Sunday, September 21, 2014

DOUBLE REVIEW: Bill Bryson and Douglas Adams Being Delightful Together

Original Publication Year: 1995
Genre(s): Science Fiction, Humor
Series: Hitchhiker’s Guide #1
Awards: None
Format: Audio (cds)
Narrated by Stephen Fry

I’m sort of shocked that I had reached my advanced age having never read this book. I guess I felt like I had.   I know the story by heart, through other mediums and through osmosis just being a nerd I suppose, but I don’t think I had sat down and listened to the book from beginning to end.  I can now die happy as it lived up to and sometimes exceeded all expectations. 

Why does this book get five stars?  Two words. Vroomfondel and Majikthise.  And heck throw Slartibartfast in as a bonus.  Add in Stephen Fry reading these names out loud and I can’t even think about them in my head without chuckling with an embarrassing intensity.  Basically, this book was a delight and brought me joy.  The end. 

Also, I solemnly decree and demand that from this moment forth Stephen Fry must read all of the books to me.  He’s a fantastic narrator – I mean – perhaps the best I’ve ever heard.  I’ve always liked Stephen Fry but I have an even greater appreciation of his talent after listening to this.  Every character has a unique voice but none of them felt “put on” and of course he nails all the humor perfectly.

Interestingly I listened to this back to back with Bill Bryson’s Short History of Nearly Everything and the two were quite good companions.  Bryson is also delightful and both books tackle the formation and history of the Earth – Bryson through the exploration of Science and Adams through the lens of fiction and a sense of the ridiculous. 

Final Verdict: Five out of Five Stars! Read it! It’s great!

Original Publication Year: 2004
Genre(s): Non-fiction, Science (popular)
Series: NA
Format: Audio  - ABRIDGED?!?!>:(
Narrated By: Bill Bryson

So part of why I didn’t want to do a full review of this book is because I’m not even sure I can claim to have read it.  You will notice that unbeknownst to me at the time, I was listening to an ABRIDGED version of the book!! I do not and never have understood Abridgements and generally avoid them like the plague.  I understand them EVEN less when it is a non-fiction book.  So some of the information Bill Bryson has painstakingly pulled together is interesting but most of it is not??  Because this audio book in original form is 19 hours long!!  This version was like 6 hours.  Arghhhh!

Okay enough whining about abridgements but I feel duped and betrayed and am coming down firmly on the side of abridgements are of the devil.  End rant.

On a positive note, even in this abbreviated format, Bill Bryson has really pulled together a fascinating book.  His aim was, as a non-scientist, to try and understand “life, the universe and everything” (see! – ties to HGttG all over the place) and his approach is to frame things in the history of the various Sciences, highlighting the notable discoveries.  Geology, Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry, Biology. Paleontology – it’s all in there and he presents it extremely well and with his signature charm.  He tackles very complex topics and breaks them down so that they are not only understandable but it was hard not to join in to the contagious wonder about it all that he exudes.  If you’ve never listened to any of his books, I highly recommend that you do as he is one of the best narrators of his own work that is out there.  Just avoid abridgements.

To end on a positive note, here is some of what you will get in this book:
“It is easy to overlook this thought that life just is. As humans we are inclined to feel that life must have a point. We have plans and aspirations and desires. We want to take constant advantage of the intoxicating existence we've been endowed with. But what's life to a lichen? Yet its impulse to exist, to be, is every bit as strong as ours-arguably even stronger. If I were told that I had to spend decades being a furry growth on a rock in the woods, I believe I would lose the will to go on. Lichens don't. Like virtually all living things, they will suffer any hardship, endure any insult, for a moment's additions existence. Life, in short just wants to be.”
“Consider the fact that for 3.8 billion years, a period of time older than the Earth's mountains and rivers and oceans, every one of your forebears on both sides has been attractive enough to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce, and sufficiently blessed by fate and circumstances to live long enough to do so. Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, drowned, starved, stranded, stuck fast, untimely wounded, or otherwise deflected from its life's quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment in order to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result -- eventually, astoundingly, and all too briefly -- in you.”
“You may not feel outstandingly robust, but if you are an average-sized adult you will contain within your modest frame no less than 7 X 10^18 joules of potential energy—enough to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”
“Because we humans are big and clever enough to produce and utilize antibiotics and disinfectants, it is easy to convince ourselves that we have banished bacteria to the fringes of existence. Don't you believe it. Bacteria may not build cities or have interesting social lives, but they will be here when the Sun explodes. This is their planet, and we are on it only because they allow us to be.”
Final Verdict: Four out of Five Stars. Read it! It’s great!

So who are your favorite humorous writers?  Do you have any unexpected book pairings that you think go well together?  How do you feel about abridgements?

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