Feminism is definitely a major theme. One of my favorite moments in the book is when Esk's Granny Weatherwax faces off against a wizard, and they have a confrontational discussion about wizard magic (which is showy and powerful) versus witch magic (which is practical and useful - and also seldom used because psychology often works better). The conversation reminded me of nothing so much as what an argument between a doctor and a nurse might be like in an age when female doctors and male nurses were less common, with the nurse pointing out that while the doctor has his big important degrees and surgeries and diagnoses, the nurses are the ones who do all the work of actually helping people (which is true today as well, even though the fields are more gender-balanced).
It's very funny, and I think Pratchett was getting really comfortable with the Discworld and its possibilities at this point. Unlike the previous two novels, Equal Rites had a specific plot direction; the girl wizard Esk needs to get into the Unseen University, the school for wizards. I think when I originally began reading the first Discworld novel, The Color of Magic, I gave it up because the story was sort of a sprawled out thing (that, and because I was reading numerous things at once). I had a hard time focusing on the story. My second reading of The Color of Magic was far more rewarding, but it is nice to read a Discworld story that takes a more direct approach from beginning to end.
I've decided to break from the Discworld series for now, and I've started Neuromancer by William Gibson. This is yet another one of the books that I'd tried to start reading at some point prior to taking on this project, and stopped reading because I didn't get into it. Upon taking it up again, I read the first 60 pages of it in one sitting. This is a very good start considering the speed with which I normally read. It is also the result of trying to burn an audiobook to iTunes while in a library, and learning that the laptop needed me to load some critical updates or else it would insist on crashing repeatedly all day long. It just goes to show that if you want to get a lot of reading done, all you really need is 3 hours in a library and a computer that requires 4 restarts and a number of downloads before it decides to cooperate with you.
Also, I think there is a lesson to learn from all the books I half-read before and have now started again to find that they are actually interesting. The lesson is that I don't multitask as well as I think I do.
I got to see Neil Gaiman on his recent visit to Tuscaloosa, where he read several short stories and did a Q&A. He even read one story that I am not familiar with, which is impressive because I tend to be on top of these things. I don't think I could sum up the evening as well as he did, so I'll just provide this link to his blog, and note that he's right, we do read and we do need more authors to visit. We especially need him to visit again, preferably with a signing next time.