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Each book is fully stand-alone

This is 100% not true. It USED to be true (or at least MORE true) but it no longer is.

There are a lot (I’d go so far as to say roughly a third or so of the complete canon) of Discworld books that don’t stand by themselves well at ALL. Most of them are from later in the series (the notion that Thief of Time or Making Money stand up well by themselves is laughable) but even a lot of the earlier to middle ones assume that the reader has some familiarity with the Discworld canon and then act accordingly.

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As the one who suggested this post, I am a)tickled it actually came to be, and b)very appreciative, and shall follow this advice accordingly.

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I’ve read three Discworld novels, including Mort, and whatever joy is supposed to kick in has not done so. I get and respect that Pratchett inspires a fervent and deep joy in many people, but after making a good-faith effort, I must conclude that I’m not one of them.

I suspect some of it may be timing. 30 is the wrong age to start these books, I think. I’m not calling them juvenile, you understand, just that certain impressions need to be made at certain times. I still love Douglas Adams, but if I hadn’t started reading him at 13, I might not feel the same. Iain M. Banks made no sense to me when I was 15, and suddenly became a genius when I was 18. I’d probably have found the Song of Ice and Fire books unspeakably plodding and tedious when I was a kid, but I loved them this year.

So yes, I think I may have missed my Pratchett Window.

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Enlight_Bystand said on August 28th, 2011 at 6:47 pm

@Noah Brand and yet, my Mum is an avid Prachett reader (my christmas present to her most years is the latest Prachett) and started in her forties…

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The Discworld series are a group of novels that I’ve found myself obsessed with since The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents.

Having read thirty-something of the books, and reading the earliest books later, has caused me to realize how accessible they are all across the board.

That being said:

a) John’s suggestion on how to dive in is remarkably good.

b) I was not a huge fan of Unseen Academicals, though that can of course be attributed to Pratchett’s decline in mental health.

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VoodooBen said on August 28th, 2011 at 8:12 pm

I feel lucky enough to have experienced the Discworld in chronological order, twice. I was assigned The Colour of Magic for an English class in college and just kept right on reading the series after I finished.

Having said that, I concur that Mr. Seavey’s (ever so slightly) revised reading order makes a lot of sense – I also feel it should be pointed out that Tiffany Aching’s adventures can be read completely independent of the Discworld proper, and that someone not incredibly fond of fantasy as a genre should give NATION a read (NATION is not only my favorite Pratchett novel, but possibly my favorite novel ever).

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sgt pepper said on August 28th, 2011 at 8:15 pm

I would suggest Mort as the best starting place–hilarious, great adventure, followed by Guards Guards.

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“Not that he’s unlikeable, but he’s a cynic and a coward and really only has one bona fide moment of true heroism in the roughly seven books he stars in. ”

And yet he’s constantly saving the day. So much that Pratchett lampshades it in both “The Last Hero” and “Unseen Academicals”…

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@Murc: I disagree. I think they read _better_ if you’ve read the preceding novels in that particular subseries (‘Thief of Time’ is improved by having read ‘Mort’, ‘Reaper Man’, ‘Soul Music’ et al)…but I think that Pratchett does a good job of giving a first-time reader the context they need to understand things. He inserts cunning little “refreshers” in there for the experienced readers that also serve as capsule descriptions for the new reader. The Auditors of Reality are bad because they think human beings clutter up the universe, Death is the Grim Reaper, Susan is his granddaughter (via adoption), the History Monks watch history, here we go. I wouldn’t recommend starting at the last one and working your way back or anything, but I don’t think it’s as inaccessible as you imagine.

@LurkerWithout: Yes, but crucially, he’s always backed into a corner and forced into doing something heroic to save his own skin. Only once does he turn around and very deliberately go into a “certain death” situation for no reason other than it’s the right thing to do.

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Also once a person has got a couple Unseen University heavy books under their built I’d recommend hunting down the three Science of Discworld books. One, for the Discworld chapter separations. Two, because they’re some of the best things I’ve read for explaining how science works…

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I started out with Hogfather and just read whatever books I could find in the library before I went back and bought everything else so I could read the rest in order.

