Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – Douglas Adams

Book # 209

REVIEWER: T, OF AS LONG AS I’M SINGING

DGHDA

“This was the evening of the last day of Gordon Way’s life, and he was wondering if the rain would hold off for the weekend.”

If Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is the first Douglas Adams book you’ll ever read, then I would highly recommend that you first put that damned thing down, and pick up either “Hitchhikers…” or “Tea Time…” before giving this one a go. In fact, it’s for this very reason that I reviewed it last of all the Douglas Adams entries that I was tasked with (volunteered for) for 1,001 Books To Read Before You Die.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a wonderful read, but of all of his books, it’s the one that requires the most concentration. Throughout it, he pushed the boundaries on the idea of the “holistic” nature of Dirk’s work, and as such, there’s a fair share of story strands to be mindful of. Hell, I had to read the 1st chapter alone some five times before deciding that I simply wasn’t built to understand it. Not without first reading on, in the hopes that somewhere deeper within the book, illumination would come.

It did eventually, but not until almost the very end.

In addition to Mr. Way’s dying (an event that doesn’t serve to silence his participation in the pages that follow, mind you), we’re also faced with his best friend who finds himself somewhat brain-washed; his sister, who finds herself one of the few strong characters in the story; an eccentric (read: straight out batty, but not nearly as mad as all that) college professor; a time machine; something called an electric monk (a simply delightful invention, by the by) and an eternal ghost. One that has plagued us, as it turns out, for a very stupid yet vital reason throughout the entirety of the planet’s existence. And, oh, there’s a missing cat as well, of course.

According to the big wide world of wikipedia, this story was born out of two screenplays Adams wrote for the Doctor Who television series. As such those of you who are of the Whovian persuasion will not be disappointed. And those of you, who are of an Adamsian persuasion, may see your way to tuning into the Doctor for a spell, unless of course, Whovians and Adamsians are already one and the same? I’ve no idea if they are. I mean, I know I am – but I hardly ever count myself as being indicative of the norm.

At any rate, of all the books I’ve read twice in the entirety of my lifespan, this is one of the few that I did so merely in the hopes of understanding it the second time around. Well, understanding it better than I did with the first pass through, at any rate. Again, don’t get me wrong, it is a very good book, and one I’m proud to have on my bookshelf (well, it’s more along the lines of a bric-à-brac shelf, containing not only the book – along with several others – but a Fred Astaire Christmas doll, a personalized Las Vegas lighter/bottle opener and a Nunzilla wind-up sparkler). Wonderfully written, and chock full of all the usual wordsmithing that you would expect from Mr. Adams, these three hundred and six pages entertain in a mind-bending fashion, and while the story gets us acquainted with several of the characters (though oddly, not as strongly as he did in “Hitchhikers…”) that remerge in “Tea Time…” this tale is by no means a preemptive retread of that second tale.

As this will be – by all reports – the final book review that I’ll be posting for 1001 Books To Read Before You Die, I’m sure that I’m shortcutting this review quite a bit in the process. As such, and in order to not make reading this a total waste of your time, I thought I would include in parting, one of the review blurbs that can be found on the back cover of my paperback copy. One from the Philadelphia Inquirer that, in sixteen short words additional to the title, summed up the whole of this novel (and possibly Douglas Adams’ entire fictional career) far better than I ever could:

“Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams is the skateboard on which the thinking person plays hooky from the universe.”

I hope that one day (rainy or otherwise) you’ll decide to take the time to “skip class” for a spell, and get acquainted with both Dirk and Douglas.

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The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test – Tom Wolfe

Book #397

Reviewer: t, of as long as i’m singing

I read it once before. By accident. On purpose. Who knows. But I know I read it, and that in part, is why I decided to review it. It was a thrill the first time, and – so far – even more enlightening the second. Even if my jaded and olden eyes, see it now (read: Grok it) in a wholly other light.

Lance has told me before that his sentences are more succinct than mine. And he’s right. Or is it “write?” My sentences tend to stroll very slowly over to where the period is, using as many commas, dashes and doo-hickeys as needed to get there. But Tom Wolfe baby, well he’s the mollyfocking (his word, not mine) king of the commas, the prince of the air, the earth, and the soul of commas. He makes me look like a rank focking amateur.

With this book, at any rate, he tumbles through thoughts and ideas, comma-ing his way along, never letting a period get in his way. Never letting anything like structure tell him how to play out “his movie.” In fact, here’s exactly how he describes a certain trip early on in the book:

“But then – soar. Perry Lane, Perry Lane.

Miles

        Miles


                 Miles

                           Miles


                                     Miles

                                               
Miles


                                                         Miles


                                                                     Under all that good vegetation from Morris Orchids and having visions of

Faces


          Faces


                    Faces


                              Faces
 

                                       Faces


                                                Faces


                                                         Faces


                                                                    so many faces rolling up behind the eyelids, faces he has never seen before, complete with spectral cheekbones, pregnant eyes, stringy wattles, and all of a sudden: Chief Broom.”

