Book Review: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the GalaxyI know. This is a classic. But it’s a classic for a reason. I read it the first time in 6th grade, while I was staying overnight at a friend’s house. We had big plans to complete a complicated school assignment. Sometime after dinner I stumbled across this book on some bookshelf in the house. Something about the cover art intrigued me. (My mom had told me about hitchhiking with my dad the first time she took him to meet her parents, so I suspect I was hoping for a bit more perspective on the whole hitchhiking thing.) Because even in the early 80s, there wasn’t much of a blurb to pull in a prospective reader:

Don’t leave Earth without the hilarious international bestseller The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: About the end of the world and the happy-go-lucky days that follow… About the worst Thursday that ever happened, and why the Universe is a lot safer if you bring a towel…

I also remember several futile attempts to get me to get my nose OUT of the book, because right away from the beginning, the alternating perspectives of “objective reporting” and the personal view of what it’s like to lose your home planet and go caroming through the galaxy sucks in the reader and compels them to keep turning pages. You’re absolutely obliged to continue after reading a passage like:

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: nonhitchhiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has a towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, washcloth, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet-weather gear, space suit, etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitchhiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitchhiker might accidentally have “lost.” What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the Galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through and still know where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

So I’m posting a paen to this enshrinement of the absurd. This was my first exposure to this level of irony as well as this kind of scifi. I hadn’t seen anyone make up words to a new language prior to this, nor these kinds of descriptions of interstellar travel. They all grabbed me and hooked me in an irresistible way. This book was my gateway drug into the joys of being a galactic citizen. If, for some reason, you haven’t had a laugh-out-loud read, recently, or have been living under a rock and missed this little gem: Go! Find this book! Read it! You’ll love the mind-bending vacation from reality, spiced with some piquant views of what other intelligences could look like.

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

  1. This is one of my favorites as well. The first chapter where one man’s problems with the local government planning department were then repeated at a galactic skill had me falling off the couch in stitches. His insights into the absurdity of the way our lives have structured themselves is brilliant, and he maintains it through his subsequent books even if the story plots aren’t as appealing.

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