2011: A Year in Reading - John Horner on Pratchett, the Bible

I think the fact that both our parents read to my brothers and sister and me accounts for all four of us becoming voracious readers while very young. (My wife sometimes despairs over the many stacks of books throughout our house, though she’s rarely without at least one book on the nightstand on her side of the bed.)

I’ve read several books that at least touch upon Kansas City for my blog entries on local history — the ones on crime were particularly interesting to me.

The nonfiction book that most intrigued me this year was Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions about Sex and Desire, by Jennifer Wright Knust. The Rev. Dr. Knust shows us that, contrary to the widely accepted perception, both by believers and skeptics, the Bible does not present a uniform, consistent understanding of or set of rules for sexual relations or conduct. She explores the often contradictory stances taken in different parts of the Bible.

When it comes to fiction — well, most years bring at least one new Terry Pratchett novel, even since his illness.

Last week, I finished reading Snuff, his latest Discworld book, which came out this fall.

The first Discworld book I bought was The Truth, which I found on the remainders shelves at Barnes & Noble. A few months later I bought The Fifth Elephant from the same Barnes & Noble, and both titles remained on my shelf at home without my reading them.

Two or three years went by before I finally took The Truth from the shelf and started to invest the time to go through the entire book. I was about halfway through the book before I realized that Pratchett hadn’t divided the book into chapters—but by that time I was hooked.

I fell in love with Pratchett’s sense of humor, his use of footnotes, the wonderful world he has created, and the magnificent, vast collection of characters who are willing to work as either leading men or women, or supporting characters, with enough villains to keep complacency from boring us.

My two favorite characters are Granny Weatherwax, who is basically the head witch in all of Discworld (though she wouldn’t agree), and Sam Vimes, who first appears face down in a gutter, a cop thick with drunkenness, and through the books becomes an officer in the City Watch, a captain, the commander of the watch, a Duke, and the Patrician’s (Ankh-Morpork’s more or less benevolent dictator), the Patrician’s right hand—none of which does Vimes particularly want. Vimes and Granny Weatherwax both have recognized that they have a dark part of their souls, but choose not to give in to the darkness.

In Snuff, under duress from his wife, Lady Sybil, and the Patrician, Vimes finds himself on vacation on his wife’s family estate in the country … where he comes across a brutal murder—which, during the course of solving, leads him to discover even deeper crimes, conspiracies, and abuses of power, as well as changing the social perceptions of an entire culture forever … while giving his young son the freedom to start on his way to becoming a scientific expert on poo.

About the Author

Dr. John Arthur Horner of the Missouri Valley Room has a Ph.D. in Dramatic Art from UC-Santa Barbara, as well as a deep love of history. He is an award-winning playwright and member of the Dramatists Guild of America. He lives in Independence with his wife, two pianos, and their multitude of books.