Trips.

Trips are what this book is all about. A certain author by the name of Ken Kesey, in fact (that cat who wrote “One Who Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” – oh yeah, THAT Chief Broom) and his jolly bunch of friends-addicts-devotees-leeches-whatever, who call themselves The Merry Pranksters – like saying it makes it so – adorn every page of this literary plague upon the good, simple, un-stoned, not-on-the-bus folk of the world, as they travel – well who knows/cares where – all over in their mind-crazed dolled-up bus of a bus.

It’s not a book for the faint-hearted. Nor the half-hearted. Nor the heartless, I suppose, but who cares about the heartless, as they are most decidedly NOT on the bus.

Wolfe, for his part, tries to write the book in the vernacular of The High. And I, for my part, almost began this review with “I’ve never taken acid before, but Tom Wolfe makes me feel as if I had.” But only because he did. And that’s why I love this read – even IF it didn’t make my personal top ten (dude, there can only be ten, alright?)

I read it once. And loved it. And then never laid eyes upon it again. That is until 1,001 Books allowed me to review it. A new copy was gonna cost me sixteen fat daddy ‘Merican dollars. Way too much for a book I read once, would read again, and then probably shelf forever. So from the library I stole it. Stupid Fockers at the Buffalo library, had three copies, and wouldn’t ya know, all of them were sitting all dusty-like at “central.” The one location no one without a gun goes to – so I had to request a transfer for a copy to one of the more docile, suburban, urbane – SAFE – locations. The transfer cost me a quarter. A quarter I haven’t paid yet. A quarter I never will.

What does that have to do with the story itself? Nothing. It’s part of my movie, not Wolfe’s. But his short tale (if you consider 411 pages short) is all about “the movie.” His – Kesey’s – Yours – Mine – The Hell’s Angels – the Unitarians – Hell yeah, even the Prankster’s movie.

The Pranksters. The best part, man. Because you see Wolfe, well, he makes them sound somewhat/a whole hell of a lotta like cool – you know, like all druggie drag ragtime USA authors do… but then this cat shows you how they most-to-all slowly lose their minds as a result.

Because, you know, in the end, the party’s over, the never-ending string of commas have to end, and if, IF, all you’ve done is stoned, and groked, and sat on the bus, well then, all that mind-opening, mind-blowing vision – FOCKIN’ VISION – helped only you and your fellow travelers. Only you, and the other day-glo folk living on the bus. A bus that most of the rest of us spend just a few short years on, never return to again.

A cautionary tale. Definitely worth a read.


*Reviewer’s note: Much like Wolfe did, but not nearly as well, I attempted to write this review in the “vernacular of The High,” in order to provide you with a flavor as to how the book reads. Quite enjoyable at times, maddening at others.

The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul – Douglas Adams

Book # 209

Reviewer: t, of as long as i’m singing

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be.”

This is a line not at all from the book being reviewed today – “The Long Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul” – but rather it’s predecessor which was, to the cultured fan at least, a much better read. It’s unsure if this novel would’ve also been surpassed by the third installment planned, entitled “Salmon Of Doubt,” as the author had to go and screw the whole thing up by dying, after wading only several chapters in.

I’ll be reviewing the first book as well, but thought I would address this one first, as I’m a bigger fan of saving the best for last. Not that this one was bad, mind you. No, not at all. Unless of course you’re very religious (about Thor and Odin that is), and easily offended by conjecture in their regards. There’s nothing blasphemous in the book. Or at least I don’t think there is. But there’s hardly anything complimentary either.

In this novel, and assuming you’ve already read the other book that I’ve yet to review, we once again meet up with Dirk Gently, Holistic Detective. And much like other main characters created by Douglas Adams (I would assume that by the third paragraph in, the author’s name should be noted at least once, yes?), they are nice to have around, but hardly required to keep the story moving along. A story that can be quite confusing at times, what with errant and seemingly intelligent eagles fighting gods with short tempers and big hammers. A story that also involves people walking sideways into heaven, only after walking the Earth looking much like hell. A story that shows us a god who is much more concerned about crisp white sheets than he is eternal life. An adventure full of Coca Cola Vending machines, refrigerator thugs and horoscope writers who use their position in life only to secretly insult others whom they don’t care for. In short, another jolly romp from the man who taught us that the art of flying is simply forgetting that you’re falling.