The books do a good enough job of standing by themselves* that I wasn’t bothered by the fact that it happens fairly late in the “Death family” arc. Having said that … there are a lot of Easter Eggs you’ll get if you read in order.

*Except for the first two books which read like one book cut in half.

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Black Rabbit said on August 29th, 2011 at 1:50 am

I think one should start with three books – Wyrd Sisters, Mort, and Guards! Guards! – as they introduce (and are also quite good) the three “main” branches (Lancre witches, Death, and the Watch) that make up the main body of Discworld. From there, follow the branch that you like best, with forays into other bits, like Small Gods and Moving Pictures. As in any Discworld Starter Kit, packing this map is essential:

http://www.lspace.org/books/reading-order-guides/the-discworld-reading-order-guide-20.jpg

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Black Rabbit said on August 29th, 2011 at 1:53 am

Oh, and my very first DW was Mort, which was in my initial order when I got suckered into one of those “10 SF/Fantasy books for $10!!” offers in a magazine ad (was probably Epic, or Dragon, or Omni) back in the day.

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Someone gave me the first 4 as a gift, and I enjoyed them enough as light reading that I picked up the next book in the series that my bookstore had, Small Gods. And I fell in love. It’s taken a while, but I’ve now read just about everything Pratchett’s ever written and Small Gods is still my favorite. It’s also completely self-contained, so it’s always the novel I recommend to people to start with.

If you don’t like Small Gods, Discworld probably just isn’t for you.

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dangermouse said on August 29th, 2011 at 5:37 am

the notion that Thief of Time or Making Money stand up well by themselves is laughable

Thief of Time was literally the first Pratchett book that I ever read and I pretty much loved it and then went on to read all the other Discworld books, so, uh.

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dangermouse said on August 29th, 2011 at 5:44 am

Then I loaned my copy of Thief of Time to my friend who’d also never read any Discworld before and he also loved it and went on to read a bunch of the Discworld books and also never gave me my book back which is a bit upsetting because it was a hardcover and everything.

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dangermouse said on August 29th, 2011 at 5:55 am

I wouldn’t recommend starting at the last one and working your way back or anything, but I don’t think it’s as inaccessible as you imagine.

In all seriousness, having (basically, more or less, with a lot of general jumping around) done this, I totally would.

The key point I think being that, as the corollary to what you said in your response to Murc – the earlier books in a given subseries ended up being really rewarding because I’d read the subsequent ones.

Which owes a lot to the way Pratchett encapsulates books’ worth of detail in a way that in reading comes across as not actually any different from the off-the-cuff worldbuilding he’s doing on the spot, so when you dip into a previous book and find out that one intriguing anecdote from the novel you just read is actually laid out in an entire three hundred pages or so worth of first-rate storytelling, you just get this really incredible sense of the bottomless richness of the series.

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Personally, I’ve always divided everything into pre-Reaper Man and post-Reaper Man. Pre-Reaper Man, it’s basically parody of fantasy (and a little sci-fi). Post-Reaper Man, you have satire. If you’re looking to find out why people seem to love Pratchett, pick up Reaper Man, Men at Arms, or Lords and Ladies. The others set up background, but those are really around the highest water mark. It’s also useful to understand that the different “lines” address different ideas.
Death books are among the more difficult to classify, but for the most part, they’re about weighty concepts of what it means to be human. Witches books are about stories and the elements of stories for the most part. The Guards books are usually about socio-political concepts (war, government, law, etc). Lately, the “industrial” books (the Truth, Going Postal, Making Money) are pretty much also about modern current events (journalism, the rise of the internet, and modern finanace and banking respectively). To that end, I’d say that Small Gods really belongs grouped with these (it’s about religious expression, really), and that Pyramids is more or less a stand alone book.

