I thoroughly enjoyed reading Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams, but I chose it for my favorite D book for an unusual reason. It was suggested by my older son, referred to here as O-Son.
He’d already fallen for most of the other Adams books, especially The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, not an unusual choice for a twelve-year-old geeky sci-fi fan. He’d devoured The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, and The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul. Probably introduced by friends, Adams was the perfect writer for a brilliant and shy kid who was socially unconventional. Like so many almost-teenagers, Adams gave my son a way to see himself as a totally acceptable human being.
To begin somewhat near the beginning, my kids are readers, having been introduced to books before they were born. I read to my babies in utero, reading out loud whatever book I had in my hands. (With O-Son it was Watership Down.) The tradition continued as soon as each son was born, every afternoon filled with a half dozen or more books, another half dozen at bed time. Picture books were read two, four, five times in a row if requested. Cuddling with my sons, lost in a world of imagination, conundrums, solutions, humor, mystery, fantastical or historical locales, and the most astounding people we’d ever met, books nourished us.
I read to my kids until they were each about thirteen and life finally caught up, obligations to so many other diversions forcing story time to shut down. My sons had been reading capably since they were five or six, so shared reading time was purely a joyous event and not because they couldn’t do the job themselves.
So when O-Son gave me Dirk Gently to read with him shortly after he turned thirteen, I knew it was a singularly extraordinary moment for us. Our reading together time had been waning, and I sensed this would be the last book. He couldn’t have chosen a better story. We laughed as we tried to figure out where the strange plot was going (OK, it’s Douglas Adams, whose plots are well outside of standard plot-ville format,) O-Son and me bouncing along on the novel’s tailgate. Sometimes he read, sometimes I did.
Reading is a social endeavor. It’s a reason to be in lock-step with why we read books. We name our pets, even our children, after favorite titles, characters, or authors. We talk about the books we read, recommend and trade them with friends, peer at a stranger’s tome or tablet to see what they’re reading. I belong to a reader’s group where we select a book a month, get together for an evening, and talk about them. Exposed to books we might otherwise pass up, we don’t always like every choice but we love the discussions, even the argumentative ones.
Reading is a reward. Teachers use reading time as incentive for students to be productive with required class work. Decades ago, I motivated children whose first language wasn’t English to work on their reading assignments so they could listen to me read Jamie Gilson’s 13 Ways to Sink a Sub for ten minutes at the end of the session. A fall-on-the-floor-laughing book, it proved a terrific strategy to encourage challenged students to read. Research shows that students who read often, especially if they include a wide variety of genres, have larger vocabularies and do much better on college entrance exams than those who don’t.
Reading is fulfilling. Transported to another culture or historical period, we can walk in unfamiliar shoes, see the world, experience adventures that are out of this world. Reading is a way to learn about something unexpected, maybe entice one to research a subject suggested in the story. We learn to feel empathy and compassion, to understand nuance and connections, to add to our fund of knowledge and imagine what is possible.
As for favorite lines from Dirk Gently, the most famous is probably this: Let’s think the unthinkable, let’s do the undoable. Let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all. It speaks to everyone, but to teenagers facing an unknown and intimidating future, that line is the Declaration of Independence. For myself as a mom whose baby was growing up, this one suits best: The teacher usually learns more than the pupil. Isn’t that true?
If you share your life with youngsters, read to them. Thanks, Douglas Adams, for all the hours of fun, wit, satire, and whimsy you gave O-Son and me, and thanks for all the fish. Because teaching a young man to fish teaches him for his lifetime. It doesn’t get better than that.
Other books that were serious contenders for D:
The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl
Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man by Fannie Flagg
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
A Day of Small Beginnings by Lisa Pearl Rosenbaum
Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells
The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman
Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
I look forward to learning about your favorite D fiction books.
Book cover image courtesy Google images and Pocket Books