Now That's What Love Sounds Like Part 3

So for those just tuning in, this is a 4-part series on my love of audiobooks.  You can catch up by checking out Part 1 and Part 2.  

Listening to the Universe

During one of these audio-fetching sojourns, I came across Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy again.  I looked at it; it looked at me.  It taunted me, reminding me of the times I had tried to read the book and failed. It was antagonistically flirting with me.  Just trying to get a rise out of me; figure out what got me going.

I was young and still new to audiobooks.  Everything to date, I had already read or there was no textual equivalent for.  But if I listened to the audiobook of Hitchhiker’s Guide, it would be cheating, right?  Could I really say that I read it?  Would trying to listen to it be an admission of failure or just a means of getting it out of the way?  After all, I could then say I had “read” it, and that it sucked and to please stop recommending it (we were still a handful of years away from Amazon’s recommendation feature).  Realistically, it wasn’t a huge moral challenge, but I still had questions about picking it up, even if briefly.  I got over it and checked it out.

The version I had was a single-person narration by Douglas Adams himself.  Again, I had no clue if that was relevant or not.  I was not an audiobook aficionado. The Star Wars books were narrated by Anthony Heald, which seemed good and they added a handful of sound effects and musical segments from the original score to boot.  So that was the only standard by which to measure this one.  They were not new terrain but well-worn paths like the ones in the woods I would walk while listening.

I have had many a-ha moments over my life.  As a lifelong learner, I’m all but dedicated to them.  But the profound a-ha moment of listening to the first 5 minutes of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy remains one of my most salient.  I fell so damn hard, not just for Douglas Adams but for audiobooks that it entirely changed my life.  It has opened so many doors in my life and has given me so much more to think about and enjoy.
A picture of Douglas Adams
Source: John Johnson

In all my antagonism towards Hitchhiker’s Guide over the years, it never occurred to me that I wasn’t properly listening to the book. In its black and white print, it spoke to me but I couldn’t properly listen to the words and because I couldn’t make sense of what was being said. I assumed it was irrelevant and meaningless or in my eloquent teenage mind: wicked stupid.

But then I pressed play.  The slightly-nasally voice of Douglas Adams introduced the book.  Then with an English accent and smooth delivery of one who is both grounded in the text and has experience working in radio, Adams narrated—not read, not spoke—narrated the first words of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.”

Adams gave me what I was missing.  The one thing that someone should have explained to me that I need to have in my head when listening to Adams.  He gave me tone.  The book was humor; British humor to be precise.  I had been reading it through the frame of George Lucas when I should have been reading it through the frame of Mel Brooks or Monty Python.

Instantly, the book became readable.  Never mind that, I tasted mana from the gods and I had found two loves in one listen.  I made my way through the rest of the books in the series and was grateful for each listening moment. I would routinely return to listening to the Hitchhiker’s Guide over the ensuing decades.  Shortly thereafter, I also discovered the BBC radio series, which was equally delightful (I’m not a fan of pitting the two against each other—they’re both wonderful to my ears).  I would continue for years to come to listen to each new nugget of Douglas Adams content that would be released in audio from the later BBC series to the Dirk Gently series to Salmon of a Doubt.

So inspired by Adams and his work as well as other similar creators (Pratchett, Monty Python, Red Dwarf), that I eventually created on my Geocities website (yes, I had one of those) a quirky newsletter inspired by Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy called the Multiverse Express.  It was a monthly publication with fake news (before it was cool, mind you) that spliced together different fictional characters into goofy and ridiculous parodic situations (Hey, in the early days of the web, here is so many worse things I could have been doing).  I joined the fan club, I enjoyed Starship Titanic, and was deeply saddened upon his premature death in 2001. But never a week goes by where I’m not making reference to Adams’ work.




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