Tomorrow is Towel Day!

Don't Panic and Carry A TowelWhat is Towel Day, you ask? Towel Day is a day celebrated on May 25 every year as a tribute to Douglas Adams. Organised just 2 weeks after his death on May 11, 2001, Towel Day has become a worldwide event with happenings in cities all over the world. And all you need to do to show appreciation for the man and his books is to carry a towel around with you all day.

To see the events that are happening in your country, look down the list on the official website for Towel Day. There is a lot happening and it’s a good way to meet other Douglas Adams fans (which are surely some of the coolest people around).

But why a towel, you might wonder? Well, in chapter three of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy is a rather in-depth explanation of the importance of towels, which apparently is based on a hitchhiking guide to Europe that Adams read which also stressed the importance of towels. The explanation goes as follows:

A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker 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 knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

So, if you’re a Douglas Adams fan, make sure wherever you go and whatever you do tomorrow that you take a towel with you and maybe check out events near you. And if you’re yet to read Douglas Adams, tomorrow is as good a day as any to make a start!

30 Day Book Challenge #2: Day 02 – A book that you’ve read more than 3 times

I’m not one to re-read books very often, mostly because I feel there are so many books I desperately need to read that if I read a book more than once it would be stealing away time from an as-yet-unread story.

The Hitchhiker's Guide To The GalaxyThe one exception to this (and I suspect my answer to this question when I first answered it two years ago) is The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy series by Douglas Adams. I think for me, these books are to literature what Monty Python was for television and film – the one thing I can confidently go to and know I’ll have a good laugh. Anybody who vaguely knows me knows I love my comedy and for me Adams is by far one of the funniest writers who ever lived.

These five books, which make up the bulk of his writing (the majority of the rest being his two Dirk Gently books, which were also great), were just so completely ridiculous and yet made such intelligent remarks about the world and the people who inhabit it. I think I go back to these books so much because they’re easy to read, I know what happens, and they never fail to make me smile. They’re books I don’t need to think about, even though I find them thought provoking anyway (if that makes sense).

Recently I seem to have misplaced my physical copy which contained all of these novels, and with my move to Sweden imminent it’s looking less likely I’ll find it before I go. But luckily I do now have all of the books by Adams as e-books on my tablet, so I can at least re-read them until I can afford to buy the physical copy again.

If you haven’t read anything by Douglas Adams, you really must give him a try. His humour isn’t for everybody, but he is much loved by many around the world for a reason.

What books have you read more than 3 times? What is it that draws you back to those books?

The Booker Award and My Top 5 Books of all time

I still remember a long, long time ago (the 2nd of January, 2012) when I very first began this blog, and I was desperately wondering what direction the content would take. I very quickly realised that I wanted to make my blog about books and writing, and even though other things have found their way into my posts, such as music (in particular this month), but also random things I like (such as coffee and tea), I still feel overall that I write a books and writing blog, and that will indeed remain my focus for the foreseeable future.

So I must thank Literary Tiger for nominating me for the Booker Award, an award for blogs primarily about books (50% or more on books, reading and writing). One of the great things about book blogging is meeting so many other brilliant book bloggers out there, and Literary Tiger has a fantastic blog and a great taste in literature, and is without a doubt worth a visit if you have not yet managed to stumble across her posts.

As usual there’s some rules, but I quite like the third one:

1.  Nominate other blogs, as many as you want but 5-10 is always a good suggestion (but hey, I once nominated 32, so don’t take my advice necessarily).  Don’t forget to let your recipients know.

2.  Post the Booker Award picture.

3.  Share your top 5 books of all time.

And so, I give you…

MY TOP FIVE BOOKS OF ALL TIME (for the moment…because I mean, really, this sort of thing is bound to change as one travels through life and…OH this is still the heading. Right. Sorry):

1. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller – I’ve discussed this brilliantly absurd World War II based novel before, multiple times. This book made me howl with laughter, and was also the first book (in my memory at least) to make me cry. It moved me in a way a book hadn’t ever moved me before, and single-handedly re-inspired me to read more and, more importantly, to start writing fiction again. An amazing book, and one which will likely always claim the top spot in this list. If you haven’t read this, you absolutely must.

2. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières – Apparently the film adaptation of this is awful, which is a shame as I suspect that puts a lot of people off reading the book, when really it is magnificently written. Also set in World War II, it is the story of a Greek island community who has to deal with an Italian occupation during the war, and how one girl in the town falls in love with Captain Corelli, the musician captain of the Italians. It’s funny and heartbreaking all at the same time, and another book I am constantly lending out to friends.

3. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy Series by Douglas Adams – Yeah yeah, it’s technically five books (and yes I know there’s a sixth, but I just can’t bring myself to read it when it wasn’t written by Douglas Adams). A downright silly and bizarre series of science fiction books, which at first may come across as being too silly for their own good, but upon further reading and reflection are actually taking subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) swipes at society. All in a universe in which Earth flickers between existing and not existing, depending on which book you’re at. This isn’t for everyone, but I recommend at least trying it.

4. The Shadow Of The Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón – This hypnotising gothic novel is set in post-civil war Barcelona, and based around a boy, Daniel Sempere, who is initiated into the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, where upon initiation into this old forgotten library he has to choose a book to protect for life. When he falls in love with his book and tries to track down more books by the author, he finds out the author’s life is shrouded in mystery, and that a figure named after a character within the story has been burning all of the author’s books. The whole story within a story thing doesn’t always work, but this one is just spellbinding, as are all the books by this author.

5. The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss – Okay, so this is another series, a fantasy trilogy of which the third book is yet to be released. But the first two books, The Name Of The Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear, both blew me away, and are undoubtedly my favourite fantasy novels. The story of Kvothe, adventurer, arcanist, musician and so much more, and why he has disappeared into obscurity, is one of those stories that stays in your mind long after you have read it, and the novels steer away from the usual conventions of the fantasy genre, making for a much more exciting and less predictable read. If you’re a fantasy fan, read these books. If you’re not, read these books.

The Nominations:

Books & Bowel Movements

Poetry by the clueless

Storyteller In The Digital Age

Book Club Babe

Books Speak Volumes

Writer’s Block

Bitsnbooks

These are all great blogs about books and writing and various other related topics, so check them out. And as always, this is by no means a definitive list, and I have left some people out who I know have been just nominated recently for these awards. But for many other great blog suggestions, check out my other awards posts, as well.

What are your top 5 books of all time?

Happy 60th Birthday, Douglas Adams

On this day, sixty years ago, an intelligent, insightful and hilarious mind was born, bubbling away inside a tiny baby named Douglas Noel Adams. He would go on to become famous for writing a radio series, book series, television series and a movie all based on The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, as well as other books, articles, essays, an involvement with endangered animals, a love for technology, and so much more, only to be stolen away from us just under eleven years ago, at the age of forty-nine. And ever since, he has been sorely missed by many people all over the world.

If you’ve never read, heard or seen any of this man’s work, I strongly recommend you do so as soon as possible. His books are of course the best place to start, and consist of 5 books in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, as well as two books in his Dirk Gently series, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, not to mention several others, including The Salmon of Doubt, a collection of essays and articles, plus the chapters of the novel he was working on when he passed away.

On a first glance, his stories seem quirky, bizarre, funny and rather silly. But upon subsequent and more detailed readings, it becomes clear that these stories were the product of a sharp, analytical mind, someone who looked at life and society with a fascination, curiosity and optimism which is often lacking in the world views of other writers. Interestingly enough, Douglas Adams didn’t particularly enjoy writing, due to his perfectionist nature, and yet he persisted and produced some amazing writing, which has been loved by many the world over. For me personally, his books are some of the only books I have reread several times, and which always remind me of why I read and why I write so much – his work, simply put, inspires me.

I guess then, the best way to end this short blog is with a quote. Rest in peace Douglas Adams, the world still misses you all these years later.

“There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.”

30 Day Book Challenge Day 27 – The most surprising plot twist or ending

This blog is for yesterday, which I missed due to a half hour trip to the pub after work turning into a night of being classy (at least that’s what I’m calling it). Anyway, this topic presents a bit of a problem for me, in as much as I don’t particularly find many endings or plot twists surprising. I find them thought provoking, certainly, but they very rarely surprise me.

There are a few in particular which do stand out, though, in some cases because they surprised me a little, though others only for sheer awesomeness. I am going to look at three of them now, but please, if you’re worried I might reveal too much, don’t read on. I will try not to reveal everything, at least, and certainly not the endings.

