May 25: Wear the Lilac Towel Day

Lilac Towel Day

May 25th, as all fans of Douglass Adams should know, is Towel Day, the day to flaunt your towel in memory of an amazing author. From Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapors; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

Adams’ excellent advice about panic (don’t) and the answer to the ultimate meaning of life (42) is second (and third) in importance only to knowing where your towel is at all times. He also understood deadlines:

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But mostly I like his approach to life:

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and

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But that’s not all! May 25th is also, as any fan of Terry Pratchett should know, Wear the Lilac Day. From Wikipedia:

The 25th of May is quietly celebrated by the survivors of the People’s Revolution, which ended the reign of Lord Winder. They wear a sprig of lilac and gather at the Small Gods Cemetery to honour the Watchmen who fell: Cecil Clapman, Ned Coates, Dai Dickins, John Keel, Horace Nancyball, Billy Wiglet, and (albeit temporarily) Reg Shoe. . . . The slogan of the People’s Revolution is “Truth, Justice, Freedom, Reasonably Priced Love, and a Hard-Boiled Egg!”

Pratchett is insanely quotable and even more insanely readable . . .

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And I especially like his approach to drafting . . .

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And his approach to aging . . .

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After Pratchett’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, Wear the Lilac Day is now used to raise awareness and funding for Alzheimer’s research.

Because of this, today is the day that Argh Nation Wears the Lilac Towel in honor of two great authors who have brought immense pleasure and truly weird characters into our world. We shall never forget (although we may be a little absent-minded at times and are easily distracted).

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30 thoughts on “May 25: Wear the Lilac Towel Day

  1. I adore beyond belief Douglass Adams’ books. So yay for Towel Day.

    I have never Terry Pratchett. I have never liked Sci Fi, and any “Sci Fi”-ish covers, etc., have tended to scare me away. I can no longer recall why I ended up reading Hitchhiker’s Guide which started me off on Adams. And the covers of Pratchett’s books have always scared me away because of the sci-fi-ish bent. (Such is the power of book covers…!)

    However, because of this post, I am now inspired to stick my toe in the Pratchett pond — any recommendations on where to start??

    (BTW, I also do not like Sci-Fi in movies, but something about Blade Runner, which I saw many, many moons ago while staying at a hotel in Tokyo, also spoke to me. Not sure what. Something about the atmosphere and I loved the patois spoken in the street scenes…)

    1. Make that “I have never READ Terry Pratchett” — in case you were wondering!

      1. The Pratchett I hand people who have never read him before is usually Reaper Man – it stands on its own well enough, and introduces the characters as necessary, and how can you not love Death of Rats?? But Jenny’s completely correct, they are not SF in any noticeable way. And much closer to Douglas Adams.

    2. They’re not SF, they’re fantasy/social satire/really funny.
      I started with the Watch books which begin with Guards, Guards! My favorites are Going Postal and Thief of Time. Hogfather at Christmas. Any books about Death and Susan. A lot of people love the Witches books. (Lani, Krissie, and I have claimed Magrat, Nanny Ogg, and Granny Weatherwax as our doppelgängers.) The full list is here. (Scroll down to novels.) Skip the Rincewind books; Mort is a lot of fun (young man who doesn’t fit in anywhere ends up apprenticed to Death), I’ve always loved Pyramids, so if you like Egyptian mythology, that could be fun for you, Small Gods is about religion and it’s amazing, if you like mysteries, read the Watch books . . .
      I could go on for days. I love Pratchett.

    3. You know, somebody else you might like is Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London books. They’re police procedurals set in current-day London about a cop who works in the secret magic division. They’re uneven–he really likes to describe architecture–but I’ve enjoyed every one of them. Great imagination.

      1. LOVE Ben Aaronovitch! He’s got a very fresh, original, quirky outlook. Kind of like what would happen if Harry Potter was a multiracial cop in London–as written by Doug Adams!

    4. I think many of the paperback covers of Pratchett’s books are very off-putting, perhaps especially to women (?), but, really, the stories are nothing like the covers, in my experience. Don’t let them stop you from reading them.

      It took me many, many, many recommendations from trusted people (including Jenny, I think) before I actually picked one up, and it was an early Rincewind one, which isn’t Pratchett at his best, but I could see the potential, and each book got better until he hit his stride, and I didn’t stop reading until I’d gone through the entire Discworld corpus.

