Book notes: Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

I find it harder to write reviews of fiction than of nonfiction. I think it’s because, once we get past the basic questions (Can this author write a decent sentence? Do they understand grammar? Is there an actual plot? Are the characters believable?) we get to subjective questions.

For example, I hated Moby Dick with all the whale-hunting passion of a true Ahab.

I never got through anything by Faulkner even though I am from Mississippi and got my English degree from Mississippi State University.
(Note: Faulkner was from Oxford, MS, home of the rival university, so maybe that’s the issue. Probably.)

I gave up on Everything Is Illuminated and I’ve been trying to push my way through Infinite Jest but I don’t like it.

My point is that these authors are surely talented and amazing and their books worthy of the acclaim they’ve received. I don’t like them, but that’s my subjective right. I get to have preferences.

I guess that’s a long caveat to say that a fiction review is difficult because I may love the book, and rave about it, and you may pick it up and think *What the ever-living heck.* Which is why it’s also so treacherous to take book recommendations from friends. Which is why when Dan gave me this recommendation I thought, “Cool! A book rec!” immediately followed by, “OH NO WHAT IF I HATE IT.”

I guess, Dan, I’d have said, “Hey, thanks for the recommendation, but I hate this book.”

Fortunately I do not hate it.

I like it.

This is the first Pratchett I’ve read. It will not be my last. Next up is The Color of Magic (the first in his ever-loving, never-ending Discworld series) and Good Omens (his collaboration with Neil Gaiman).

How is this the first Pratchett I’ve read? I don’t know.

Pratchett jumps in to the story. His writing is witty, full of biting humor that makes you laugh and also flinch a little. But mostly laugh. So, the best kind of humor.

Is satirical mythology a genre? Because that’s how I would categorize Pratchett’s writing (all one book that I’ve read of it, so far). Pratchett does a lot of punching of sacred cows, but he does it in an ever-important context: a good story. So even if one of those sacred cows is sacred to you, you’ll keep reading and laughing and wincing because you like the story and you like the people in the story and you’d like to know what happens next.

In Small Gods, Pratchett’s observations about religion and religious systems (and the subsequent moral blindness, fear-dominated thinking, meaningless yet ingrained patterns of behavior, and violence) are sharp. Direct. Hilarious. And so good. He has a way of saying the things you’ve noticed but never articulated, and/or in a way that’s much more coherent and witty than what you’ve tried to say. Or at least that’s my experience.

You know how some books have a way of entering your life at the right moment?

This is one of those for me. If I’d read this book 10 or even 5 years ago, I’d probably have been too offended to enjoy it. (I would have finished it, because story! but I would have felt indignant the whole time.)

Now, though, I’m walking my own path and realizing that my faith is separate from religion and thus find that I am free to be honest about what I see in religion and the systems thereby produced. It’s refreshing and hilarious to read Pratchett, to nod and go, “Yeah, THAT! That’s exactly it!”

Dan, thanks for the recommendation. I can now accept book recommendations from you with only 45% trepidation that it might be something I hate.

(Side note: I really love book recommendations despite the trepidation, so, you know, bring ‘em on.)

Read it! The turtle moves!