As with my other reviews, I really don’t want to give too much of the plot away, assuming I haven’t just now. But I can tell you this. Adams once again creates a female character – this one by the name of Kate – that seems to be the only person of strength and sanity in an otherwise mad world. A world where Gently’s actual client ends up dead, his head lazily sitting atop a revolving recording of the smash hit “Hot Potato,” in the very first chapter. A world where the Thunder God himself is forced by his father to count all the stones in Wales – only to think that he “may have lost count somewhere in Mid-Glamorgan.” Amongst it all, Kate shows herself to be the bravest, most intelligent and the most “grounded” of any and all the people – or gods for that matter – that populate this novel. It’s something I hadn’t realized till just recently, but upon second thought, a running theme with most of Adams’ work. Amongst all the insanity, the nonsense and the sheer lunacy, there always seems to be a strong woman in the center of it all. Made stronger still by the fact that she responds so coolly to all the idiocy that abounds.

I will tell you another thing as well. Like most of Adams’ other material, this too required a second reading to fully “get it.” A second breeze through to simply enjoy the scenery, as it were. Not because the language is alien or clunky, but rather because the nuances are too bountiful and subtle to catch them all in the first go ’round. There are parts within this novel where you can almost see Adams struggle with his boredom over it all. But he rebounds from these moments quite quickly, and in a total of thirty-five chapters covering three hundred and seven pages, ends the story in a fashion very satisfactory. An ending I won’t blurt out here, but an ending that wouldn’t suffer terribly even if I did.

As mentioned before, this would prove to be the last full book that Douglas Adams ever wrote. While it wasn’t his best work, it is a testament to the man’s talent, wit and charm. It’s also another glowing example of how he could twist words into a delicious concoction that makes your mind almost – well, I want to say “orgasm over” – but I’m not sure if this is a “family friendly” site or not, so we’ll just leave that last bit out. I suppose what I’m trying to say about this book has already been said about this book. It occurred when The Houston Post said this: “Nobody else writes like this, nobody else could…” Snag a copy from your local library or used bookstore. You’ll be glad you did. But unlike the flip-flopped nature of my reviews, DON’T read it until you’ve read “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” first!

A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess

Book #437

Reviewer: t, of as long as i’m singing.

I’ll admit it. I saw the movie first. Look, it was the eighties, and I was a punk kid. And in my circle, it was almost expected that you would understand the references, and know the quotes. So I saw it. And I hated it. I just didn’t get what all the fuss was about. I mean, wasn’t this supposed to be some sort of fictional masterpiece? A book well worth reading, to the point where it could actually be life altering? It made no sense. So much so that I went and picked up the actual book to see what I had missed. And am I ever glad I did.

Now, up until that point, reading was much more of a task for me than a joy. So jumping into a book that includes it’s own dictionary may not have been a wise choice. But “A Clockwork Orange” proved that theory very wrong. The idea behind the dictionary is that since the story takes place in the future, the language is slightly different than our own. It was a daring yet beneficial move on the part of Anthony Burgess, who wrote this bleak novella back in 1962. By using phrases like “horrorshow” and “droog”, he helps to keep the reader actively attentive. “Ultra-violence” also made its first appearance in this book as did, what many in my circle thought was quite funny to say excessively, “the old in-out, in-out.” Reading the story with these phrases strewn throughout, the virgin reader is forced to continually flip forwards and back, between story and dictionary in order to follow along. It made the story portion a bit choppy, but so riveting was it that a second read was imminent after the new phrases were learnt from the first.

The story itself involves a young man by the name of Alex and his gang of four. As young teenagers in a near-future Britain, these characters are thugs and vandals. People with little respect for anything or anyone, up to the point of murder and rape being quite all right, if not in fact hoped for. Alex does have a strange love of Beethoven, which appears to be an island of tranquility, dozily resting upon his sea of turmoil. But only until you realize that he uses it to help him better visualize acts of cruelty. Besides that I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, because much like “Hitchhikers”, this is a story much better discovered than recapped. Much better experienced than reviewed. I will tell you however, that Alex is eventually caught and punished for his deeds. And I will tell you that that is not where the story ends. Also, it should be noted that every single rock video showing a person strapped into a chair with their eyes forcibly opened while watching films, is an ode to that punishment.

Should you decide that there’s enough here to get you to bounce down to your local library or book store and obtain a copy for yourself, please keep several things in mind. First, make sure the version you get has the dictionary included. You’ll be lost without it. Unless you come from a near-future Britain, of course. And if you’re in the U.S., make sure you obtain the version with twenty-one chapters, versus twenty. For some reason, when Burgess brought his book over, U.S. publishers felt that the American audience wouldn’t “go for” the twenty first chapter, and they opted to publish a version including only the first twenty instead. Doing this did a great disservice to the story itself, and to all who read it in this fashion. This was supposedly the version Stanley Kubrick read before making his ill-fated movie, and this may help to explain why he so poorly missed the point.

