Friday, April 01, 2011

Book Review: Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Back in middle school when I went to a summer camp (of the Nerd Camp variety) people were always talking about some book called The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Which of course I had never heard of because even though I was the nerdiest of nerds in my little town, I had come to the Big Leagues of middle school nerds and had much to learn. Every Thursday these people (and anyone they could convince to join them) wore bathrobes all day (as in- to meals, to class, to hang out… all in the middle of the summer) because in this book the world ends on a Thursday morning and everyone is caught in their bathrobes. So I guess they wanted to reenact that each week? Or something. The rationale and logic grow shaky if I think about it for more than a few seconds. Hey, it was middle school.

That’s all I knew about this book. It came up every now and again in various places in the intervening years, and I always vaguely thought I should read it sometime, but never really got around to it. Then the other day I was in a second-hand store in Iasi that had oodles and boodles of books in English. I’m talking towards the thousands mark. Which is not a lot compared to say, your local Barnes & Noble, but compared to the almost-zilch English-language books that are findable here, it’s a jackpot.

I browsed all of them. Literally. Because there was no order or rhyme or reason- just books on shelves. So I had to make sure I looked at them all, lest I miss a good one. And considering the price was $1.50 per pound (as in, they weighed the books and established the price from that), it was clearly worth the time. All that to say. I found this book. And given that it had just come up the previous week in some random conversation, I decided I finally needed to read it.

And that was the longest introduction to a book review ever. But the story is really important because the journey to reading a book can be as awesome as the book itself. But it just so happens to be a way hilarious and awesome book in and of itself. And even if I hadn’t started with that big long story, it would still be hilarious and awesome.

It is indeed a book about the end of the world, and the world does indeed end on a Thursday, but nowhere does it mention bathrobes. So now I’m quite confused about the bathrobes-on-Thursday-at-Nerd-Camp thing. Maybe something from the movie or one of the many adaptations of the original radio broadcast? But then again, like I said, it was middle school, so there may be a good dose of randomness involved.

The story starts at the home of an Englishman named Arthur Dent, just a normal average guy who wakes up one morning to find workers outside his house ready to bulldoze it to make way for an expressway. Then comes his friend Ford Prefect, who is actually an alien from a small planet near the star Betelgeuse and a researcher for the intergalactic guide book from which the book derives its title. He knows the Earth is about to be destroyed, and he’s not so happy about it. Before the Earth is destroyed the people of Earth are informed that it is because “the plans for the development of the outlying regions of the Galaxy require the building of a hyperspatial express route through your star system, and regrettably your planet is one of those scheduled for demolition.” For reasons that I won’t reveal to you, Ford is able to get off planet Earth as it is being demolished, and Arthur is brought along for the ride. Their continuing adventures and mishaps in the Galaxy constitute the majority of the book.

HHGTTG is hilarious. The writing style is incredibly witty, and I’ve never laughed out loud so much while reading. For instance, this short interchange between Arthur and Ford:
Ford: You’d better be prepared for the jump into hyperspace. It’s unpleasantly like being drunk.
Arthur: What’s so unpleasant about being drunk?
Ford: You ask a glass of water.
It’s just a great and fun book. Reads fast, really witty, and really dry deadpan humor. This is the first in a “trilogy of five books,” so maybe I’ll have to check the others and see how Arthur and Ford’s adventures continue. And in case you were wondering, I never wore a bathrobe on Thursday at Nerd Camp. Which wasn’t actually called Nerd Camp, but rather Center for Talented Youth. So, basically it might have as well have been called Nerd Camp. The end. 

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