The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

It’s been a very long time since I’ve written on here, busy as I was (am) educating the youth of America (ie: trying to make them be quiet for forty-five minutes at a stretch and failing) so it seems fitting that this review would be for a book I first read over half my lifetime ago. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (1979) is a science fiction humor classic and I was lent the entire five book “trilogy” when I was deeply ill my Junior year in High School. Recently I contemplated teaching it to my Literature in the Media class, but there’s an issue: the book is too smart.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is, in it’s own words, “a wholly remarkable book” that manages to blend the driest British humor with a very large dash of Monty Python. The first book follows Arthur Dent the day his home is destroyed, first by a bulldozer, then by a large spaceship. He ends up homeless in many senses of the word and hitchhiking through space with his friend Ford Prefect, an alien. After the pair escape the Vogons (who bulldozed Earth) they join up with Zaphod Beeblebrox, President of the Galaxy; and Tricia McMillan aka Trillian, who Arthur once failed to pick up at a fancy dress party. Zaphod has stolen a very lovely space ship, the Heart of Gold, which is equipped with an Infinite Improbability Drive, which pretty much makes the most unlikely thing possible happen. All of this is done with a ton of self-referential tongue-in-cheek humor and I absolutely love it, though my boyfriend kept asking “Is this part supposed to be funny?” and then put it down, for good, after about one chapter.

There’s the rub. You have to find this specific type of humor hilarious to really get into the book, or else you won’t realize that it’s funny at all. It’s the silliness bordering almost on nonsense kind of humor, the They Might Be Giants type of fun (a band who he also doesn’t get). I don’t think my students, even my Seniors who are in an Honors English elective, are capable of really getting into the text because I think almost all of the jokes will go right over their heads. Still, I’m considering assigning it as homework reading next year, in part because my classroom came with a class set of novels so I can assign it with no expense on anyone’s part, aside from emotional, of course.

The other charm of the book is that I love the ideas in it: the Vogons are a race of aliens whose poetry is so bad that one of them was killed by his own intestines to save the universe from hearing it; the Babelfish (an online translation service now) which feeds off people’s brainwaves, poops out being able to understand anything said in any language, so you can (and should) keep one in your ear; that in the book mice are hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings who are experimenting on us to get “the ultimate question” whose answer is 42. These ideas are just so enjoyable to be immersed in that Hitchhikers is one of those books that I just sit back and drift though, delighted.

The ending drops off a bit of a cliff with them suddenly wanting dinner, but Adams had wanted it to be a multi-book story from the beginning. Sadly he died before the sixth and final book was completed, and it was written by someone else. I’m working my was back through the original five books now, so we’ll see how I feel as I go. For now I’m happy to have re-read book one, since it’s always nice when nostalgia holds up to reality.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

A student gave me a copy of Neil Gaiman’s 2013 novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane and asked that I read it, otherwise I would have never read another work by Neil Gaiman in my life. The premise of the novel is interesting enough: three women, who are obviously the three fates of myth, are alive and well in England. They are also magical and come from another dimension, but their coming-from-another-dimension-ness has brought “other things” along for the ride, bad things, and those bad things attract worse things. Interesting idea. However, the story is told through the perspective of a 7 year old boy who talks (remembers and narrates) like a 40 year old man.

My first point: the story is more or less about women (the central conflict involves only women), so why does a male protagonist have to be shoehorned in? Point the second, if you must have a male lead (and I’m sure Gaiman does) why must it be a child when the author clearly didn’t want to write it from a child’s perspective? The narrative voice is just too mature, it actually feels as though Gaiman revised the character to be much younger than he has started with in the first draft, then slapped on a “I remember being a kid” opening chapter. Air tight! An example:

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Five (More) Classic Novels Every Young Woman Should Read (and Why)

Yes, it’s Part 2 of a post I wrote a long time ago! Here is Part 1 if you’d like to check it out and/or see the criteria I used to choose these novels.

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925)

The story sets up a parallel narrative of one day split between two people: Clarissa Dalloway, who is throwing a party that night, and Septimus Warren Smith, who is going to commit suicide. Told by interspersing flashbacks with present action the narration tells the story of these two seemingly unrelated people and how they came to these points in their lives before linking them together at the end.

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The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Like everyone in the American public school system (presumably) I read The Great Gatsby for the first time in High School. Now that I teach said High School I had my Juniors read it and we just wrapped it up yesterday. Most of them hate it, but I hated everything then too so that’s normal. We all know that story. If you count the concurrent readings that I did, out loud, in class, I have now read The Great Gatsby five times. Not bad!

In The Great Gatsby Nick Carraway (our narrator) moves to West Egg and next to the mansion of Jay Gatsby, the don of parties most fabulous. Nick spends time with his cousin Daisy, her horrible husband Tom Buchanan, and their chum, Jordan Baker. Also Daisy and Tom have a daughter, her name is Pammy, by the way, and she’s barely mentioned. Tom is openly having an affair with Myrtle Wilson, who is a nag, and has beat down her husband George Wilson. Daisy stops caring about this when she starts her own affair with Gatsby, because they knew each other five years before, and also Gatsby has joined an organized crime syndicate to win her away from Tom. That always works. Of course Daisy doesn’t know that last part and when it comes to light she runs back into Tom’s arms and over Tom’s mistress (with Gatsby’s car no less). Tom then blames Gatsby for the crime and (at least gently) encourages Wilson to kill Gatsby, which he does, before committing suicide. If only Gatsby hadn’t replaced all his servants with mafia foot soldiers this wouldn’t have happened. Daisy and Tom leave town before they even find out Gatsby is dead and Nick breaks it off with Jordan because now shallow people gross him out.

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