Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Books I Love: Douglas Adams

I'm a pretty silly person, but I used to be sillier.

When I was in high school I pursued more novelty, performed goofiness more extensively, and actively looked for humor more aggressively in my life. I wrote a very silly story called Bruce the Duck and prided myself on making people laugh with it. I listened to "Weird Al" Yankovic and sang the songs with my friends on the bus. I watched Red Dwarf and made jokes about smeg. And I was obsessed with the cartoon Animaniacs, which led me to do silly things like keep an actual mallet in my purse so I could chase people with it unexpectedly like one of the characters.

The mallet even had a name: Squishy.

One of the major works I enjoyed as a teen that fed into this silliness was definitely The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

This book was mind-blowing for me, because it had the silliness of my childhood favorites with some surprising adult sophistication. This book joked about things that were actually sad, layered complex issues on top of each other and acknowledged their intersections, and provided some of the best non-cheap jokes I'd ever read. This series--often called a trilogy on purpose even though it has more than three books--features such highlights as a man who doesn't know he's a rain god who has trouble convincing people it has literally rained where he is every day of his life, and an alien who named himself Ford Prefect because he misunderstood cars as being Earth's dominant life form, and a man who learns how to fly by throwing himself at the ground and missing.

This series is one of the few I love that isn't incredibly character-oriented. It's sort of more . . . meta-character oriented. It focuses on the experience of being human (or alien, or a rapidly falling whale who's unexpectedly come into existence in an alien sky), but it doesn't focus particularly closely on the thoughts and feelings of any one character. Occasionally a character's observations will jump out at you and bite you with a recognizable, relatable experience, but mostly it's the wordplay, the zaniness, the odd interconnections and interactions, and the absurdity that attracted me. It's awfully stupid for being so smart, and I love that.

On top of that, Adams wrote some other silly things, such as The Meaning of Liff. (I read The Deeper Meaning of Liff, which as I understand it is an updated and expanded version of the former.) Its premise was to create a "dictionary" of words to describe experiences, objects, and people that exist but don't have words, appropriating the names of cities, towns, and other places and putting them to good use since supposedly nobody goes to these places anyway. I was so amused by The Deeper Meaning of Liff that I typed my favorite entries out on our family's electric typewriter (in the days before we had computers) so I could share them with my friends easily. Did you know a grimsby is a lump of gristle that is either in your food through careless cooking or sometimes placed there deliberately by Freemasons? Or that a sidcup is one of those hats you make out of a handkerchief with the corners tied in knots?

I like science fiction, but I don't read a ton of silly SF/F. I usually find it kind of annoying, and it's usually full of bad puns and sexist humor. (I excuse Spider Robinson for his puns, because they're also terrible in-universe. I do not excuse Piers Anthony.) There are a select few I've enjoyed, and Adams's work is among them. I don't write this sort of thing at all, and don't find it particularly influential, but sometimes it is so good to be able to sit back and be entertained by something so funny and well-written. I recommend these books wholeheartedly to people who like funny, absurd, and occasionally surprisingly deep books that don't trip over themselves trying too hard for you.

No comments:

Post a Comment