On This Day in Literary History #3

What happened today in our bookish history? Let’s find out!

May 25

1911: Thomas Mann visits the Lido in Venice

Thomas Mann was a German author who wrote the novel Death in Venice. The classic novel is about Gustav von Aschenbach, an aging writer who decides to go to Venice to find artistic inspiration. Instead, he becomes infatuated and obsessed with a 14 year old Polish boy whom he first sees at his hotel. Later, he becomes plagued with disease, but chooses to stay to (from what I understand) continue stalking the boy.

I had heard of this novel but had never known what it was about! It kind of reminds me of the premise of Lolita a bit.

1927: Robert Ludlum is Born

Robert Ludlum was an American author, best known for his thriller The Bourne Series. The series has since been made into movies starring Matt Damon as Jason Bourne– a CIA assassin who has suffered severe memory loss and has to rediscover who he is.

2001: Towel Day Celebrations Annually

If you’re like me, you have no idea what this means in terms of literature. Well, let me enlighten you. In Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, towels are an important component of the book. As Adams describes:

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.

— Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

In order to pay tribute to the book and the author, who died on May 11— two weeks before May 25—fans openly carry a towel with them. Will you be carrying a towel today?

Catherine


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