If I haven’t already told you, or if you hadn’t figured it out: I don’t read a lot. I would like to, and I really do enjoy books… but my attention span is so flighty, and my standards are pretty high I guess, because nothing seems to captivate me. Usually nothing does capture my mind unless it’s Harry Potter (no, seriously), and it’s been like that since the books first came out. I used to read all the time— I was one of “those” kids. I never minded when my parents made me spend the evening in my room, or when my gift for Christmas was secondhand books. But when the Harry Potter books came out, I started reading them over and over again and disregarding all other literature in the world. I have hazy memories of the books I was assigned in high school– Snow Falling on Cedars, The Bonfire of the Vanities, Moby Dick, Atlas Shrugged, Pride and Prejudice, various others– but mostly what I remember are the midnight book release parties at bookstores, loading up on Gobstoppers and my brand new hardback, and holing myself up in my room for hours. In fact, the only downside to the Harry Potter books for me was that they only took me about 6 to 12 hours to read (less when I was reading them for the 18th time, of course).
Yes, I realize now that all this is quite lamentable. It’s like only listening to one band for years and years: Even if that one band is the Beatles, one’s senses need to experience new and different sounds. Avid music listener that I am, I’m appalled at people who don’t branch out of their musical comfort zones. I’m sure that avid readers have the same feeling about people like me, who read minimally, and only read Harry Potter at that.
So that’s why I’m glad are different for me now. I’ve been reading.
This summer, I burned my way (quite figuratively!) through several enlightening books, including The Catcher in the Rye, which quickly became one of my favorite books of all time, Siddhartha, which I did not enjoy as much as I thought I would, and a few others. I even made some notable progress in Thus Spake Zarathustra. I was so grateful for the time I was able to spend reading this summer, because it reminded me that though I am slow as a lame turtle when it comes to reading, I thoroughly enjoy it when I have the time to sink my teeth into something.
I finished The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy this week and cannot tell you how much I enjoyed it. It was different than anything I’d read before, but it also combined elements of my favorite books. It had the surreal, fantastical fictional element that makes me love Harry Potter so much (ok, ok, they’re completely different ball parks, but they both keep my attention, which is what counts). THHGTTG also had the witty, remarkably pertinent quality that I loved about Catcher in the Rye. Everyone knows that a good comedian’s tactic is to touch on things that everyone experiences but never comments on and turn them into humor, like awkward moments waiting in line or sneezing. Well, a great author does the same thing, but (sometimes) without the element of humor. If you’ve ever read Catcher in the Rye, you know what I’m talking about. The narrator is amazing at getting to the heart of everyday things we don’t realize are (or should be) abnormal– like going to the movies, or prostitution. His ability to remove himself from the story enables us to see the story almost from the perspective of third person omniscient as well as first person.
THHGTTG is like that, but on a larger scale. Instead of commenting on a few days during a seventeen year old boy’s winter in New York City in the 1950s (1940s?), its perspective is of all mankind, all universe-kind, in the future. Because of this, we may think Douglas Adams makes silly, 1984-esque predictions about life. In my opinion, Adams is actually making incredibly real, timely observations. I think he offers an astute critique of life on Earth today as well as ironic, humorous, chillingly real analyses about human behavior that will always apply.
Adams uses an obscene amount of variations of the phrase “entirely coincidental” throughout the book, enough to convince us that nothing is coincidental. I love this sort of mind game with the author. I’m not sure if he meant to make such intelligent observations about people in general, or if he just meant to tell a story, but since the book insists that coincidence exists, I wonder if perhaps the author’s observations exist only in my reading of the book…
Most of all, I love that this book makes me think (perhaps too hard). I wish I could talk about it with people, but I know this is just the way things work– I never read books like this in high school (though they were assigned) when I had the opportunity to discuss them, but now that I am reading them, no one else can talk about them because they are all engrossed in program work. Nevertheless, I plan to just keep reading. I haven’t decided on my next book yet, but I’m thinking it will probably be the sequel to THHGTTG.
I will leave you with a few of my favorite quotes from THHGTTG:
“I don’t know what I’m looking for.”
“Because… because… I think it might be because if I knew I wouldn’t be able to look for them.”
“Zaphod couldn’t sleep. He also wished he knew what it was that he wouldn’t let himself think about. For as long as he could remember he’d suffered from a vague nagging feeling of being not all there. Most of the time he was able to put this thought aside and not worry about it, but it had been reawakened. … Somehow it seemed to conform to a pattern that he couldn’t see.”
“He had turned unfathomability into an art form. He attacked everything in life with a mixture of extraordinary genius and naive incompetence and it was often difficult to tell which was which.”
“Last night I was worrying about this again. About the fact that part of my mind just didn’t seem to work properly. Then it occurred to me that the way it seemed was that someone else was using my mind to have good ideas with, without telling me about it. I put the two ideas together and decided that maybe that somebody had locked off part of my mind for that purpose, which was why I couldn’t use it.”
“How many roads must a man walk down? Forty-two.”