One plot twist I loved (which is arguably a main part of the plot, but oh well), is in a novel by Stephen Fry called Making History. The book begins with Michael, who is writing a doctoral thesis on Hitler, meeting a physicist who shares this interest and, with him creates a machine which can send something back in time, such a small object. Soon the two steal a permanent male contraceptive pill, developed by Michael’s biochemist ex girlfriend, and send it back in time to the water supply where Hitler’s parents lived, before he was born, and essentially stop him from being born. The big twist here comes of course in the way that this changes history from this point onwards. The political history and unease of Germany still exists after World War One, but the Nazis are led by a frighteningly more competent leader who actually leads them to victory, helping Germany take over all of Europe, actually eradicating the Jewish population of Europe using the exact same formula used for the pill that created this alternate history in the first place (I think that did actually shock me), and causing the Cold War to instead happen between Germany and America. It is quite a confronting story, and I love that Fry went down this whole avenue of thinking – that perhaps, although none of us want to think about it, that period of history could have in fact been worse. There is of course a lot more to this story, and the ending is interesting, but I won’t reveal any more, but rather will recommend you read this one – it is thought provoking, to say the least.

Another awesome plot twist is in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, in that, well, the Earth is destroyed, and quite early on in the story. I mean, really, you don’t get any bigger than that, do you? In fact, all his books are full of great twists. For example, in The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe, I remember being pleasantly surprised the first time I read it when I realised the end of the universe at which this restaurant was situated wasn’t the physical end, but the chronological end – the restaurant is caught in a time bubble, which watches the universe explode and come to an end around it, before sending the customers back in time to before it happens.

Lastly, one of my favourite endings is the ending of Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. I won’t reveal what it is, but what I will say is that this is a book which messes with your emotions, and for much of the last part of the book you feel like you’re being knocked down with grief over and over. But the last chapter actually made me burst into laughter for most of it. And then the very last sentence made me gasp and hold my hand over my mouth staring at the book wide-eyed for several minutes. I am not exaggerating any of this – the ending of this book really caused me to react this way. It’s just that good.

Are there any books you know of with surprising or amazing plot twists and endings?

30 Day Book Challenge Day 22 – The Book(s) That Made Me Fall In Love With Reading

I have in fact fallen in love with reading three times over my life, once as a young child, once as a teenager, and again, finally, as an adult. In between each of these phases, I must sadly admit I also “fell out of love” with reading. It seems madness now that this happened to me, especially as I have loved writing since a very young age as well. But I think in both cases, it came down to being forced to read books for school/university that I didn’t enjoy or didn’t want to read, and often it is very hard to recover from that. In each case, it has taken a special book to drag me back to the joy of reading, but I think I can confidently say that from this point onwards I will always love reading and it will always be a big part of my life.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

This book fostered a love of both books and chocolate in me...

When I first fell in love with reading, as many of my regular followers will know from past posts, it was Roald Dahl who was the instigator of such connections to the written word – most particularly the books James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory took me to a world beyond my wildest little dreams, and would spark in me an interest in the weird and quirky for many years to come.

Don't panic!

As a young teenager though, having outgrown these books, the Goosebumps books by R. L. Stine, and having read the Tomorrow series by John Marsden, I became bored with reading as the books thrust upon me at school became less and less interesting. It took a few years, until late high school, before I fell in love with reading again, and there were a number of books that caused this. Firstly, I discovered The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and its various sequels by Douglas Adams, which taught me just how funny fiction could be, regardless of genre. Then in school I studied All Quiet On The Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, which, unbeknownst to me, had started a love for fiction set in war-time which survives to this very day. Not much later after this, I also studied Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, which started a love of dystopian fiction which would eventually lead me to classic writers of this genre such as George Orwell and Kurt Vonnegut.

There's only one catch...

But as I moved into a university life which was to last seven odd years, and more importantly, into adulthood, the pressure that came from the sheer amount of literature I had to read exhausted me, and I stopped reading for pleasure in my spare time again. The book which brought me back to reading for the final time was given to me by a friend, just before I started a second degree, in post-grad creative writing (good timing, really), and being her favourite book, it meant a lot to her, and so meant a lot to me before I even read it. But as it turns out, Catch 22 by Joseph Heller, completely blew me away, pushed me through every emotion as I whirled my way through its pages, stunningly written, hilarious, insightful, tragic, and just beautiful. After this amazing book, set in WWII, it was as if someone had flicked a switch inside my head, and there was no turning back. It’s been a little over four years since I read this, during which time I have read somewhere between 150 and 200 books, and my love for books, and for reading and writing, has never been stronger (and I seriously owe that friend big time)!

