One More Book

How Terry Pratchett saved my life by living his.

I don’t remember very much of 2006 or 2007. I don’t remember who I met, what I said, or where I went. There are few distinct memories of those two years. Just strange pockets of warmth among a haze of self-destruction and fear. I feel aches and pains that I still can’t explain; ghosts of something awful my body knows but my mind doesn’t want me to remember.

Here’s the thought process I do remember, a near constant thudding in my brain. Should I do it now? Will it be messy? Would my parents rather bury me while I’m still here or meet my remains at the airport? There was a sense that I just could not shake — a sense that I didn’t belong, that everyone around me was better off without me; that I’d already screwed up my only chance at life. The world had done its part trying to erase me, and it was my job to clean up what remained.

Somewhere in my fugue state, an acquaintance tossed a copy of Terry Pratchett’s Mort at me. I’d stopped believing in the value of leisure. But one man saw my desperate need for escape, and asked if I’d ever gotten around to reading him. I hadn’t. There was never enough time. I had somewhere else my mind wanted me to be, and there wouldn’t be much reading there.

But I did anyway, and it was as though a fog had been lifted. Here was a universe unlike any I’d visited before, on a flat disc supported by four elephants on a giant turtle floating through space. Pratchett railed against bureaucracy, showed disdain for aristocracy, referenced Shakespeare and Lovecraft, and anthropomorphized Death as a slightly eclectic but completely rational friend who just wanted a vacation. The absurdity was a great place to build my new normal.

It was the dry British wit that cut through straight to my heart, swimming somewhere between Dickens and Wodehouse, and brought me back to a childhood I’d been robbed of. He taught me that every world spins in pain, that evil was built right into the nature of the universe, that rage was necessary, but none of that was reason to stop laughing. “And sometimes you laugh because you’re alive, when you really shouldn’t be,” he said. So I laughed.

I devoured the next five books in what seemed like a single sitting. They were all I could think about. They were all I could gradually bring myself to speak about. I sat on park benches sipping sugar-laden chai, reacquainting myself with both his world and mine. I wasn’t even close to okay, but I’d found a sliver of light in the darkness to focus on and that would have to do.

Soon thereafter, the world learned that Pratchett had been diagnosed with dementia. Discworld would slowly fade from one of the most brilliant minds we’d ever known. The news created a sudden urgency. I had to read the entire series. I had to read everything that came from his mind before it erased itself.

One more book, I told myself. If he could hold on, so could I. He kept writing. I kept reading. He advocated for the right to take his life. My own diseased mind rallied behind him. But despite it all, he kept writing, and I had no excuse to stop reading.

One more book.

And with each one, he made a generation smarter, kinder and more eager to laugh. He forced empathy on us, forcing us out of isolation, telling us we didn’t get to stop trying for selfish reasons. We face Death… and if just for a day, for a brief moment in our time on Earth, we walk right past the pain and defeat Him out of spite.

Against all odds, he managed another eight years and 12 books, not to mention countless more short stories and collections. He pledged his soul to the goddess Narrativia — I let her lead me into a career I loved. He saw his condition as an “embuggerance”, refusing to let it dictate his life, so I stopped letting mine. Here was a man who had enriched his life, who didn’t want to go, but fell victim to his own mind. Mine was still telling me to go, even as my heart registered how supremely unfair it all was.

When his death was so poetically announced last week, I felt my little normal crumble. The fog he’d been helping to stave off came back with a vengeance, long after I’d forgotten about its existence. A part of me, racked with great guilt, felt a certain joy. That our old friend Death had come and freed from his mind and the pain it brought. But even though I’d been preparing myself for years, I wasn’t quite ready for the possibility of there not being one more book.

But then I look at my bookshelf. At all the new spines that one faded copy of Mort opened the door to. At the many covers his mind lives on within. There’s always one more book.

Thank you, Sir ‘Pterry’. For more than I can say. And though Death may be the only one to hear your stories for now, I’ll wait my turn.

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