Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Authors Who Shouldn't Be Dead, but Are: Douglas Adams

Photo of Douglas Adams's grave in Highgate Cemetery, London, by Neha Viswanathan, from Nehavish's Flickr site *

Listing Favorite Books on my blogger profile flummoxes me. The first and most obvious problem is Big Picture Paralysis. Say that I've read something like 100 books per year, since I was ten. That's 3,700 books. Faced with the blank blogger box, I can't think of one.

Once I do think of something, there's the paralyzing awareness that one's choices display an inventory of one's psyche. I second-guess all sorts of neuroses my choices might give away.

Then, I'm afraid of creating a misleading list. I don't want to name authors who don't really represent me, even though I'm not at all worried about what loving them says about me.
Douglas Adams, for instance.

Adams is most famous for his five-part trilogy, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and that's not the writing I like him for. (Though I did like the 2005 movie version pretty well, especially the brilliant Bill Nighy as Slarti-"I'd rather be happy than right"-bartfast, the guy whose job it is to create the "fiddly bits" around the coastlines of planets.)

I only love Adams's book Last Chance to See, written with scientist Mark Carwardine. It follows the journey of the two men around the world as they visit animals on the brink of extinction. Species like the kakapo, New Zealand's flightless parrot, the world's fattest parrot, of which 86 remain on Earth. [Photo, right, from NZ's Kakapo Recovery Programme.] Adams blends quirky amusement with heartbroken dismay like nobody else.
I love Last Chance so much, it would make my top-100 list.

As I write this, I realize I should put the book but not the author on my list. Easy. I don't know why I didn't already think of this before--I did that very thing with Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. Though it's one of my favorite books, I haven't cared much for anything else by the author, Jeannette Winterson, so I didn't name her.

Getting around to the title of this post, finally, I mean to say that there's a group of authors who shouldn't have died when they did. Naturally we want all our favorite authors to be alive and writing. I don't mean that. I mean, there are some author-deaths that surely were Cosmic Mistakes. I've already mentioned Algeria's Tahar Djaout, Zimbabwe's Yvonne Vera, and Texas's Molly Ivins.
Further, if authors of this "authors who shouldn't be dead, but are" group hadn't died, they'd still be alive, not like Charlotte Bronte, whose death was also a Cosmic Mistake but would be dead by now anyway.
I really want these contemporaries of mine to be alive, because I need their help. I want to know what they'd say about All This Mess.

But these lovelies did die, so we just have to hold on to our towels and take Douglas Adams's advice, applicable in all situations, anytime, anywhere:
Don't panic!
And say to ourselves, as Adams wrote he wanted to say to the kakapo, "everything is going to be alright," even though he knew it probably wouldn't be.

P.S. Did you know May 25 is International Towel Day? Flag (left) from Towel Day 2006, on the German blog Kopftuch Fur Den Herrn. (Explanation in post below, "About the Towel.")

* Neha also blogs on Within / Without about:
"Arbitrary Obsessions. Cities. History. Music. Feminism. Maami-isms. Patterns. Halwa. Identities. Free Verse." She also blogs for Global Voices.


jspad said...

I had a similar problem when confronted with the favorite books box on facebook. I decided to go with not just books that are favorites of mine, but that are representative of different types of things that I read. If you don't know the books, I probably sound like a math geek with an odd religious fixation who also has a fascination with critters. At least that last part is fairly accurate.

I would find a list of favorite authors hard to create -- I think I'd put an asterisk after every single name on it. (Winterson's The Passion is one of my most favorite books, but there are others I sort of feel owed an apology for even trying to read. Mary Doria Russell would be on it, because I will love her forever for her first two books.)

As for authors who shouldn't be dead but are, Audre Lorde comes to mind. I'd love to hear what the author of “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” would have to say about the presidential election. And I can barely stand to listen to anyone on that topic anymore.

fresca said...

Great comment--thanks! Yes! How could I forget Audre Lorde? Too young, too beautiful to die. It boggles my mind to remember that I heard her read from "The Black Unicorn" when I was a child (well, seems like that now) at the Women's CoffeeHouse here--a now defunct "wimmin only" space...

And thanks too for reminding me of Winterson's "The Passion," which I liked very much. I got all excited to read her latest, "The Stone Gods," which is sci-fi-y, since I'm lately into that genre, but once again was v. disappointed---felt to me like a thinly disguised screed about The Usual Culprits (global warming, plastic surgery, etc. etc. etc.). She better not die on me because I hold out hope she'll do something as fresh as "Oranges" again.

As for the election--I was sorta sorry to see Hillary win ONLY because I am sooo tired of this dragging on. Aren't we there yet???