Monday, January 23, 2012

My Library: HGTTG

I don't know when I first read Douglas Adams's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I know I was fairly young and unschooled in the ways of Britishisms. There was definitely a time when I was far too young to have read it; in elementary school I know I read things that were ahead of my grade level, but Douglas Adams would be a bit much even for a precocious fifth grader. I suspect it was some time during middle school, when I lived in Pennsylvania, that I shared my experience of Douglas Adams's books (not just the Hitchhiker series, but also Dirk Gently) with my brother Caleb and my friend Doug.

While I don't know when I first read Adams, I do know that I've never lived in a home without his books (that I can recall). My older brothers all enjoyed Adams, so my parents' large library had HGTTG and Dirk Gently. Most of it, anyway. At some point I ended up with the entire collection (minus Salmon of Doubt, plus "Young Zaphod Plays it Safe") in a single book. It's one of those purchases I absolutely positively do not regret making.

What is it about Douglas Adams I enjoy? I think it's that he always brought an outsider's perspective to what he was writing. For example, in discussing teleportation,

It’s unpleasantly like being drunk.
‘What’s so unpleasant about being drunk?’
‘You ask a glass of water.’

I'm going to admit that the first time I read that, I had to go ask what it meant. His comparison of human and dolphin accomplishments, his opening discussion of why consumerism is a fairly stupid way to look for happiness, heck, almost any analogy you care to name. Each description, comparison, analogy, bit of humor just screams with a dark, gentle, twisted humor. Yes, I meant to combine those three adjectives.

Adams doesn't write hard sci-fi; like Doctor Who, it's more like science fantasy. He's willing to toss in whatever pseudoscience jargon he wants. Ordinarily that sort of thing irritates me, but he really makes it work, mostly because he never really tries to use it to explain anything, to justify anything, nor to advance the plot. Mostly it's just kookiness. I dig it.

Of course Adams isn't going to be for everyone. He was a radical atheist (his words, so no one would confuse him with an agnostic) and environmental activist. His irreverence and passion can border on the scathing. He also loved technology. Especially Macs. Of course, that was before Macs were beloved by all. In other words, he was a hipster before being a hipster was a thing.

Things Adams has written:

  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
  • Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency
  • Doctor Who

I'll cover Doctor Who when I get to the TV stuff. I can't wait.

Next up: A History of the American Revolution, by John R. Alden
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