I didn’t think this book would be so emotionally difficult to get through. As readers of someone else’s fiction, it’s difficult to remember that there’s a real, down-to-earth, eats-and-breathes human behind the characters and fake world we so fall in love with. Terry Pratchett is himself, and even though Discworld was born from his head like Athena from Zeus, he’s not Discworld or any of the characters in it. In fact, to read his nonfiction is to sit in a very earthly room beside him having a very earthly conversation over a hot cup of milky tea and you feel worlds away from the Disc. It doesn’t help that he’s passed away and I’m reading this almost 2 years posthumous, so I know how it ends. I know that when I get to the last page of this book, that’s literally it. There’ll never be any more new material, and maybe it took me almost a month to get through this because I never wanted to reach that last page.
I should have guessed going into this book that it wouldn’t be a two hundred page recap of every nuance of his writing Discworld, and I’m happy to report that I’m glad it wasn’t. That probably would have become tedious. Instead, A Slip of the Keyboard is a very intimate conversation with its author about everything that doesn’t have to do with Discworld. The series comes up a couple times; there are a few short essays fully devoted to the creation and aftermath of its success, but most of the writings compiled for this collection had much to do with the other parts of Sir Pratchett’s life.
The collection is broken into three segments by topic: his writing life, his contributions from his journalism career, and lastly his diagnosis with PCA and fight for assisted death. This isn’t to say there aren’t humorous parts, there absolutely are, particularity in the front of the book. He talks candidly about feeling like a fraud in the field because he just wrote a book that happened to get really popular, and he writes with his usual rapier wit. He discusses the best things for bookstores to do when an author comes to do a signing (make sure there’s food, a pen, and a table with a chair), and he waxes nostalgic about his undying love for everything Australian. But in the last section, aptly titled “Days of Rage,” reading through this man’s battle against his disease and his fight to die on his own terms, I cried. I cried because like any good writer, Pratchett is able to take an intensely personal experience and send it out into the world to make it resonate for everyone. And it sucked to read it because we know that he never got what he was asking for.
But as sad as the ending was, I’m glad I bought this book and that I got to spend a little time getting to know the real person who wrote my favorite book series.