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@Entertained Organizer: I am deeply in love with Discworld and less deeply in love with Small Gods. I’m not sure I would have liked Small Gods as much as I did had I not read Carpe Jugulum (and heck, Good Omens) first. Because as a religious person, I can have a lot of fun mocking overblown religion and feel a duty to smack down intolerant zealots, but I don’t enjoy mockery of my God. If I’d read Small Gods first, I might have had some trouble making the distinction. Not that I wouldn’t have still enjoyed it – haven’t found the Discworld book yet that wasn’t well worth my time to read – but I doubt I’d have discovered my passionate love for Discworld anywhere near as fast.

I jumped around a ton with Discworld, but I did generally read the Watch books straight through because I’d seen Night Watch in the library and wanted to be able to read it. And it was awesome. I recommend reading either City Watch, Death, or Witches straight through if you’re unsure whether you want to commit to the entire fandom, as they’re reasonably self-encapsulated but give you really good groundwork to hop around later as you please. And they’re all, with the exception of their first books, extremely strong series, unlike the Wizards (which include a lot of the aforementioned journeyman work).

John gets my respect for figuring out a great approach to tackling the entire series. Now can we do the Doctor Who post? I’m addicted to New Who but intimidated about archive-diving the rest.

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BlairHippo said on August 29th, 2011 at 10:34 am

This cannot be emphasized enough: do not start at the very beginning. “… you’ll also be struck by how much Pratchett has evolved as a writer in those first eleven years. He went from being a good writer to being a truly great writer…” I have to call Fanboy on this description of early Pratchett; it’s true only if your definition of “good” is really, really generous. I read “The Colour of Magic” after having read a dozen or so later titles, and my reaction was “My God, how did this ever get published?!”

Thank heavens it did, though, as Pratchett improves immediately and only gets better. “Wyrd Sisters” and “Guards! Guards!” are indeed excellent starting points because Pratchett had largely found his voice by then.

But, seriously? This isn’t doorstop serialized fantasy; it’s episodic as hell. This is a feature. Some starting points are better than others, but you really can jump in just about anywhere. (Though check the foreword; if Pratchett is approaching a novel as a sequel rather than as a stand-alone, he’ll warn you.) Yes, you’ll get more out of it if you’ve read what’s come before, but there’s a big difference between “There are nuances and jokes I’m not getting because I don’t understand the significance of this walk-on character doing that” and “I am hopelessly lost and should just play some video games instead.”

With rare exceptions, Pratchett writes each novel to stand on its own, even if it winds up covered with tendrils connecting it to its predecessors. Would I recommend you start with, say, “Thud!”, the most recent of the Watch novels? Well, all things being equal, you’re better off starting with “Guards! Guards!” and working your way up. But if you ever find yourself bored and a copy “Thud!” just happens to be within arm’s reach, grab it and start reading. It’s a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end; which is pretty damned amazing for the thirty-somethingth book in a series.

So the answer to the question “Where do you start with the Discworld books?” is, in truth, “Wherever you damn well want.”

… unless it’s at the very beginning.

Don’t do that.

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So the answer to the question “Where do you start with the Discworld books?” is, in truth, “Wherever you damn well want.”

… unless it’s at the very beginning.

Don’t do that.

Yeah, Strata really isn’t very good…

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So way back in the day, I started with Mort, and it did me well. Others have recommended it here, and John, you’ve hung a lampshade on it… but that makes for an interesting question: Why steer away from Mort?

Also, I appreciate Sisyphus’s preceeding comment pointing out where the Discworld books became real-world commentary. Before that Pterry had just created a droll and inviting landscape, after that, he became a capital-A Author

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@Kirala I’ll confess I’d never really thought about it from that perspective. To me Small Gods has always been about mocking organized religion, rather than faith which I think is an important distinction. But that may be because I grew up Catholic and first read Small Gods a little over a decade ago when the child abuse scandal was just starting to come to light here in the States.

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“Yeah, Strata really isn’t very good…”

You know, That’s actually the first Pratchett book I ever read? I seem to recall that I liked it at the time. I don’t remember much of it, except the general thesis of Discworld being made to order by a super high-tech space construction company. I should reread that…

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Well, starting with Mort would be a bit more complicated, since you have two Rincewind books to skip and hold back for the catching-up. It also would make the catching-up more strongly Rincewind-centric, which might make it more difficult to take, honestly.

