Always Know where Your Towel Is

photo of Douglas Adams
Today is Towel Day, an international day of celebration when we remember the late, great Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy among many other works. Adams’ work influenced a generation of writers and humorists and also got me in trouble a lot in junior high when I tried to read his stuff during math class and always got caught because I would laugh out loud.

Towel Day is inspired by one of Adams’ mottos: “Always know where your towel is.” As detailed in Hitchhiker’s Guide:

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 vapours; 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 — daft as a brush, but very very ravenous); 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.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost.” What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

Hence a phrase that has passed into hitchhiking slang, as in “Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There’s a frood who really knows where his towel is.” (Sass: know, be aware of, meet, have sex with; hoopy: really together guy; frood: really amazingly together guy.)

Thank you, Douglas Adams for teaching us not to panic, even if the dolphins abandon earth, which could happen at any moment. So long, and thanks for all the fish.

Between the Lines Book Club: Books About Immigration in California

between the lines book club logoThis month our book club is reading The Other Americans by Laila Lalami. If possible we’ll meet on May 30th, but since the library is closed at least until May 22 we are having a discussion right here in the comments section. What did you think of this book? Did the pacing work for you? What about the romance? Did you guess who done it? Who ARE the “other Americans”?

If you enjoyed this book try these other books about immigration in California:


The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otuska

American Street by Ibi Zoboi


The Distance Between Us, by Reyna Grande

The Devil’s Highway,  by Luis Alberto Urrea

Funny in Farsi, by Firoozeh Dumas

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, by Anne Fadiman






Eliza Doolittle Day!

Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle, selling flowers

This week is an auspicious one, for Wednesday, May 20th, is Eliza Doolittle Day, as foretold by Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. Celebrate with singing, with proper elocution, with chocolates, and by witnessing the execution of your enemies. Well, at least have some chocolates.


Between the Lines Book Club: All About Laila Lalami

between the lines book club logoThis month we are having book club right here in the comments section! The library will be closed at least until May 22 and I’ll keep you updated if I get any new information. Our book is The Other Americans by Laila Lalami.

Lalami was born in Rabat, Morocco in 1968 and moved to the United States to attend college in 1992. She is fluent in French, Arabic, and English, and uses English as her writing language. Her novel The Moor’s Account was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction and The Other Americans was a finalist for the National Book Awards.

In this essay, Lalami talks about speaking and writing in different languages.

In LitHub, Lalami talks about growing up, writing, and other topics.

And here’s an interview:




Between the Lines Book Club: The Other Americans by Laila Lalami

between the lines book club logoWelcome Book Clubbers, I hope you are all well! Quarantine may come and go but Book Club stays strong! This month we are reading The Other Americans by Laila Lalami, available from Sacramento Public Library as a digital read. Our scheduled meeting date is May 30 and I’ll keep you posted about that (at this time the library is closed until at least May 22) but for now let’s keep our comments going online!

Just to get us started, here are some discussion questions as recommended by the publisher. What did you think about this book?

1. The Other Americans explores themes of immigration, community, and identity. Discuss each of these topics with relation to The Other Americans. How is it a novel of immigration? And community? How do these connect to identity?

2. How is The Other Americans a novel about storytelling and the importance of stories, everyone’s stories? And the importance of telling and listening to stories?

3. Why do you think Lalami tells this story using many different voices and writing in the first person for each voice? And why does she turn to the second person for Salma’s chapter? How does this affect your reading? How do you relate to the various characters?

4. Nora is a composer who loves music and sees music as colors. How does this affect how she views the world and interacts with other? Do you think she is more sensitive than other people?

5. Throughout much of the novel, Jeremy is filled with nostalgia for Nora in high school. She was kind to him after his mother died and his father fell apart. Compare and contrast the Jeremy in high school with Jeremy the ex-Marine and policeman.

6. Both Jeremy and his friend Fierro fought in Iraq. How do they separately deal with the trauma from that time? How does it affect their relationships with women and with each other? Do you think Fierro will ever recover from fighting in the war?

7. How is A. J.’s voice and story important to the novel? How do his bullying and racist comments connect with his fierce devotion to dogs and to his mother?

8. “Lalami captures the complex ways humans can be strangers not just outside their ‘tribes’ but within them, as well as to themselves.”(Publishers Weekly, starred review) How has Nora been a stranger to herself? Is it because, as her mother says, she has her “head in the clouds” (p. 17)? Why does she have a tattoo on her wrist reading “a voice crying out” (p. 93)? Has she been running away from herself and chasing something that isn’t necessarily what she needs/wants? How does she find her way home?

9. Nora’s mother, Maryam, moves to the United States from Morocco, away from her parents and extended family, and feels “it was like being orphaned” (p. 31). In the United States, she says, “All I ever wanted was to keep my family together.” (p. 79). How does Maryam keep the family together and the family narrative intact?

10. How does Nora’s relationship with her mother evolve over the course of the novel? Why?

11. “How strange the work of memory . . . what some people remembered and others forgot.” (p. 138) Comment on this quote in relation to the novel as a whole.

12. Everyone in the novel is an outsider in some way. How? Discuss each of the characters and their place as outsider or “other,” whether it is by race, religion, or class.

13. How is this a general tale of our time and a story specific to its place, Southern California? Describe the setting. How does nature (and in particular the Mojave Desert and the Joshua Tree National Park), play a part in the novel?

14. The Other Americans begins with a death and ends, in a way, with a birth and a rebirth. Why do you think Lalami has ended her novel with a pregnant Nora?

15. “Home was wide-open spaces, pristine light, silence that wasn’t quite silence. Home, above all, was the people who loved me.” (p. 301) How does this novel revolve around home? Noticing home, returning home, discovering home, creating home? Discuss several of the characters’ relationships to home. How are Nora’s and her mother’s connection to home both similar and different? How about Coleman’s and Efraín’s? And how about Jeremy and Fierro?

16. Despite both being immigrants, how and why are Driss’s and Efraín’s lives and roles in the town different?

17. The love story between Nora and Jeremy is central to the novel. What does it take for Nora to open up to his love and to accept her love for him?

18. Discuss the differences between the two Guerraoui sisters. What are their similarities and differences? How have their lives taken different paths since graduating from high school and leaving home: where and how they live, what professions they have, what kind of partner they gravitate toward?

19. “Stories help us see the world through the eyes of others: We see what they see; we’re provoked or inspired or amused; we take sides or withhold judgment—but in the end, we find order in disorder. We make sense of the world around us through the language of stories. Reading fiction also allows us to expand the limits of our imagination and helps us develop empathy—qualities that seem to be in short supply at the moment.” (Laila Lalami in an essay in The Nation) How does this quote from Lalami dovetail with this novel? How has reading this novel (or fiction in general) opened your eyes or helped you develop empathy?