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16 Fun Facts About The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

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Why 16 things? Because 42 things would have been far too long. 

1. ACTUAL HITCHHIKING INSPIRED THE SERIES. 

The idea for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy came to Douglas Adams—who was born on this day in 1952—as he was drunkenly stargazing in a field in Innsbruck, Austria in 1971. According to Neil Gaiman’s Don’t Panic: Douglas Adams and the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Adams, who was poor at the time, was hitchhiking from London to Istanbul with a stolen copy of Ken Welsh’s Hitch-hiker’s Guide to Europe. Adams later wrote to Welsh, “I got frantically depressed in Innsbruck ... When the stars came out I thought that someone ought to write a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy because it looked a lot more attractive out there than it did around me." 

2. INNSBRUCK IS PROUD OF THE PIVOTAL ROLE IT PLAYED.

In honor of Adams’s inebriated stroke of brilliance, the town (and indeed the rest of the world) has celebrated Towel Day—a towel is the most quintessential item in an intergalactic hitchhiker’s arsenal, according to Adams—on every May 25 since 2001. 

3. REAL LIFE ALSO INSPIRED THE TOWELS.

Towels’ revered place in the series stems from a real-life experience Adams had on a vacation with friends to Greece. According to Adams, “Every morning they'd have to sit around and wait for me because I couldn't find my blessed towel ... I came to feel that someone really together, one who was well organized, would always know where his towel was.” 

4. BEFORE THERE WERE NOVELS, THERE WERE RADIO SHOWS. 

The Hitchhiker’s Guide got its start as a six-part radio play broadcast by the BBC in 1978. Adams had previously written for radio series like The Burkiss Way, so the medium was familiar to him. Nick Webb, editor of Pan Books, heard the series and immediately sought out Adams to write a novel based on the show. Adams later joked, “A publisher came and asked me to write a book, which is a very good way of breaking into publishing.”

5. THE BBC TURNED INITIALLY TURNED DOWN THE PUBLISHERS. 

M.J. Simpson’s Hitchhiker: A Biography of Douglas Adams includes an anecdote from radio producer Geoffrey Perkins about the BBC’s initial reaction to these overtures from publishers. According to Perkins, the BBC responded with a letter that said, “Thank you very much for asking us. Unfortunately, we can’t do this. In our experience, books and records of radio shows don’t sell.” Eventually Webb won the battle to acquire the book rights. 

6. ARTHUR COULD HAVE BEEN ALERIC. 

Earthling protagonist Arthur Dent was almost christened Aleric B. Dent. Adams changed the hero’s name during a taxi ride to a BBC pitch meeting for the radio series. 

7. ADAMS’S PUBLISHER HAD TO PLAY HARDBALL WITH HIM. 

Adams was a notorious deadline-buster. He was famously quoted as saying, “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they go by.” As he was polishing The Hitchhiker’s Guide, his publishers called Adams and demanded he finish the page he was writing. To ensure he didn’t hear the deadline’s whoosh, the publishing house immediately sent a bicycle courier to pick up the manuscript.

8. THAT EPISODE DIDN’T IMPROVE HIS DEADLINE SKILLS. 

When writing the fourth book in the Hitchhiker “trilogy,” So Long and Thanks For All the Fish, Adams was locked in a hotel suite for three weeks with his editor (and girlfriend) to ensure the book got written in a timely fashion. 

9. THE SPELLING OF THE TITLE WAS FAIRLY FLUID. 

The spelling of “Hitchhiker” was wildly inconsistent through the series’ publication run—from “Hitch hiker” to “Hitch-hiker”—until Adams announced in 2000 that “Hitchhiker,” one word, sans punctuation, was the definitive spelling.  

10. PROCOL HARUM INSPIRED THE SERIES’ SECOND BOOK. 

Adams got the idea for the follow-up to The Hitchhiker’s Guide, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, where the patrons’ entertainment consists of the universe’s explosion, while listening to prog rock outfit Procol Harum’s 1973 song “Grand Hotel.” 

