by Douglas Adams
ages: 12+ (though the older you are, the more likely you’ll get the jokes)
First sentence: “Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.”
For the Try Something New mini challenge over at Things Mean a Lot, I was paired with Laura of State of Denmark. We went back and forth a bit on what genre to read, and then what book to read, and we finally decided on the cult classic The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Laura and I sat down to chat about it last night. Be sure to drop by her blog to see her take on the book and our conversation.
what did you think of it?
Laura: Hmm… well, I definitely found it funny and caught myself chuckling and laughing on several occasions, but I never felt the burning desire to just keep reading.
I actually abandoned it for two weeks.
me: You know, me either. I’ve read it before; back when I was in high school, and parts of it have made it into family lore. But, I think it’s much funnier talking about it, than actually reading it. You know it was originally radio scripts, right?
Laura: Yes, I did see that and I can see how it probably was really successful in that way. I would listen to it no problem.
me: But it just didn’t work as well in novel form for you?
Laura: No, that’s not it at all. I liked it when I was reading it; it just wasn’t one of those “have to keep reading” books. He is really funny… reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut
me: I’ve read Vonnegut, but it’s been a while. In what way?
Laura: I guess just in the sense that he sort of mocks the absurdities of life.
The randomness of it all.
me: I can see that. Though I’m not sure Adams was going for any social commentary. I think he was just being silly. I could be wrong… Either that, or he’s poking fun at the superiority people seem to have. The dolphins show up in this book, right? So long and thanks for all the fish and all that? (It’s been a week, and already I can’t remember!)
Laura: Yeah, and the mice who really rule the world but have tricked us all.
me: The mice were funny. I liked the mice… and Arthur’s defensiveness about his brain. Did you have a favorite part, or character?
Laura: I loved the part when they are talking about all improbabilities and then Arthur makes the comment that there are an infinite number of monkeys outside who want to talk about their Hamlet script they’ve worked out.
me: That was funny. (I’m giggling thinking about it.)
Laura: I liked the really depressed robot… I can’t think of his name right now
me: Marvin! He’s the best part of the movie… Alan Rickman’s his voice, and he does a superb job.
Laura: Yes, I loved poor Marvin. I just ordered the movie. How about you?
me: I think my favorite scene was in the end when Marvin hooked himself up to the cop’s ship, and it committed suicide. That made me laugh.
Laura: Absolutely. That’s the next thing I was going to say: about the suicidal ship.
me: I liked the idea that even though Marvin was so supremely depressed, he still managed to help them. Even though he didn’t care whether they lived or died.
Laura: I also really liked the history of figuring out the meaning of life
me: Yeah. That’s actually one of the things that has made it into family lore. You say to my dad, “I have a question” and he says “42”. Every time.
Laura: That’s great. I need to use that one with my students.
me: That would be funny. I wonder if they’d get the reference.
Laura: A select few maybe.
me: Have any of them read Hitchhikers? Or is it really an 80s geeky thing?
Laura: Not that I know of. I think it is more of an 80s thing, but I definitely have some that would get a huge kick out of it. When I was in college it seemed like everyone but me had read it, now, not so much.
me: It feels like a 70s/80s book. I’m not sure I can pinpoint why.
me: It is campy. And very silly. But generally those things are timeless. Though, I’m not sure I could come up with an example off the top of my head.
Laura: It was originally written in 79.
me: I also harbor a soft spot for Zaphod Beeblebrox. If only because his name is so fun to say.
Laura: The names were a hoot
me: Found this anecdote… “Slartibartfast: I thought this character should be a dignified, elderly man, weighed down with the burden of a secret sorrow. I wondered what this sorrow should be, and thought perhaps he might be sad about his name. So I decided to give him a name that anybody would be sad to have. I wanted it to sound as gross as it…”
Laura: Nice, I love that. And I would have to agree, Slartibartfast is a pretty gross sounding name…
me: “…possibly could, while still being broadcastable. So I started with something that was clearly completely unbroadcastable, which was PHARTIPHUKBORLZ, and simply played around with the syllables until I arrived at something which sounded rude, but was almost, but not quite, entirely inoffensive.” Sorry, the text box was too small for the quote.
me: It is too funny. There’s also a long note on the sperm whale that dies near the end. But I won’t type that out.
Laura: Where did you find this? I need to check it out.
me: Hubby has the original radio scripts for Hitchhikers, and it’s from the notes in that. (For the record, I’ve only read the novel, though…) When I pulled out the book, he pulled out the scripts, and read that one out loud to me.
Laura: Ahhh, so has he read the whole series?
me: I think he’s read the first three or four of the trilogy. There’s five in all. The first two — Hitchhikers and The Restaurant at the End of the Universe — are the best.
Laura: I love that it is a trilogy with five books
me: I know; it cracks me up. I wonder if you could find a copy of the radio scripts now, or if it’s gone completely out of print?
Laura: I work part-time at a bookstore and I can do some research on that one. So overall, how would you rate this book? What did you think of it in terms of science fiction? For me, this is about the extent of my science fiction knowledge I think. I can’t name one other sci-fi book I have read, unless you count Stephen King… which I haven’t read since high school.
me: I don’t actually think it’s properly science fiction. I’ve read Orson Scott Card and Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov, all of which I think of as science fiction. Douglas Adams is a comedian in space. Which isn’t a a bad thing… it’s just not properly genre.
Laura: I like that explanation. A comedian in space.
me: I guess it would make him hard to classify in a library or bookstore: where do you shelve his books?
Laura:We have a shelf titled science fiction/fantasy and that’s where he lives.
me: It works. He’s not really humor, either. Not properly.
Laura: Yeah, sometimes he wanders over to fiction as well
me: So, are you going to find The Restaurant at the End of the Universe?
Laura: not right now. I’m putting that one on hold for a little while, but I wouldn’t say I am not going to read it ever either. How about you? You’ve read that one?
me: When I was a teenager. I only remember one part, and that’s the talking cow (“Hi, I’m your dinner tonight”) at the restaurant. That and the one line: You are so unhip it’s a wonder your bum doesn’t fall off. Aside from that, the book is unmemorable. Or it’s just been too long. My favorite Adams is The Long, Dark Tea-time of the Soul. Dirk Gently’s the main character and he meets the Norse gods. Quite funny.
Laura: I will have to check it out.
me: It might be funnier on audio book, sometime when you’re on a long road trip.
Laura: Yeah, that was what I was actually thinking about this one. I should listen to it on the way to work each morning.
me: Well, next time around.
It’s been a pleasure chatting with you!
Laura: Yes, this was fun and thanks for the little tidbits from the script; they were great.
me: My pleasure. Have a great evening!
Laura: You, too!