Seriously -- the man was at his best when ranting from his soapbox.
(Why soapbox? Why not any other kind of box you can get up on? Were soapboxes inordinately abundant at some time? I don't think I've ever even seen one. I use shower gel, mostly.)
Some time ago I came across a Penguin Classics edition combining "Twilight of the Idols" and "The Anti-Christ", and I must admit that what caught my eye was the subtitle "How to philosophize with a hammer". Sounds fun, right?
I believe I was introduced (in book form) to the much-missed comedic genius of Douglas Adams, author of the "Hitch-hiker's
Guide To The Galaxy" (HHGTTG for short, a trilogy in five parts) and good friend of
Richard Dawkins, some 12 or 13 years ago while on an archaeological dig in Wales, where I was training to not become an archaeologist.
Unbeknownst to me, I had already met Douglas Adams (in televised form) and his HHGTTG on one of the episodes of the Christmas lectures Dawkins gave for the Royal Society in 1990 (which have now been semi-immortalized on DVD). Dawkins had invited Adams to read an excerpt from Part 2, "The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe", to illustrate a point about evolution and the domestication of animals -- I think. At the time, as I recall, all of us in the family watching the lectures on TV were so charmed by Dawkins himself (or, for some, by his shirts) that we rather failed to remember Adams' contribution. Though I have to say that as lasting impressions go, the prize probably goes to the model of Mount Improbable and the poor nautilus that got stranded on a minor peak of the evolutionary landscape.
Some time after discovering the wonder that was, is and always shall be the HHGTTG, I found myself wandering the streets of a Welsh town that was probably not Cardiff, in company of several other disreputable prospective archaeologists, one of whom is now... a rising star on the green blogosphere, I kid you not (I'm personally more of a fan of his travel writing, and I have great hopes for his sci-fi / fantasy, but there you go). Anyway, said gentleman probably doesn't remember the epsiode, but I believe he was the one who first ducked into the second hand bookshop where I found a tattered old copy of "Last Chance To See" by Douglas Adams and biologist Mark Carwardine.
The book, which I originally picked up just because Douglas Adams was on it, was a write-up of a documentary the pair had done with the BBC to highlight the plight of endangered species. It turned out to be hilarious as well as touching and informative, and I read it many times -- to the point that by the time I was in college training to be a biologist, the poor thing was literally falling apart at the seams. Then I lent it out to a fellow student and never saw it again (at this point you may picture, if you will, a little tear of regret plopping sadly onto the keyboard).
Flash forward to last June when I heard that Stephen Fry, whom I adore for many many reasons and who I'm told was also a good friend of Adams', had gone off and done an updated version of "Last Chance To See", a sort of "where are they now?" with the original Mark Carwardine (accept no substitutes). Well, if anyone was going to do justice to Adams' role, so to speak, Stephen Fry would have to be the one. I'm putting the DVD on my Christmas list.
And so it happens that this morning (all terms being relative) I stumble onto a YouTube video of poor Carwardine's uh, encounter with Sirocco the frisky kakapo parrot. I can only imagine how Adams would have written it up but I'm sure he'd have been laughing like a whale. Watch it below and enjoy Stephen Fry's humorous narration!
There's a stack of books next to the door of my living room clamoring for attention -- that's my upcoming reading list right there. One is about George Washington during the US Independence War, one is about toxic plants, one is an epic fictional history of the Royal Society and MIT, one is about the industrial diisaster that flooded Boston with molasses in 1919, and there's a couple related to science and religion.
The one at the top, though, that I've been looking forward to getting my teeth into, is a cheeky rewriting of the classic by Jane Austen, "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies". I rather like zombies, you see, as well as assorted other monsters, and I think the idea of giving them more of a showing in classic literature is one of the best since sliced bread.
Oh, pardon me, there goes the toaster. Be right back. Mmm, pumpernickel with chocolate, tastes like winter holidays.
So imagine my excitement when I find out that the same publishers re putting out a follow-up act, if not quite a sequel: "Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters". Seriously. I must have it.
It's 11 pm and I'm sitting in a dark theater waiting for the movie to start. What's more, I'm wearing a striped tie and waving around a wand mcguyvered out of a fancy chopstick and a sonic screwdriver.
Yep, this is the opening night of the new Harry Pottter movie. I don't care how it looks, tonight I'm not a grownup, I'm a little kid and it's Christmas in the middle of July.
Terry Pratchett, über-prolific author of the comedic fantasy series Discworld and more besides, has been made an Officer of the British Empire in recognition of his services to Literature. The man reports being quite flabbergasted by this event.
Well yes, to say it's unexpected is something of an understatement -- not that the quality of his work is in question, but as literary genres go, fantasy (especially the tongue-in-cheek kind that Pratchett excels at) is not usually recognised by non-genre (meaning not Hugo/Nova etc.) prizes. Has any fantasy author been given such an accolade before? I don't believe even Tolkien did, and Lord (of the... haha hem never mind) knows his work has had "a bit of an impact" on subsequent generations of authors and readers alike. And now, movie-goers, dvd-buyers and cosplayers. Well, the latter was always sort of in with the out crowd, I guess ;-)
Anyway, congratulations, Sir Terry! For God and the Empire!
(well yeah, that's the official motto of the Order... gotta work that in your next novel, heh)
"Kvetch" is basically the Yiddish word for complaint, but as author Michael Wex explains, its meaning goes much further than that, and ties in with the underlying philosophy of Yiddish-speaking culture and religious aspects of Judaism, which the book explores in detail.
The silver lining of my 45 minute commute to work (as opposed to the 5- to 15-minute walk or cycle I've enjoyed for most of the past decade) is that I'm reading again. Well, to be fair, I never really stopped, but there has been a marked decline in my book consumption rate, which was nigh legendary when I was a kid and seems to have petered out since (I blame the rise of the Internet).
Now that I'm spending a significant amount of time in public transportation (that isn't buses, thankfully --my inner ear is at war with the concept of motion; particularly in free-wheeled vehicles, but rail is fine), however, I find myself drawn back to my original ravenous love of the printed page. And it's a pleasure. Armed with the right book I actually look forward to the twice daily commute.
Note that in the interest of my remaining shreds of sanity, I'm making a special effort not to bring along any science article reprints that I need to read. Brain's gotta breathe, y'know. (Stop snickering, I can hear you from here.)
Nope, it's real books, all the way. Although not necessarily fiction. I've broadened my spectrum since the bygone days of Nancy Drew and space operas. Hmm. Now there's an idea. Nancy Drew in space... hehe. Hem.