In fact, I’d consider putting off the catch-up even later: skip Interesting Times and don’t go back until between Jingo and The Last Continent [at which point Rincewind joins the Wizards thread, more or less, so you can’t really put it off any further], and enjoy Mort as a prequel to the Susan books. This lets the catch-up end on a much hiegher note…

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Yeah, pretty much what Jeff R said. Starting with ‘Mort’ leads you straight into ‘Sourcery’, which is really pretty skippable for any but the hardened Pratchett fan (although it contains one of my favorite Pratchett lines. “What makes life worth living?” “CATS. CATS ARE NICE.”) It’s the last of his “throw in everything including the kitchen sink” romps, before he got better at focusing, and it’s got a very downer ending (although, of course, subsequent books leaven that a lot.)

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@Javaman: Mine was actually the Bromelide trilogy (series about gnome/Littles/Borrower type people who live in the cracks of human civilization) as a little kid. Though it wasn’t until I’d got way into Pratchett as a teen-ager that I realized that he had written them…

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My reading order was The Colour of Magic followed by a long pause (about a decade?) in which I completely failed to find a copy of The Light Fantastic… then one day giving up and buying Thief of Time and Night Watch, reading them in some order and falling completely in love. (I still think those books are the best he’s done, though I love pretty much all the others.) I then read all the others in the order of what I found available for sale.

Thief of Time completely stands on its own. There were things I didn’t fully appreciate, and spoilers for other novels (I had greater expectations for that one minor character in Small Gods, for instance) but nothing in the story really requires you to have read the others before.

But when you, say, realize that the Big Event from Thief of Time is what CAUSED the problem in Night Watch and it doesn’t matter for understanding either story? That’s pretty cool.

But all the best novels are better the second time.

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Thanks for this. I have a lot of friends who’s opinion I normally trust telling me how great Pratchett is but having only read The Colour of Magic (and okay, Good Omens) I just had to shrug and assume he was not for me.

Time to give him another try.

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Small Gods is a great stand alone, and I generally recommend it or Hogfather or any of the Watch novels for newbies.

My very rigid ex-husband loved sword and sorcery novels, and when he saw me devouring Pratchett, he wanted to try out a book. Which had to be the first in the series. None other would suffice.

No matter how much I told him that The Colour of Magic was the weakest book of the lot, that it was easy to dive in almost anywhere else, and that he probably wouldn’t like it, he insisted on reading it, complained all the way through, didn’t pick up anything else by Pratchett, and left our marriage still wondering about my bad taste.

(So did I, but in a somewhat different context.)

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Of all the odd places to start, I began with Soul Music – namely because it was on the shelf in my university’s browsing library, and the bone guitar (and subsequently humor in the few pages I flipped through) caught my attention first. I don’t know that I’d recommend it for all as a starter (I usually recommend Guards! Guards! or sometimes Mort) but it worked for me! (And then I became a huge fan and read all the books and co-founded the North American Discworld Convention. DUN DUN DUUUUN.) :)

So my advice is always for the person to just flip through a few books (if they can) and pick up the one that most appeals to them.

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Gentleman Bones said on September 26th, 2011 at 11:10 pm

I feel like Soul Music is a perfectly serviceable jumping on point for the Death series, despite taking place in the exact middle. It’s also an incredible treat for music fans. I don’t think anyone expected Blues Brothers references in a medieval fantasy universe.

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Darkboudicca said on October 11th, 2011 at 11:56 am

Nice post. I started reading Pratchett with Guards!Guards! & subsequently read all the Watch books, as well as Going Postal & Making Money. I enjoyed the watch books & Moist’s stories tremendously, but couldn’t get into the witches books. I’ve since stopped there.

While I think Feet of Clay is the best thing I’ve read by Pratchett, his style is the kind that begins to grate on my nerves after a few books. He’s definitely a small doses author for me.

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