There are three boxes of books lying next to my new bookshelves. They’ll be the first to go on the shelves when I’ve finished painting them. These books aren’t part of the hundreds that lie still in the attic, waiting. These aren’t new. Most of them are by Terry Pratchett, just about every book he’s written, plus a lot of extra Discworld material, maps, guides, the science of Discworld, that sort of thing. The only things missing, as far as I can see, are the three nome books and I think I know why.
These are my Uncle Michael’s books. I say ‘are’, but Michael died almost a year ago, aged not quite 65. You’d imagine then that I’d say the books were Michael’s. I’ll always think of them as being Michael’s though, the way I think of the cast iron pan I use that belonged to my grandmother as being Gran’s pan. People give you strange things sometimes as keepsakes of people who died: things you don’t even remember seeing in their houses when they were alive, things you’ll never use, jewellery you’ll never wear. Michael’s Terry Pratchett books are a perfect keepsake. They are something that I know he loved, that he and I shared a love of, and that I will use, and as I do so think of my lovely uncle.
To tell the truth, it’s odd I haven’t got them all already. I have read the majority of them and will again, but mostly from the library though. I’d pounce whenever I came across one I hadn’t already read. They’re clever, and funny, and thoughtful, and there always seems to be some new twist that the plot can be lead down to embrace some new aspect of Discworld and gently poke fun at our own world. Why don’t I already own them all? I think perhaps I when I started reading them there were already too many out there. I felt I’d never catch up with them all, and what was the point if I couldn’t have the whole set? Who knows? Perhaps fate kept me from collecting them, so my shelves could be home to Michael’s collection. (If you’re wondering, the nome books are missing because, of all the stuff that Terry Pratchett wrote, these were the ones that Michael had no time for. I have only one of them myself, because Michael was right, and one is more than enough.)
Not long ago, when Michael retired, he made himself a library, a little room with books floor to ceiling and a comfortable chair to sit in. It was something he’d been planning for a while, a quiet reading place full of books. He showed it to me with such pride, this special space, and knew that I envied him it. I cannot begin to imagine how hard it must be for Sandra to dismantle Michael’s library, made for him to grow old in, but used for so little time.
I notice Michael’s books don’t have his name in. I do write in mine, the ones I plan to keep, generally my name and the date and place I first read the book. Not in the second hand ones though. I feel books I’ve bought second hand belong in some way to the person who has first written their name, and even if there is no name they still somehow belong to some other person. I plan to write in Michael’s books. I shall write ‘from the library of Michal Byrne’. I know he’d like that.