Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Last/This Week's Book: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

For the first time in Book a Week, I've read more fiction books (16) than non-fiction books (15). Considering 11 of the first 14 books I read this year were non-fiction, I find that... oddly interesting? A necessary evening out of the numbers? Either way, here's a new entry and there'll be a far less fictional one coming up soon too. Beyond that, who knows?

July 29-August 4: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Science Fiction (1979 - 143 pp.) 

I somehow hadn't read this yet. Owing to its classic status, its fast pace (always important when you're reading so many books in such a short period), and the fact hat seemingly everything on the internet references it in some way, I figured I should. I also recently bought the five-volumeUltimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, one of many collections I've been reading from, so if my page counts ever seem off that's why. 

The toughest aspect of reading this book for me was that everything seemed a little too familiar. Unfortunately, you'll share the experience after reading this entry if you don't already. I had seen references to bypasses, heard about Vogon poetry, heard the phrase "Mostly Harmless", had stumbled across Babel Fish, knew the Answer to LUE, knew what the Restaurant at the End of the Universe was... then of course, none of these would have been spoilers if the story had been more conventionally written. I like the lack of a distinct plot, and Douglas Adams could not have known his book would be so referenced in such an all-encompassing way. Certain topics were surprises, so I won't mention them here, but readingThe Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was more of a "when do I get to the ____ part?" experience for me than any real topical discovery. 

Adams's sense of humour is on point, from the ironic (the bypass through Earth) to the dry (the aliens indeed being green, as Ford puts it) to the absurd (the argument about sitting in front of bulldozers, which was one of my favourite parts of the book). The literary value of Vogon poetry or the impact on philosophers' occupations due to the Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything being known are nice jabs at their intended targets. The needless and profligate Vogon bureaucracy is something undoubtedly identifiable to many of Adams's readers. Adams avoids going too far into commentary, unlike some of his preachier contemporaries, putting in just enough to be funny without being heavy-handed. The whole thing is also more definitively British than I'd expected, in both the type of humour involved and some of the phrasing. ("Nuts to <insert thing you want to say 'nuts to'> here!") 

The plot is coherent but lacks any sticking quality due to the intentional craziness of devices like the Infinite Improbability Drive. The otherwise fun effect of the reader truly having no idea of what will happen at any given moment prevents the reader from becoming attached to any individual character. While I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Arthur Dent getting skyrocketed through various parts of the universe, I couldn't have cared less if he died at any point during it. For parody's sake, and for the statements Adams makes about whatever comes to his mind, it works fine. Learning about the details we apparently didn't know about our surroundings is way more interesting than anything the overtly mediocre Dent offers us anyway. 

I'm glad I've read this. Once Book a Week ends, whenever I have a few spare moments for light reads, I now have four more sitting on my bookshelf. 

Aside: Ford's copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is much like an e-reader. I can only imagine the smile that would have crossed Adams's face had he seen a Kindle or a Nook... 

Ease of Reading: 10 
Educational Content: 2

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