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Ook

Sir Terry Pratchett has gone off arm in arm with his most interesting character. Sad librarians–and other fans–are sad.

meme generated by author

meme generated by author

Terry Pratchett is most famous for his Discworld novels, and with good reason, as there’s a great deal about them to love. One element that makes the Discworld series so darned appealing is that there’s no one right way to read them. While there’s technically a series order, groups of books can also be chunked into mini-series that follow particular characters. Also, there are so many different things going on in different parts of the Discworld, you can start anywhere and make your way around the planet at your leisure. Talk about a reader-friendly approach!

Another appeal factor is the fact that the Discworld is just plain ridiculous. The flat planet floats through space on the back of four elephants, who are themselves supported by a very large turtle. Its major city, Ankh-Morpork, is quite possibly the least livable place in the universe, and yet none of its citizens seem to mind…most likely because the majority of them are the most amoral, absurd characters in literature. The city’s ruler, Lord Vetinari, is the least likable leader you could imagine, and yet the city operates slightly better with him at the helm than it would without him (thanks largely to his own efforts to keep it that way).  Oh, and the head librarian at the local wizard school, Unseen University, is an orangutan whose vocabulary is limited to the words “Ook” and “Eek,” thanks to a wave of magic gone horribly wrong. Absolutely everyone and everything in Discworld is an object of potential ridicule, and often a satire/parody of our own world. Nothing is ever taken too seriously.

So, it’s kind of a zany place.

I’ve been reading Discworld novels since I was a kid, and while I haven’t pulled them off the shelf lately, there are a few I’d like to give another go, just for the sake of a proper farewell. These include:

Mort. Being Death is a pretty big job, so naturally he needs an apprentice. Mort likes the mortsound of Death’s recruitment pitch, and the benefits are terrific! But Mort is a bit of a bumbler, and so of course things go hilariously awry; also, dating becomes somewhat awkward. This was my first Discworld novel, and I found it highly amusing that Death ALWAYS SPOKE IN CAPITAL LETTERS. Several years later, when A Prayer for Owen Meany came out, I honestly thought Irving swiped that trick from Pratchett to render Owen’s unique voice in text; I’m sure now that he didn’t, but considering how Owen Meany turns out, that’s a little too spooky for words. Recommended for readers into gallows humor.

guards Guards! Guards!. Everybody knows dragons are extinct, so it’s a bit of a surprise when one swoops into Ankh-Morpork, breathes fire all over the place, and declares itself king. Coincidentally enough, a rare book on dragon-summoning has disappeared from the library at Unseen University. Hm.

It’s up to Sam Vimes, long-suffering Captain of the Watch, and his rag-tag group of guards to figure out what the heck is going on and how to set it right without getting burned to a crisp, magicked into something awkward, or otherwise killed/humiliated. Vimes and his men are hysterically inept; luckily, so is just about everybody else in the novel. Guards! Guards! is the beginning of the Watch mini-series, including–but not limited to–Men at Arms, Feet of Clay, and The Fifth Elephant. Recommended for Three Stooges fans, and anyone else who likes wacky, madcap bumbling in their fiction.

Hogfather. T’was the night before Hogswatch, and all through the Discworld there are a whole mess of problems. For starters, the Hogfather has disappeared and is unable to deliver his toys this year, something Susan hogfather(Death’s granddaughter) is going to have to remedy. To do so, she’ll have to deal with an assassin named Teatime, who’s been hired to eliminate the Hogfather. An action-packed adventure that also manages to be a poignant comment on the nature of childhood beliefs in particular, as well as myth and ritual in general. The perfect remedy for those who no longer believe in childish things, and very comforting to those who never stopped.

Going Postal. When con artist Moist Von Lipwig (yes, really) is finally caught, he’s given a choice: be hanged from the neck until he is dead, or be put in charge of the Ankh-Morpork post office. It sounds like a no-brainer for postalMoist…at least, until he starts the job and finds out just how much of a mess he’s gotten himself into.

Hindered at all turns by assassins trying to kill him, a rival communication system that’s threatening to make the post office obsolete, and the tormented cries of countless undelivered letters, Moist is determined to get the post office back up and running if it’s the last thing he does…which it just might be. Snarky commentary on competing technologies, lots of physical comedy, and a little love story to boot (Pratchett’s characters are often hopelessly crushing on unattainable people), this is a good pick for a reader who wouldn’t care for some of the more magical aspects of the Discworld, but would still appreciate the comedy.

Rest in peace, Sir Terry, and thank you for the many fine laughs you’ve given us, both in Discworld and elsewhere. Or, as your librarian might say, “Ook, eek, eek ook ook.”

–Leigh Anne

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Anyone for the Zoo?

01_29_54-elephant_webWith all the warm weather we have been having  in the past week or so, I got the child-like desire to rush off to the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium to see the animals awaken from their winter slumber. While on my journey, I noticed that we have some of the most fascinating animals residing at the zoo, many of which I knew little about. So I searched at the library and found some very informative books. Here are some of my favorites:

Sea Horses and Sea Dragons

Although this is  a children’s book, it is very informative about one of the zoo’s most exotic creatures – the sea dragon. While there are few books about sea dragons themselves, you can find plenty of information by researching sea horses, since they are members of the sea horse family.

Sea Otters

There isn’t a shortage of books written about these lovable sea mammals! In this particular book, John Love offers a wonderful introduction to the behavioral patterns of the sea otter along with an excellent outline of the trials and tribulations they face in the future.

The Elephant’s Secret Sense: The Hidden Life of the Wild Herds of Africa

The Pittsburgh Zoo is practically littered with elephants these days, which makes knowing so little about them almost  criminal! In this book, Caitlin O’Connell paints a detailed picture of elephant behavioral patterns in the wild. Also, she introduces a unique theory about the communication patterns of elephants.

Track of the Tiger: Legend and Lore of the Great Cat

Tigers, much like sea otters, have a plethora of books written about them. This particular book, however, stood out. Maurice Hornocker provides the reader a collection of essays written by a variety of  tiger lovers who describe their adoration of and  personal encounters with these  magnificent cats. Each provides a new insight to their behavior as well as the need for heightened conservation.

Komodo, the Living Dragon

The Komodo Dragon at the Pittsburgh Zoo, or No Name, is one of the more fascinating characters housed between the Asian Forest and the African Safari in warmer weather. Like the Sea Dragon, there was little I could find about the animal aside from a children’s book. Then, I stumbled across Richard Lutz’s Komodo, the Living Dragon in the Non-Fiction section and found it to be an incredible read. Not only is the nature of the Komodo Dragon described, but also their unique habitat. A great mix of travelogue with excellent insight.

Other great general books about zoos:

We Bought A Zoo by Benjamin Mee:  This is a fascinating read for anyone who ever fantasized about having  a zoo filled with exotic animals! Giving excellent insight into the financial, geographical and physical hurdles that come with undertaking such a task, Mee opens your eyes to the reality of being a zoo owner.  

And for anyone curious about the history of the zoo:

Zoo: A History of Zoological Gardens in the West

and

The Pittsburgh Zoo: A 100-Year History:  Probably one of the more nostalgic reads that has passed through my “to read” pile, this book is great for anyone who has been a longtime zoo goer and would like to see just how much it has changed over the years. 

Happy discoveries!

MA

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