What book made you fall in love with reading? Did you ever have to fall in love with reading all over again, like I did?

30 Day Book Challenge Day 3 – My Favourite Series

I keep waiting for a day with this challenge where there will be a clear cut winner, but it never seems to be that easy, and picking my favourite book series is no exception. I struggled immensely with this one, and surprised myself with the answer in the end, so before I get to my favourite series, I’d like to briefly discuss a couple of others that I have loved over the years.

First of all, I have to mention a series which has already been included before in this challenge (yesterday, I think), a series lovingly known as The Hitchhiker series by Douglas Adams. This sci-fi “trilogy in five parts”  pokes fun at, well, just about everything, and there is quite simply nobody who writes like Adams, making these books uniquely funny and insightful. For me personally, I read these first when I was a teenager and my reading habits were pretty bad (as they often are at that age), but this series helped me back into a good reading routine, and for that reason will always have a special place on my shelf (when none of my friends are borrowing it, which is rare).

Another series I love (though I must admit I haven’t read every book in the series) is the Jeeves and Wooster series of novels by the fabulous P.G.Wodehouse. Wodehouse was the master of playful language, and his stories about the silly aristocrat Bertie Wooster, and his ever present and ever helpful butler Jeeves, are some of the most charming tales you will ever read. I love to read Wodehouse when I just want to escape and lose myself in a good book, and luckily for us, the man wrote nearly 100 books in his lifetime, of which a significant portion form the Jeeves and Wooster series. If you’ve never read Wodehouse, I strongly suggest it, but warn you now: it is addictive.

My favourite book series, however, is one I perhaps didn’t even realise was my favourite until after I had read it, and many other books, and then gone back to it a while later. Louis de Bernieres, a writer famous for the beautiful Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, as well as Red Dog (which has become popular since the recent movie adaptation), started his writing career with a trilogy set in a fictional South American country, and it is this trilogy which, when I look back, is my favourite book series of all time. The titles alone had me interested, consisting of The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts, Senor Vivo and the Coca Lord, and The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman. Each of these three books are set in the same area, and feature many of the same characters, but focus on different themes and events, the first focusing on guerilla warfare, the second on drug trafficking, and the last one on religious fanaticism. All three are amazing, especially when you consider these were the first books de Bernieres wrote, and it is no wonder he went on to become an award winning and best selling author. I would definitely recommend these to anybody without hesitation, as they are all stories which will stay with you long after you have read them.

30 Day Book Challenge Day 2 – A Book I’ve Read More Than 3 Times

The second challenge of the 30 Day Book Challenge is to find a book I’ve read more than 3 times. Now I must confess, I am not the sort of reader who tends to reread books all that often. I know some people who love their favourite books and read them time and time again, and while I don’t have any problems with that, it’s just not for me. I think this could just be because I buy books so much faster than I read them that I constantly have this backlog of books that I feel guilty about having not read yet, and so if I try to reread a book, I eventually am distracted by something I haven’t read yet.

However, of course, there are a couple of exceptions to this rule. The one which comes to mind first and foremost is The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams, which I think I have read through fully either 3 or 4 times now (I can’t quite remember). I have probably also read through the first couple of sequels to this a couple of times as well, though the later parts in the series, not so much. For anybody who hasn’t read this at some point in the last few decades, whether it be because you don’t think you’d like his sense of humour, you’re not a sci-fi fan, or you’ve seen the movie (never be put off from a book by its film adaptation, we all know the books are always, always better), I strongly recommend you sit down and read this, its four sequels, and the other books Douglas Adams has written. They are hilarious, deeply insightful, and some of the most intelligent writing ever to grace this Earth (which hasn’t been destroyed, unlike the Earth of THGTTG).

For me, I keep coming back to this book because it just makes me laugh, every time. It is a book I enjoy for escapism, but at the same time it makes me think, and I always come away thinking about the book, struggling to put it out of my mind entirely, which I think is the sign of a powerful book. On top of this, I think Douglas Adams’ style of writing is inimitable. Sure, people try to write like him, and people certainly have similar senses of humour to him, but nobody can tell a story quite like he could. It amazes me to think that he actually disliked writing – he was one of these painful writers who would take all day just to write a couple of sentences, because he’d want it absolutely perfect. No wonder he’s famous for the quote (and I may misquote this) “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they go by…”