Yesterday was the thirtieth anniversary of the publication of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy novel, and the occasion was noted in a number of places. And I’m happy for the retrospectives, but really, the anniversary doesn’t matter much to me; all that I care about is that the books came into the world before I did, and so I’ll treat this as the 22nd anniversary instead.
I was a nerdy little kid who loved books and sci-fi, and who wasn’t allowed to watch TV. By the time I discovered Hitchhiker’s it was as complete as it would get; the fifth book, Mostly Harmless, was published in 1992, and I think I read it the series for the first time in 1995 or 1996. And I loved it, with the fierce love that children somehow feel for particular elements of pop culture. I have probably read the series a hundred times. I reread it about once a year. Were it in front of me now, I would happily delve in. My favorite book of all time is either Life, the Universe, and Everything or The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul, the second Dirk Gently book (and make no mistake, The Long Dark Teatime is in many ways a funnier and more poignant book than any in the Guide series).
But what was different about Hitchhiker’s was not only that I loved the books but that I developed an attachment to their creator, too. This didn’t happen with other things; my love of Star Wars did not particularly endear George Lucas to me. And when Douglas died of a heart attack in 2001 – at age 49, no less – I was unexpectedly quite affected. I had never met him. I had little in common with him. I hadn’t even at that point read any of his nonfiction – none of the essays in The Salmon of Doubt, or his sublime nature book Last Chance to See. But I was affected nevertheless, and even now when I think about it I’m sad. He was by all accounts a remarkable person, and I’m sad never to have met him.
So in honor of Hitchhiker’s thirtieth birthday, I ordered a copy of Douglas Adams: Live in Concert, a collection of live readings that I haven’t listened to since we got rid of our cassette player sometime last decade. (The tapes themselves are probably moldering somewhere in the high shelves of our living room.) The recording isn’t available digitally anywhere, as far as I can tell, and I’d recommend you get your hands on a copy while they still exist – it’ll be the funniest thing you buy this year, at least.
As an aside, I remain deeply skeptical of ...And Another Thing, the recent sequel to Hitchhiker’s penned by Eoin Colfer (of Artemis Fowl fame). The Fowl books were gently amusing, although seven of them was certainly overkill, since they all have the same general plot. And he’s certainly not the writer that Adams was. But I’m planning on picking up the book in the next few days, so I’ll report back in a bit.