You know how we all have some questions we’d rather never be asked? Not because the answer is embarrassing or anything but because it is impossible. Or is it just me? There is one question I really, really dread and I was recently faced with it. What is my favorite book of all time? What book, I interpreted it, would I take with me when the world starts falling apart and we have to run away, fast? What book, to continue, would I take to my tomb if I were an ancient warrior who wanted to enter the Afterlife prepared? Well, crap, I told myself. Now I have to answer it.
Let me start by saying I like playing the desert island game. Who would I take to a desert island? What food would I take with me if I’m going to a desert island, etc. But a book? One single book? Forget it. There is no way in heaven, hell, or purgatory I’d settle for just one, unless I have a gun or Negan’s Lucille to my head. So let’s assume I have a gun or Lucille to my head and settle for one, then. Let’s make things easier for a change. My answer would be “Guards! Guards!”.
“Guards! Guards!” is the book I took with me to the hospital when I went to have my daughter. Does this make it my all-time favorite book? Nope. I wouldn’t even say it’s my favorite Terry Pratchett book because I love them all. But now that the dreaded question got me thinking, I realized I took “Guards! Guards!” to the hospital (not that I got a chance to read it, of course) for purely sentimental, selfish reasons. Which is dumb but there it is.
This book has it all: it has an adventure, it has The Pratchett Humor, it has a (very) flawed hero and an unlikely, decidedly non-model-like, heroine, and yes, they end up together, and there’s a moral in the story, and the moral is anything is possible and don’t mess with dragons, and if Pratchett hadn’t written “Guards! Guards!” there wouldn’t have been a guards series, and, well, my life would have been that much emptier because if I were a fictional character I would be Samuel Vimes.
Have you ever identified with a character? I don’t mean wanting to be like someone you read about, relating fully to a well written non-existent person. I mean realizing you are this person in most respects. Reading about what you would do in a situation, almost asking “How did the author know?!” Have you? For those who haven’t yet, I wish to you that the future brings such a character into your life. For those who have: it’s a blast, right?
“Guards! Guards!” is not the best guards book in the series but it is the first. Without it, there would be no series. There would be no “Men at Arms” or “Feet of Clay” or “Thud” or the absolutely brilliant “Night Watch” and “Snuff”, which must be in all high school curricula because they are so bloody topical it’s scary. You think we live in “1984”? We do but we also live in “Night Watch” and a few other books, I’m sure.
But enough about “Guards! Guards!” Let’s go back to that dreaded question and what my likeliest answer would be if we assume, for a change, nobody is holding a gun or Lucille to my head, eager to bash my brains in. (I dreamed I had most of my brain taken out of my skull last night and I still haven’t shaken it off, I guess.)
Imaginary person taking me to a desert island: So, what’s the one book you’ll take with you to this desert island we’re sending you so you can get away from everything and everyone, and all the noise and the exhaust fumes?
Me: Oh, well, I’ve already packed “Guards! Guards!” and a notepad and a dozen pens and pencils and a sharpener but since I’m quite strong, can I take another bag? I’ll leave the second pair of shoes and take a few more books if that’s all right, thank you. I’ll just take the complete Pratchett series–all right, fine, I’ll just take the guards series and the witches series, and–okay, just these two, and five kilos of Stephen King, as well. I’ll just grab a few of his works without looking so I don’t have to choose between “The Shining” and “Firestarter” but I’m definitely taking “The Talisman” and “Black House” because I’m kind of in love with Jack Sawyer. Also, I’ll just slip in “A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters” here with “Night Watch” or maybe “Day Watch” or just any of the Watches, really. Also, I’d like to take “Eclipse” but don’t tell anyone because–oh, I don’t care, tell everyone I’m taking a Twilight book to a desert island. Is there any space left?
Imaginary person taking me to desert island: Erm.
Me: That’s okay, I’ll just take out this jacket. Who needs a jacket on a desert island, right? It has to be tropical! I just remembered I’m not going anywhere without “Good Omens.” So, let’s have this and since now there’s some space freed by the jacket, I’ll grab “Let the Right One In” and “Baudolino.” And maybe…
Imaginary person taking me to a desert island: We have to go or we’ll miss the boat.
Me: No, I can’t leave yet, I have this feeling I’m missing something.
Imaginary person taking me to desert island: Puts gun/Lucille to my head.
3 thoughts on “That One Book”
I agree, Guards! Guards! was a very important book. The watch novels are my favorite, with the exception of Monstrous Regiment, and perhaps Making Money. But I disagree about Snuff. I didn’t like it as much as previous books. I think Pratchett was already showing signs of fading with that one. Thud! was one of the best and close to Pratchett’s apex, in my opinion. If I had to take a book with me to a stranded island, I think it would be the Lord of the Rings trilogy. For one, it’s long! And also extremely deep and dense, making it worth rereading several times over.
By “with exception” I mean I like those books more than most of the watch novels, not that they are bad watch novels. Oops.
Ah, a fellow fan! There are no bad Watch novels, that’s for sure. Monstrous Regiment and Making Money I don’t count among them, since the focus is not on the Watch but yeah, I could skip them when I pack for that island.
You may well be right about Snuff but I’m totally incapable–and unwilling–of having even a remotely objective opinion on Pratchett’s books. One of my professors once asked if I didn’t think he’d exhausted his genius around Interesting Times. I took it personally. That said, I don’t feel an urge to read that Dodger book he wrote towards the end, or complete the Tiffany series. The rest I’ve read several times each. I might have missed a lot of probably good books because I’ve been re-reading Pratchett.