I traveled to Brisbane, determined to finish Grave.
Toronto to Brisbane is a long flight (or long, at least, in North American terms, and very long if one absolutely hates being on a plane, which your author emphatically does).
On the first leg of the journey, I sat beside a young man who pretty much spent the entire flight to LA coughing. Or sleeping. Or coughing in his sleep. This did not fill me with confidence, but it’s not like I could get up and switch seats — these days, all flights appear to be full.
I arrived in Brisbane after — yes — the longer of the two flights. (I almost wept when I checked ‘how much longer will this flight last’ and found that the ten hours I was certain I had already spent in the small seat in the dark plane was actually only three and a half.)
And then, because: jet-lag, I could not sleep for more than two hours at a stretch. For two days.
So, inevitably, I got sick. No one travels half-way around the world to get sick. At least not on purpose.
I have written. I have — absolutely — the right beginning for War. War, however, was not the book I was desperately trying to finish. Because War is not close to being finished. Grave is. On the other hand, it’s a toss-up: will Grave be finished before I am?
Ahem. The good news is: I am getting sleep and I am getting better. I am not entirely out of the coughing lungs out stage (or trying; lungs persistently appear to remain in the region of the chest at approximately the correct location in spite of their best attempts). I have tea. I am sitting down to write. (Well, okay, I am sitting down and have chopped another 2400 words out of Grave because in the light of morning, they are not the right words, and yes, this is a tad discouraging.)
While sick, my brains are generally like treacle. But slower and thicker. Other people’s books have vastly more appeal. Vastly. But, since said brains are not in high gear (or really, any gear at all), I often go back to books I’ve already read. Going back to a book I’ve read and loved is an act of faith and comfort. The book and its many words are all still there, no matter where I am, and no matter what state of mind I’m in.
I have been rereading Terry Pratchett.
Since I didn’t plan to get sick, I didn’t have his books with me. This did not turn out to be a problem. I emptied my iTunes reservoir, and picked up three books: Men At Arms, Jingo, and Night Watch (which remains my favorite of Pratchett’s books). These were joined in short order by Fifth Elephant, Guards Guards, and Thud.
And then, when I was well enough to venture out without thinking of myself as a walking plague, I bought physical copies of another four Pratchett books. Sadly, the one I wanted by that time — Going Postal, was unavailable.
Terry Pratchett will never write another book.
No new Terry Pratchett book will ever cross my desk. Nor will it brighten the threshold of the bookstore. There will be no discussions at the dinner table of my extended household (with forks in it) about who gets to read the new Pratchett first.
Readers are odd people. I know this because I am one. The emotional attachment we form to books is visceral. It can last a lifetime. Authors are not their books. I know this because: Author. Terry Pratchett was a man I did not know. I met him a handful of times (in the bookstore, actually). I don’t know what he liked to eat. I don’t know what he liked to listen to. I don’t know what he liked to read. I know nothing at all about him –
Except that he wrote my books.
Life wears us down around the edges. The stress of life and its necessities cracks things. We learn to protect ourselves. We learn not to let so much of the world in, because sometimes it’s all too much, and we don’t have the resilience we need to survive it. When we’re six, we make best friends easily. When we’re fifty, we don’t. That’s age and experience for you.
But books are different. We can let books in. We can wrap them up in our hearts. We can approach them as if we’re still young and open. Even so, it’s not as simple. Because we’re not as simple.
Terry Pratchett wrote books that I could always, always read. They could always reach me – or I could always reach them – no matter what state of mind I was in. I am not ashamed to say I cried when I heard that he died. I cried when I heard that he had early-onset Alzheimer’s. The sense of loss was, for me, profound.
This is the first time since the news of his death that I’ve returned to his books. And: there they are. Waiting for me, as they always have been. Sam Vimes is my favorite Discworld character. His anger is so familiar to me, it’s like a second home. Death hasn’t diminished him. Loss hasn’t diminished him. He vibrates on the page, as he always did.
There won’t be new books.
But these books exist. They were read. They are read. They’re still here when I need them, and they’ll always be here. Do I want more? Yes, of course – that’s human nature. But death doesn’t diminish them. They were written, they reached me, and they’ll be read, again and again, until I can’t read.