The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: A Smelly Book Full of Clichés

Why do mass market paperback books smell so funny? I could barely hold my copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy up to my face because of the awful aroma emanating from it. (Yes, it’s used. I got it through Later, when I had tossed it onto the counter after finishing it, my husband picked it up and the first thing he said was, “Ewww. This book smells bad!” Yes, it does.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979) is number 25 on the BBC book list and let me be honest. I hated it! Its only redeeming quality is that it was short, so I could read it in a day and get it over with and off of my list. But other than that, I don’t understand its popularity or appeal.

It began as a radio show in 1978, and has since spawned six books (one of which I had the misfortune of reading), plays, television series, comic books, and a computer game. Why? For the love of good writing and comedy that actually makes you laugh out loud, why?

So, yes, one of the reasons I did not enjoy it has to do with the comedy. It is supposed to be funny. But I didn’t laugh once. Not once! I could see where Douglas Adams was trying to make a joke, but he failed miserably. This is because of his terrible writing style. He writes in clichés and adverbs. As I started keeping track of the clichés, I noticed that they occurred every ten pages, and probably more likely on every page, but I tried to be lenient in my finding of them. Here’s a sampling of what I found:

“to boldly split infinitives that no man had split before” – okay, he was trying to be funny here and as a fan of Star Trek I can see what he was trying to do, but it fell flat for me.

“we must be on to something!” — Boring!

“nervous as hell” – Isn’t there a better way to say this?

“things are not always what they seem” – uh huh.

“on the gravy train” – who came up with this one anyway? What IS a gravy train?

“a pretty tree-lined city . . . as far as the eye could see” — I require more thoughtful descriptions that give me a sense of the actual surroundings.

Okay, so I’m being a little mean. But, as we know, when you’re reading a book you don’t really want to read (see my Freshly Pressed post about Unwanted Reading Recommendations), it feels like torture.

In the first fifty pages, I noticed that the human characters kept stating the obvious. I thought, “Hmm. This could be deep. Perhaps the author is illuminating the poverty of thinking that plagues our species, and this will be contrasted with the superior sophistication of alien life forms.” No, the only poverty of thought came from the author himself. He could not write the characters with any more feeling or depth because he was not capable of it, which surprises me since Adams had a Master’s degree in literature from Cambridge. This book is certainly fodder for the bestseller list, which I rarely look at or read, and can be attempted by anybody who reads at an eighth-grade level.

I did imagine the main character, Arthur Dent, to look like Ted Danson’s character Arthur Frobisher in the TV series Damages. And I liked the fish that Arthur put in his ear to translate languages into his brain. Wouldn’t that be neat?

Given my reaction to this novel, my husband is also wondering why Barnes and Noble has come out with a leather bound version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. He buys me one of these beautiful books each year for Christmas, but I have threatened to make him sleep on the couch if he ever buys me this one.

Am I wrong? Do you like this book? Feel free to disagree!



28 thoughts on “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: A Smelly Book Full of Clichés

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  1. I liked the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but I read it my freshman year of high school. I always assumed it’s supposed to be YA literature… am I wrong about that? I thought the film was a lot of fun, too, but I usually really like visually striking movies.

    1. I don’t know about the YA classification. Should I try the movie? I had planned to when I first picked up the book, but I kind of decided against it after reading.

    2. I don’t think it was written as YA literature (I don’t think the genre was as established in they early 80’s). But I would agree that the core audience has probably always been teens who like science fiction and other British parody humor like Terry Pratchett and Monty Python. I haven’t had a chance to read too many of Emily J’s other posts, but I get the sense Hitchhiker doesn’t fit in well with the sort of books she usually reads. I’m glad she gave it a chance, but I wish she hadn’t forced herself to finish it. Slogging through a book that is supposed to be silly and fun as assigned reading seems wrong a lot of levels. I wasn’t crazy about the movie, but yes it was visually striking.

