—my curious analytical reader—raise your eyebrows, whistle discretely under your breath and exclaim, somewhat dramatically, ‘my stars, she is but an enlightened dame!’
I could lie. I could pretend I am reading one of the many tomes on the ‘to read’ pile that literally constitutes my bedside table. Something like The Power by Naomi Alderman or Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey or the new Zadie Smith or the old Hilary Mantel. Or something I’ve read in the not-so-distant past, blurring the space/time continuum for the sake of impressing you, my unknown critical reader. Like Audre Lorde, whose collected works I recently devoured as part of a deep dive into intersectionality, or David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, which I read a few years ago—for what felt like a few years—despite the wrist strain I developed propping it up in bed and continually shuttling back and forth to the endnotes.
But I’m not going to lie. Not to you, my textually wily reader. What I am reading right now, pages dog-eared and begrimed with the ghosts of meals past, is Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. My beloved Discworld. Or, to be more accurate, I am re-reading the Discworld.
I didn’t plan to do this. My literary Hell’s Angels embroidered leather jacket aphorism is Life’s Too Short For Re-Reads. But a chance conversation with a colleague led to the discovery of a mutual appreciation of the Discworld and suddenly here we are having formed our very own Quirm Ladies Auxiliary Book Club and Luncheon Society as we make our way slowly through the series from start to finish. Two books in, a third colleague joined us, because we are everywhere, us Great A’Tuin devotees, hidden in plain sight and just one careless question away from blabbering inanely for hours about the minutiae of a character who appeared only once in the forty-plus books that make up the series. We walk among you—have infiltrated all levels of society—all so vastly different from each other save for our shared loves and loathings: we are all irked by Rincewind. We each want to be Tiffany Aching or Susan or Vimes. Granny Weatherwax is our guru. The Librarian is utter perfection.
So here is where I find myself, my tentative tolerant reader, leafing through pages I first traipsed decades ago as a pre-teen. And while I could lie and tell you instead that I am working my way through the Russians—in Russian—and that I find them relatable and uplifting and not at all too laden with descriptive suffering, I am laying my library cards on the table and showing my hand because I suspect this actually matters.
Because re-reading these books is comfortable and familiar, like a much-loved soft toy that is steeped in the various scents of the inchoate. Because re-reading each one reminds me of why I fell in love with words and the home I found in the curve of letters and the power of syntax. These early ones are not his best novels. Re-reading them I see the cracks and the fault lines. The jokes that land like inebriated gymnasts and endings that crash through the wings like disoriented gods. In their pages I trace the inklings of later triumphs, taste phrasing and thumb stitching not quite perfected. Pace through the testing and re-testing of authorial voice, the gradual choreographing of a dance that will soon appear polished, and it reminds me of all of our journeys as both writers and consumers, my erudite finger-drumming reader. Of how we grow into ourselves over time and find our confidence amidst the detritus of awkward rehearsals and pedestrian beginnings. How none of us appear fully formed, but chip and sweat and type away until we hit our glorious stride, and then—my yawning hungry reader—then we become the makers of magic.
Because the Discworld books were magic for me all those years ago. They still are. They take philosophy and science and ethics and civics and inject them with laughter and fantasy and, above all, heart. They taught me things about this world by way of another, and showed me from a young age the almighty power of a story well told. How it creeps inside you and can never be evicted, grafted into your DNA for the rest of your eternity.
And this—this is what matters, isn’t it, my persistent and point-seeking reader? That it isn’t so much about what I’m reading now but what will stay with me long after the pages have been slotted onto the shelf, passed over to a friend, pushed into a return chute or left behind in a youth hostel in some far-flung corner of the globe. That stays with all of us, because everyone has their own Discworld. Their own collection of stories that remind us of why we love to read, to write, to devour the written word. This is the stuff of magic, and there’s nothing embarrassing about that.
Claire Varley’s debut novel The Bit In Between was published in 2015. Her second novel The Book of Ordinary People will be published mid-2018. Her fiction and non-fiction has appeared in places such as The Big Issue, Kill Your Darlings, Going Down Swinging, and Overland.