In short, “A Clockwork Orange” is to books what “Saving Private Ryan” was to movies. You need to read it, even if you can only muster the strength to do so once. It shows a near-future world that is much closer than we’d probably care to admit. All while helping to illuminate the idea that how you perceive the world to be is the world that you will in turn create. And if it were left up to the twenty-first chapter Alex to wrap up this review, I suppose he would most likely say that the book is important, because one should always “viddy well, little brother, viddy well.”

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

Book #301

Reviewer: t, of as long as i’m singing

Please give a warm welcome to our newest reviewer, t, from as long as i’m singing.   Enjoy !

I suppose I should start with a disclaimer, in that I have a bit of a man-crush on the late Douglas Adams. Well, the writer equivalent of a man-crush at any rate. With Adams’ work, I am much like a small child standing tippy toe at the urinal – trying desperately not to touch the sides with any of my bits – while he just straddles the damned thing, striking a devil-may-care stance with both hands clasped easily behind his head.

Now, none of that has anything to do whatsoever with the book The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy except for this. It is Adams’ way of simply strolling around each an every page, and almost incidentally keeping the story together that makes it such a fun read. And by that I mean this: the basic idea of the whole book is that the world – our world – is destroyed, leaving only one human alive to tell our tale. A tale he hardly knows, nor cares to speak of. Unfortunately, Adams gets around to this within the very first chapter, leaving him with a full thirty-four chapters left over with little or nothing to really speak about.

Oh, except how beneficial it is to have a towel handy (don’t believe me? Check out National Towel Day). Or how to best hitch a ride on a passing space ship. He also takes the time to disprove the existence of God. By first proving it, of course. And if you ever wondered why your android device has a “Babel Fish” app, this book will fill you in. You will find out that not only are humans (or “were humans”, as the case may be) the third smartest species on the planet, but you will also learn what odd things can happen to our bodies upon encountering an improbability drive. And, of all the books in all the world, “Hitchhikers” is the first to finally address what both sperm whales and bowls of petunias think about, as they plummet to the earth (the whale’s bit is longer, the petunias’ funnier).

The book represents the first in a five-part trilogy, a story that actually started life as a radio show. Following the publication of the book, it then grew into a BBC series, which finally resulted in a major motion picture. And by “major”, I mean major flop. In fact, when I run into someone who is dead-set against reading the book, it’s usually because they’ve “already seen the movie.” And are still scrubbing their eyes with an S.O.S. pad as a result. If this sounds similar to your situation, I would highly recommend seeking treatment first, and then reading the damned book already. It is NOT the movie. Nor is it the BBC series. Or the original radio show either. The author did this on purpose as he didn’t want to simply write the same story for all four mediums. To me, the book will always be the best of the bunch – even if the BBC series had the occasional glimpse of hot space chick ta-ta.

Now, if all of the above hasn’t enticed you enough yet, then I’ve but three words left: Marvin the paranoid android. OK, technically four words, but the “the” is really much more of a placeholder than an actual word, and could have easily been skipped altogether, had they simply decided to name him “Marvin, paranoid android” instead. But I digress. The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy is the very book that brought Marvin to life. He’s an android who has the bad fortune of having feelings, none of them good or uplifting. He sourly sulks through most of the story and can always be relied on to be there when an intelligent quip about idiocy is needed. It is Marvin who delivers what is possibly the best line in the entire book when he says “Here I am, brain the size of a planet and they ask me to take you down to the bridge. Call that job satisfaction? ‘Cos I don’t.“ Don’t go see the movie, but in it, Alan Rickman delivers this line to perfection. I even have the sound bite saved as an app on my android. Right next to my Babel Fish.

Now, if I somehow made you think earlier that this was the best line in the book, then nothing could be further from the truth (incidentally, another of Adams tactics: taking you through pages and pages of asides and digressions, only to find out that none of it had any importance to the storyline whatsoever. Or that it was a complete and utter lie from the start). In fact, the book contains more fantastic lines than not, all of them born out of a love of twisting words together into pretty sentences. Ones that should be looked upon for their beauty more so than their content. Ones that are tasty when read aloud. Ones that are read aloud multiple times, just to enjoy the flavor again.

I won’t make mention of other quotes, for two reasons primarily. In the first, you really should read them from the man himself, and in context. And secondly, I can never quite remember if the quote I want is actually from the book being addressed here, or from one of the other four in the series. Mine is in a single-bound edition containing all five books, plus a short story about one of the main(er) characters, Zaphod Beeblebrox (a steal at the Barnes & Noble price of $19.99!). And I simply refuse to go rifling through all those pages just to verify whether a given quote I’d like to use is prevalent to this review.

Oh. That’s right. This is supposed to be a review, isn’t it? Well, to that extent, I‘d like to say: The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy. Two thumbs waaaaaay up! Go out and obtain yourself a copy, why don’t ya? But I would recommend when you do, you make sure you have room on your bookcase for four more just like it. Rest assured, you’ll need that space sooner rather than later.


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