  2. I loved the Hitchhiker books, but reading your post was entertaining because it clearly such an unpleasant experience for you. It was kind of strange reading all the cliches you pulled out that made the book sound so boring when the plot is so bizarre and entertaining. I wouldn’t argue the Hitchhiker books were great literature, and maybe it’s one of those books you have to read before a certain age. But to anyone who has been thinking of reading them, I encourage them to completely ignore this post and give the books a chance. But if you’re not having fun after the first few pages, just put it down and walk away (or better yet give the book away to someone who is sure to enjoy it more than you did).

    1. I think people should ignore my post and read them too. Everybody has different tastes and you just never know if these will be nor enjoyable for you than they were for me. And perhaps I am too old to appreciate them now. Great comments!

  3. I’ve never even heard of this book, but I love your honest description of it. It’s fun to read well written fun reviews of books. 🙂 Keep them coming!!!

  4. I love Hitchhiker’s Guide, but I’ve definitely given up on other Douglas Adams books in the past (Dirk Gently is not my favorite character). It’s definitely a matter of taste. I think part of it is the deadpan British humor, part is the absurdity, and part is the science fiction. I like the combo, but if any of these elements is a turn-off, the book wouldn’t appeal.

    That being said, I believe the advice of the book is sound: Never leave home without a towel.

  5. I have not read the book, I have seen the movie commercials, and that was enough to turn me off! I like comedy as much as the next person, but I like stuff that is funny, not completely stupid and brainless, which is what the movie looked like to me. I have to admit I’ve always been fond of the title though, it at least had potential.
    God Bless,

    1. Yes, the title is great! I am with you on the brainless comedy. I tend to prefer situational comedy, like I Love Lucy. She’s my favorite. Maybe a little too silly, but I like it.

  6. I didn’t mind Hitchhiker’s Guide but I never made it through all the books in the series. I do enjoy Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency much more and rank it as one of my all time favourite books. It’s light and quirky. It demands nothing. Well, maybe what it demands is not to be taken seriously. And I can respect that.

    I’m sure it didn’t help that your book was smelly. It’s like cheap shoes made in China, don’t you think they have a distinct smell? There would be an unwanted presence in the room the whole time.

  7. It’s never appealed to me, I must admit, so I’ve never tried it. I’m not really a sci-fi person though I like Philip K Dick’s books. Am on the fence about whether to give this a go or not. But I do love I Love Lucy and have the entire series here on DVD! Great humour, whereas I have not always gotten Monty Python and other similar styles (despite living in Britain).

  8. I never read the book. I watched the movie when it came out. I think that’s why I didn’t read the book… O_o

    1. So I am guessing that I should skip the movie? I am considering giving it a try, plus my husband wants to see it now that I’ve been so mean about the book. He’s curious.

      1. To me, the movie was VERY STRANGE. That’s really the only kind of description I can give it unfortunately. It was quite a while ago that I saw it, but I remember that it was pretty awkward. Let us know what you thought if you end up watching it! 🙂

  9. I read them and liked them. A delight in P taking (quite lighthearted sarcasm). Saw the movie – would give it a miss again. At the risk of earning your scorn, perhaps have a look at Dirk Gentlys detective agency. A pity there wasn’t more of them. What would you suggest is a better version of scify homour? Just curious.

    1. I am not really into sci fi, and perhaps that is the root of the problem. I did like Ender’s Game and I just finished Dune, and it was okay, but still not my thing. I guess I should give Dirk Gently a try.

      1. Should? No. It rarely works well that way. My sister went on a wine appreciation course. The reported result was “good wine is wine you like”. Wise words, glad I missed the course. Read as you please. If you come across the book in the course of your life, perhaps remember I gave it a good word. The root of a mention about a book or books is the desire to share a discovered joy. It should always be done on the understanding that any joy in reading is highly personal. Thank you for the reply.

  10. Not only do I like this book…I have read the whole series. I think they are funny. AND I have the leather bound edition. I do love British comedy and I hated the movie, but perhaps the smell threw off your appreciation 🙂

    1. The whole series? Wow. Maybe it was the smell, or my mood. That happens sometimes. I can read a great book and hate it because I am upset about something else.

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