If you happen to see someone strolling along with a fluffy pink towel draped confidently over one shoulder today, or a sleek, pineapple-patterned towel peeking out of a messenger bag, or perhaps someone wielding a towel with alarming vertical orange stripes, there’s no need to panic. Today is Towel Day. In fact, you might congratulate your towel-toting fellow with a cheery, “There’s a frood who knows where her towel is!” exchange an air high-five, and then turn back to examining the restaurant bill you’ve been trying to work out for the past forty-two minutes.
Some useful facts about Towel Day:
- It is internationally observed.
- Participation involves carrying a towel around all day.
- Observers of the day are either fans of Douglas Adams and his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy, actual inter-galactic hitchhikers, or both.
It all starts when Arthur Dent awakens one morning to the yellow presence of bulldozers raring to tear down his house to make way for a new bypass. Arthur likes his house the way that it is, thank you very much, but his efforts to protect it prove futile; that same day, the entire earth is demolished by the Vogons to make way for a new hyperspace bypass. Arthur is rescued by his friend Ford, who turns out to be from a small planet in the vicinity of Betelgeuse and not from Earth, as Arthur had previously supposed. They eventually meet up with Zaphod Beeblebrox, the president of the galaxy who has recently stolen the starship Heart of Gold, as well as Marvin (a moody robot), and Trillian (Trisha McMillan), a brilliant astrophysicist and mathematician whom Arthur once failed to woo at a party in Islington. Hilarity, absurdity, and ample social and philosophical commentary ensue.
There is a lot to love about the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. One learns many valuable things such as: never trade a raffle ticket bearing the phone number of the woman you love for a vinyl record of bagpipe music, there are times in life when you go back for your bag and times when you don’t, and (obviously) to always have your towel with you. The number of books in the trilogy is fittingly not three—Adams himself penned five before his untimely death in 2001 and a sixth book was added in 2009 by Eoin Colfer along with Adams’s widow, Jane Belson (Adams reportedly once said, “I suspect at some point in the future I will write a sixth Hitchhiker book. Five seems to be a wrong kind of number, six is a better kind of number”). The fourth is absolutely my favorite; it’s called So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish. I was originally introduced to it by way of a line overheard from someone else’s audiobook, as follows:
‘So what’s wrong with my feet?’ she said.
Arthur still did not understand. He sat on the floor, then got down on his hands and knees to look at her feet, in situ, as it were, in their normal habitat. And as he looked closely, something odd struck him. He put his head right down to the ground and peered. There was a long pause. He sat back heavily.
‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I see what’s wrong with your feet. They don’t touch the ground.’
I was sure that the line came from one of the original five books, but not which one! I did the only sensible thing and read them all. It was only after I had made it though the first three and a large chunk of the fourth that I was finally able to read this passage in situ, as it were, it its normal habitat. This is not the first time that a small snippet of something I’d heard or read has served as an invitation to engage with the whole. Most recently before So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish it was a line out of Island by Aldus Huxley (“lightly child, lightly”); as Sarah Bareilles might explain, it only takes a taste.
I am also reminded today to celebrate our many e-collections at Vaughan Public Libraries, such as:
The actual Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (the fictitious book within the story) is a sort of super high-tech e-reader that, if bound in print, would be so enormous it would fill several large buildings (and would therefore be inconvenient to travel with). Adams is famously quoted as saying that “lovers of print are simply confusing the plate for the food,” and on one level of analysis (which is to say not on every level of analysis) he is right! I am a lover of print who has also enjoyed the odd e-book and I have thought a lot about that particular line. It won me over, to begin with, with its simple and intelligent visual (poutine is poutine whether served on fine crystal or in a cardboard take-out container, and The Rosie Project is The Rosie Project however it is formatted). For many people, however, memory retention is directly related to format (improved with print compared to over a screen, or with audio compared to text, as individual examples) and different formats may be more approachable than others. In this context, format is much more important than a mere plate—in the end, the question that matters is, ‘can we meaningfully, perhaps even enjoyably, engage with this work?’ Richard Wagamese put it beautifully in saying that reading is like being able to ” disappear into somebody else’s dream… lifted up and transported… free to wander a whole different imaginary landscape that is marvelous and entrancing” (listen to the whole interview here: How a library helped Richard Wagamese become a writer). I hope that you have a chance to wander the remarkable world that Douglas Adams left behind for us to traverse:
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
- The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
- Life, the Universe and Everything
- So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish
- Mostly Harmless
- And Another Thing (written by Eoin Colfer)