“A Slip of the Keyboard” is a collection of nonfiction by Terry Pratchett, the prolific and best-selling author of the “Discworld” novels. Included are essays, speeches, interviews, articles, and more – almost 60 pieces in total – written as early as 1963 (Pratchett was born in 1948) and as late as 2011 (the vast majority comes from the 90’s and 00’s). The book is divided into three primary parts. The first and longest section focuses on themes relative to being a professional writer. The second part deals with Pratchett’s early experiences and development. The third part consists of Pratchett’s commentary on social issues (e.g., posterior cortical atrophy and Alzheimer’s disease, socialized medicine, death with dignity and assistance, and even orangutans). There’s a fourth part as well, but it has only one article. Following the more serious tone of the third part, it’s a wry ending that’s perfectly Pratchett.
Those familiar with Pratchett’s writing will find exactly what they expect in this volume: wit, intelligence, humor, and warmth. As the items included come from varying times and sources, there’s considerable repetition. Anecdotes and examples are revisited throughout the book. This highlights one thing, Pratchett’s message has been consistent. He’s an ardent defender of “fantasy” as a genre and reading in general. He believes in the general goodness of humanity and is as shocked as anyone by his considerable success. An occasional political or religious comment may alienate a few (there’s a barb or two that might be informed more by humor than charity) but he generally writes so compassionately and with such respect that most will appreciate his viewpoint even if they disagree. Aspiring writers may particularly appreciate Pratchett’s wisdom and insight even if, sadly, no magical Holy Grail exists for achieving publishing success.
Neil Gaiman, Pratchett’s friend and one-time collaborator, penned a moving foreword that captures something of the indomitable spirit of the author. Perhaps I’m being overly sentimental, but it may justify the price of admission alone.
In addition to the aforementioned repetition, there’s also an inherent unevenness in the entries. Given the variety in structure and occasion for writing, that’s to be expected. Simply gloss over the less relevant entries and bask in the remaining treasure trove – for that’s what it is. If I were to rate each article or essay individually, the ratings would be all over the place, from 2’s (I couldn’t even really relate to a couple of his early journalism entries – maybe they were uniquely British) to 5’s. But taken as a whole, “A Slip of the Keyboard” easily merits five stars.
The wit, class, and humanity that permeate Pratchett’s fiction are equally in evidence here. I’m just one of many Kevins (see the twelfth chapter of the same name) who are extremely grateful for the inestimable gift of Pratchett’s writing.