11. ADAMS WISHED HE HAD QUIT EARLIER. 

Adams wasn’t particularly fond of his last two contributions to the series, 1984’s So Long and Thanks For all the Fish and 1992’s Mostly Harmless. On So Long, Adams stated that, “I really shouldn’t have written (it), and I felt that when I was writing it. I did the best I could, but it wasn’t, you know, really from the heart.”

12. THERE WAS AN EASY EXPLANATION FOR THE SERIES’ GRIM ENDING. 

He also explained the bleak ending (and, well, all the pages before that, too) he penned for Mostly Harmless, saying, “The reason for that is very simple—I was having a lousy year...”

13. THE NUMBER 42 WASN’T ALL THAT MYSTERIOUS.

Why is 42 the answer to life, the universe, and everything? Because it made for a solid punchline. Adams explained his choice on a fansite in 1993, debunking fistfuls of fan theories about his fascination with the number: “The answer to this is very simple. It was a joke. It had to be a number, an ordinary, smallish number, and I chose that one. Binary representations, base thirteen, Tibetan monks are all complete nonsense. I sat at my desk, stared into the garden and thought '42 will do.' I typed it out. End of story.” 

14. ADAMS REMOVED A SWIPE AT AN OLD CLASSMATE.

The Guide describes Vogon poetry as the third worst poetry in the universe, two spots shy of one Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings of Greenbridge, Essex. The original radio script used the name of a very real poet—Paul Neil Milne Johnstone of Redbridge, Essex, a classmate of Adams’ at Brentwood School. Adams made the switch when Johnstone complained about the use of his name. 

15. ONE CHARACTER’S NAME IS NOT AS DIRTY AS IT SOUNDS.

Slartibartfast, one of the Magratheans charged with the creation of Earth who is quite fond of the fjords he designed in Norway, was named in an exercise in meeting BBC broadcast standards. According to the notes Adams wrote to accompany the published volume of his original radio scripts, the character was first named “Phartiphukborlz.” Adams played with the syllables until he had “something which sounded that rude, but was almost, but not quite, entirely inoffensive."

16. THE SERIES HAS TURNED FANS INTO MIXOLOGISTS.

If you ever want to feel like “having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped around a large gold brick,” WikiBooks offers a recipe for the series’ infamous cocktail, the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster. Just don’t drink two, unless you’re a “30 ton mega elephant with bronchial pneumonia."

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15 Powerful Quotes From Margaret Atwood
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It turns out the woman behind such eerily prescient novels as The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake is just as wise as her tales are haunting. Here are 15 of the most profound quips from author, activist, and Twitter enthusiast Margaret Atwood, who was born on this day in 1939.

1. On her personal philosophy

 “Optimism means better than reality; pessimism means worse than reality. I’m a realist.”

— From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

2. On the reality of being female

“Men often ask me, Why are your female characters so paranoid? It’s not paranoia. It’s recognition of their situation.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

3. On limiting how her politics influence her characters

“You know the myth: Everybody had to fit into Procrustes’ bed and if they didn’t, he either stretched them or cut off their feet. I’m not interested in cutting the feet off my characters or stretching them to make them fit my certain point of view.”

— From a 1997 interview with Mother Jones

4. On so-called “pretty” works of literature

“I don’t know whether there are any really pretty novels … All of the motives a human being may have, which are mixed, that’s the novelists’ material. … We like to think of ourselves as really, really good people. But look in the mirror. Really look. Look at your own mixed motives. And then multiply that.”

— From a 2010 interview with The Progressive

5. On the artist’s relationship with her fans

“The artist doesn’t necessarily communicate. The artist evokes … [It] actually doesn’t matter what I feel. What matters is how the art makes you feel.”

— From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

6. On the challenges of writing non-fiction

“When I was young I believed that ‘nonfiction’ meant ‘true.’ But you read a history written in, say, 1920 and a history of the same events written in 1995 and they’re very different. There may not be one Truth—there may be several truths—but saying that is not to say that reality doesn’t exist.”