      1. That’s a good point:
        They’re like chocolate chip cookies. You just can’t stop. And then you start shoving them on your friends . . .

      2. I love the colourful covers, They brought out a version with plainer covers so people could buy them and not feel they are reading a children’s book. I bought one second hand and feel myself actively avoiding it. My cousin gave me Mort for Christmas and I never looked back. .

    5. I’d echo the recommendations to try Guards, Guards or Going Postal. Each one can stand alone really nicely, each one is the entree to a very satisfying series of related books, and both are funny, a little sad, a little hopeful, with some romance thrown in. You have to start them with the realization that you are reading about a place that’s Almost England but not quite, but they’re not phony self-conscious Fantasy with a capital F, or fanboy sciency like Science Fiction with a capital SF. They’re smart and charming and better than most other books you will find yourself having read.

  2. Two of my absolute favourite writers, who make us laugh while still saying very interesting things about what it means to be human. Adams was very dear to me when I was a teenager and eminently quotable. A while ago, I saw the anniversary stage show version of Hitchhiker’s, in London and it’s still as fresh and funny as ever.

    Pratchett is a genius and I always recommend him to my students because his books are easy to read and fun, but they are also so well written. I love all the allusions to everything from Greek mythology to pop culture and it’s a joy to see how many you can spot. The Guards’ books are the ones I love best, but I’ve read everything and even his worst book has something interesting in it. Just last week I had a conversation with a Jordanian 15-year-old about our top 5 Discworld characters, which proved to be a very difficult task so we expanded it to our top 10. We both agreed that The Librarian had to be in there somewhere. Only Terry P could make an orang-utan who just says ‘ook’ such a well rounded and dynamic character!

    I’ve always wanted to be a frood who knows where my towel’s at, but that seems harder and harder to achieve as I bumble through life!

  3. If I were to recommend where to start, I’d say from the beginning, with ‘The Colour of Magic’. But there are a lot of books! So, to make it more manageable, ‘Guards, Guards’, ‘Men at Arms’ and ‘Night Watch’ are a good introduction to the Discworld. Or ‘Wyrd Sisters’. I envy anyone who’s getting to read them for the first time. I could probably recite huge chunks of ‘Guards, Guards’ by now! When I tell people my 3 desert island books would be ‘Jane Eyre’, ‘Possession’ and ‘Guards, Guards’, (with an option also to have some Shakespeare plays, if I’m allowed, or the box set of ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’!) they look at me askance at the inclusion of Mr Pratchett. But that book never fails to cheer me up and it’s beautifully written. He can make you laugh and weep and get all philosophical, just from one page.

    1. I think all three of my desert island books would be Pratchett. Definitely Thief of Time. And Going Postal is an almost perfect book (said the champion nitpicker). And Guards, Guards! as character study, detailed setting, social satire, and perfect ending . . .

      1. I love the way ‘Going Postal’ is structured. It’s good to use for students as a master class in how to have a narrative arc. The characters are so likeable and so much fun. Plus he’s incredibly inventive, even with names. I find myself grinning throughout as I read. I have a friend at work who loves him and we have the best time having ‘quote offs’, as so many of TP’s words are worth repeating and he’s the master of the pithy phrase. And he makes me laugh out loud, which is rarer than it should be when reading books nowadays.

  4. Happy Lilac Towel day!

    My lilacs are on the kitchen table and blooming beautifully in the back yard.

    Having read Hitchhikers and the Colour of Magic, I understand most of the references. I made it halfway through The Restaurant at the End of the Universe and love the psychic elevator. Read the first two Dirk Gently novels, but felt Adams cheated with the first one, got stuck and created a time machine. We’re planning a road trip in June. Planning on listening to The Light Fantastic. I intend to listen to all of Discworld but until recently no library I had access to carried the audio books. Audible has them, but given that there are 40 books, it will be fairly expensive to purchase the whole set. This isn’t a complete list of Discworld, but it is a useful diagram and if you get through them all, you’ll be able to figure out the rest: http://www.lspace.org/books/reading-order-guides/the-discworld-reading-order-guide-20.jpg

    1. I really didn’t like The Colour of Magic; don’t think I even tried The Light Fantastic. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t like the first ones.

