Reading: January 2011’s Books
As with the previous two posts I’ll use this space to explain when it is I read. On my four days off I read the way I always have throughout my life, in bed before I go to sleep. Currently I’ll read for about an hour from about 7am to 8am (I keep to work hours even on my days off as switching back and forth every four days is awkward).
On work days I don’t get home until about 8am and only have about three hours of free time each day so a dedicated reading session isn’t workable. However, on the way home I often take the train (I live just about within walking distance but I don’t always feel like walking for an hour after already working for the previous twelve) and have to wait for about twenty minutes at the station. Having a book with me also means I can read at break times if I’m there at an irregular time and aren’t with anybody else (which happens often). Sometimes there are work days when I read more than I do on off days.
That’s when I read, now here’s what I read:
At this point I was still going through Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels again – last year seventeen of the twenty-one books I read were from that series – so everything this month is from the same author and all but one are part of the same series of books. While all the Discworld books are part of the same world most of them can be split between different characters like Rincewind, the witches or Death, and the four books above are part of the Watch novels, focused on the city watch of Ankh Morpork.
The Watch (and its boss, Samuel Vimes, in particular) became a major focus of Pratchett’s for a while, with there being another book before those above and several following, which was no bad thing as there are plenty of great characters there. They weren’t written one after the other as Pratchett switches between settings depending upon what kind of story he wants to tell, and when read all one after another like this the growth of the Watch is impressively (but not unconvincingly) rapid. In Guards! Guards! it’s just four men, two of whom embrace the Watch’s irrelevance and one who drinks heavily to help avoid thinking about it. By the end of each book the stage has been set for more expansion, and by The Fifth Elephant they’re a major force in the city. The Watch and certain characters (Vimes again) undergo major changes across the series and I don’t think anybody could accuse Pratchett of maintaining a status quo. Not only are there so many different characters who become the focus of a book or more, but those that appear again and again do grow and change.
I think the Watch novels are possible my second favourite set within the Discworld series (the first being the witches, with Granny Weatherwax being a favourite character of mine in general, not just with regards to Discworld novels). I didn’t continue reading the Watch books after this because I have the rest in hardback, which makes them less portable and easy to read in the situations I mentioned at the start of this post. I might have to split my reading across two books to get around that, one I read on work days that suits those situations and then read some of the hardback Discworld books during my days off.
I’ll end this section with a quote from Men at Arms that I particularly enjoyed:
Corporal Carrot awoke around four a.m., that secret hour known only to the night people, such as policeman, criminals and other misfits.
As somebody who sees 4am every night now (at work it’s the official time of our last break of the shift) I appreciated that sentence more than I would have the previous times I’ve read the book. I think ‘misfit’ fits me pretty well.
(Click the image for a link to the source)
Good Omens is a rare non-Discworld Terry Pratchett novel and is a collaboration between him and Neil Gaiman, though I’m not sure of the exact way in which they worked together. I’ve not read any other Gaiman stories but this reads very much like a Discworld novel so I’d guess most of the writing came from Pratchett, unless they either write in a remarkably similar style or were subjected to some good editing for tone.
The story loosely follows a similar path to The Omen, being about the birth of the antichrist and the end of days, and the reluctance of some of the otherworldly beings to bring about the end, having spent thousands of years on Earth and rather liking the place and its people. Good Omens was an enjoyable book and I got a sense that Pratchett enjoyed being able to play with a contemporary setting and make some jokes that just wouldn’t fit in the (admittedly fairly flexible) setting of the Discworld.
One thing that interested me was the existence of a character called Agnes Nutter, a witch who made prophecies that were ‘nice and accurate’ but at times a little mundane, which saw the prophecies fade into obscurity. Her name is remarkably similar to that of Pratchett’s Agnes Nitt, a minor character in the Discworld book Lords and Ladies (released two years after Good Omens) who becomes part of the witches’ coven. The names are too similar to be coincidence, especially seeing as they’re both witches, and it turns out there is a shared origin (quoted from L-Space):
In fact, all these names are based on the names of the so-called Lancashire Witches. The deeds of this group on and around Pendle Hill were the subject of probably England’s most famous 17th century witchhunt and trials. The story is described in some fictional detail in a little-known book called, surprise, The Lancashire Witches, written at the end of the nineteenth century in Manchester by William Harrison Ainsworth.
(Click the image for a link to the source)
Another of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels and a fairly early one, being just the seventh in the series and written in 1989. At this point the series was still rooted firmly in its fantasy setting and this book centred on an Egypt-style nation called Djelibeybi, where gods are numerous (and often conflicting in their roles) and pyramids have actual power. I don’t think it’s a particularly notable entry but it’s not a bad little story and has some good ideas, even if by and large everything that happens is incredibly self-contained and doesn’t really extend out into other entries in the series.
One of the things I particularly liked about it (and this is something of a spoiler) involves that duality people have in their heads between what they believe and what they know. Everybody might believe the sun is pushed around the Disc by a giant dung beetle but when they actually see it happening they know it’s wrong. They can believe that their gods are real and theoretically capable of manifesting on the Disc and walking about, but they know it isn’t something that could actually happen and find it understandably weird when it does.
It’s not just a religious thing as I think we all ‘believe’ some things to be true but also understand that the world doesn’t really work like that, and if one day things did turn out to function like we believed it would be freaky more than anything. That ties in with the idea that God helps those who help themselves, that by and large believers know that the things they hope and pray for aren’t just going to magically happen, and for the most part they would be shocked if it did. Of course that doesn’t apply to everybody as there are some people who genuinely believe in the power of irrational things and would endanger their lives (or the lives of people in their power) rather than accept reality, which is incredibly sad.
Quality – January’s books were all good ones but that’s not really a surprise, for reasons that I’ll cover in the ‘newness’ section below.
Quantity – I read six books, which I’d say is a pretty good amount. Books take a lot more time to get through than films and I only managed seven of those in January, and if I kept to six books a month it would mean I’ll match 2010’s total by the end of March, making 2011 a huge increase over last year. More important is that I am reading regularly every day for about an hour on average rather than setting it aside for something else, which is something I want to keep to throughout the year.
Newness – Apart from Good Omens I’d already read every single book before, multiple times. That’s somewhat forgiveable seeing as I was in the middle of a nostalgia kick, but not something I’d want to continue through the year.
Goals – As with the other two January entries I’m writing these late (March, in fact) so I can’t make any serious goals for February as that’s already passed and I wouldn’t be able to do anything about them. Actual monthly goals will start in the February posts.