— From a 1997 interview with Mother Jones

7. On poetry

“The genesis of a poem for me is usually a cluster of words. The only good metaphor I can think of is a scientific one: dipping a thread into a supersaturated solution to induce crystal formation.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

8. On being labeled an icon

“All these things set a standard of behavior that you don’t necessarily wish to live up to. If you’re put on a pedestal you’re supposed to behave like a pedestal type of person. Pedestals actually have a limited circumference. Not much room to move around.”

— From a 2013 interview with The Telegraph

9. On how we’re all born writers

“[Everyone] ‘writes’ in a way; that is, each person has a ‘story’—a personal narrative—which is constantly being replayed, revised, taken apart and put together again. The significant points in this narrative change as a person ages—what may have been tragedy at 20 is seen as comedy or nostalgia at 40.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

10. On the oppression at the center of The Handmaid's Tale

“Nothing makes me more nervous than people who say, ‘It can’t happen here. Anything can happen anywhere, given the right circumstances.” 

— From a 2015 lecture to West Point cadets

11. On the discord between men and women

“‘Why do men feel threatened by women?’ I asked a male friend of mine. … ‘They’re afraid women will laugh at them,’ he said. ‘Undercut their world view.’ … Then I asked some women students in a poetry seminar I was giving, ‘Why do women feel threatened by men?’ ‘They’re afraid of being killed,’ they said.”

— From Atwood’s Second Words: Selected Critical Prose, 1960-1982

12. On the challenges of expressing oneself

“All writers feel struck by the limitations of language. All serious writers.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

13. On selfies

“I say they should enjoy it while they can. You’ll be happy later to have taken pictures of yourself when you looked good. It’s human nature. And it does no good to puritanically say, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t be doing that,’ because people do.”

— From a 2013 interview with The Telegraph

14. On the value of popular kids' series (à la Harry Potter and Percy Jackson)

"It put a lot of kids onto reading; it made reading cool. I’m sure a lot of later adult book clubs came out of that experience. Let people begin where they are rather than pretending that they’re something else, or feeling that they should be something else."

— From a 2014 interview with The Huffington Post

15. On why even the bleakest post-apocalyptic novels are, deep down, full of hope

“Any novel is hopeful in that it presupposes a reader. It is, actually, a hopeful act just to write anything, really, because you’re assuming that someone will be around to [read] it.”

— From a 2011 interview with The Atlantic 

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China's New Tianjin Binhai Library is Breathtaking—and Full of Fake Books
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A massive new library in Tianjin, China, is gaining international fame among bibliophiles and design buffs alike. As Arch Daily reports, the five-story Tianjin Binhai Library has capacity for more than 1 million books, which visitors can read in a spiraling, modernist auditorium with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.

Several years ago, municipal officials in Tianjin commissioned a team of Dutch and Japanese architects to design five new buildings, including the library, for a cultural center in the city’s Binhai district. A glass-covered public corridor connects these structures, but the Tianjin Binhai Library is still striking enough to stand out on its own.

The library’s main atrium could be compared to that of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Guggenheim Museum in New York City. But there's a catch: Its swirling bookshelves don’t actually hold thousands of books. Look closer, and you’ll notice that the shelves are printed with digital book images. About 200,000 real books are available in other rooms of the library, but the jaw-dropping main room is primarily intended for socialization and reading, according to Mashable.

The “shelves”—some of which can also serve as steps or seating—ascend upward, curving around a giant mirrored sphere. Together, these elements resemble a giant eye, prompting visitors to nickname the attraction “The Eye of Binhai,” reports Newsweek. In addition to its dramatic main auditorium, the 36,000-square-foot library also contains reading rooms, lounge areas, offices, and meeting spaces, and has two rooftop patios.

Following a three-year construction period, the Tianjin Binhai Library opened on October 1, 2017. Want to visit, but can’t afford a trip to China? Take a virtual tour by checking out the photos below.

A general view of the Tianjin Binhai Library
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People visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
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A general view of China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A woman taking pictures at China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A man visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A woman looking at books at China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A general view of China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

People visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

[h/t Newsweek]

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