    2. Ooh, Dirk Gently trivia time! The first Dirk Gently book was originally a Tom Baker-era Doctor Who story called “Shada” that never finished filming. (So the time travel was hardly added on afterwards!) Footage from the ep was later recycled into “The Five Doctors” when Tom Baker refused to return for that special: the Fourth Doctor and Romana punting on the River Cam.
      That book also has a joke that took me YEARS to get since the character A.K. Ross is almost invariably referred to as such and only once, in the most glancingest of ways, does someone actually call him “Al.” (In fact I never did actually figure it out on my own; thanks, TVTropes!) Dang, that’s subtle.

      And for the Discworld side of things, Mark, of Mark Does Stuff (markreads.net for this project), is making his way through the entire Discworld canon; he’s presently nearly finished with Light Fantastic. It’s a pretty fun ride going along with him, especially since he has a fondness for awful puns and is really enjoying the early novels, which makes a nice change from the norm. I particularly love it when he becomes incredulous over how many people told him he wouldn’t like the early stuff but that he should keep pressing on regardless; there’s a lot of “You mean this gets BETTER?!” which is just delightful to watch. Yes, Mark. It gets QUITE a bit better…

      1. I think I have a limited range of silly as opposed to funny.
        Although the Luggage is not silly. The Luggage is awesome.

        1. I agree, Luggage is awesome! And that The Colour of Magic isn’t. I read it 9 years ago and kind of left Pratchett there. I’m trying again. The must read in order thing is a mild compulsive thing that I must do.

  5. I tweeted a very good towel day pic, but had to carry a shawl instead. I will now add lilac day to the diary.

  6. I haven’t read Douglas Adams, but Pratchett – oh, yes, especially his guards novels. I love him and mourn for his wonderful mind deteriorating with Alzheimer’s. Lilac is the thing. Thanks for the reminder.

    1. He seems to have a different kind of Alzheimer’s. He’s lost abilities, but he’s not senile, so intellectually he’s still pretty good I think. He has to dictate his books now, and I think that might be changing his style. It would definitely change mine.

      1. Yes, I think he handles exposition differently now. I finished Raising Steam recently and it wasn’t the same.

        1. I think you have to take each book by any author on its own. Pratchett’s worst book is still interesting and probably better than 50% of the stuff out there. His best book is better than anything. It’s the curse of the good writer: we compare what he’s doing now to what he was doing before, and it’s not the same because he’s different. He’d be different even without his health problems. So the key is to look at each book on its own.

          At least that’s what I keep telling myself. And he’s written so many stellar stories. I just reread Hogsfather and Thief of Time this week, and they’re marvelous stories just as stories, but the concepts he uses, the way he talks about myth and time while entertaining the hell out of you, it’s amazing, amazing stuff.

  7. All this new reading will certainly cut into my writing time, but I’ll give them a whirl. Anything titled, ‘Going Postal’, and ‘Long, Dark Tea-Time of the Soul’ certainly warrants it.
    We can get together and write companion pieces! “Overnight Delivery: It’s Probably Broken” Or, “Brief, Sunny Beach Day for the Morose”.

  8. May 25th is also Sam Vimes the Younger’s birthday. Since I see a bright future for the lad, I wonder if his birthday will one day be the first one mentioned …

  9. I haven’t read very many of Pratchett’s books, but I loved Nation. I haven’t even read it, I heard an adaptation to radio on the BBC. It was wonderful. It’s not a Discworld novel, but alternative history. Highly recommended.

  10. I adore Pratchett — I started at the beginning of the Discworld books, and laughed and laughed on the trainride home. The other passengers must have thought I was nuts as I smothered my giggles. And each book just got better. So, I would recommend starting at the start, because they do lose a little tiny bit of something when you’ve read the better Pratchetts. And nobody should miss The Luggage.

    How interesting that those two guys intersect in time and space on May 25th! I adore Adams, too!

    And Aaronovitch is very good, too. A mailing list I belong to just finished Rivers of London/Midnight Riot and it was so much fun! Aaronvitch is good the first time, and then on the second re-read, you start to see how clever he was. I wasn’t so crazy about the kind of violence in the police procedurals, but it made a lot more sense the second time around.

    And of course, if you are in a book group with real, live British people, you can grill them on stuff like the Ford ASBO. (-: Or what a Tesco carrier bag looks like.

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