Other People's Favourite Books – Rosalie Skinner on Douglas Adams' Last Chance to See

Tell us a little about yourself and what you do.

Hi, I’m Rosalie and I write speculative fiction. Writing is a passion that followed hot on the heels of reading avidly for too many years too count. For twenty years, I painted portraits and taught other artists how to approach painting portraits in oils, after the methods of Joshua Smith. Now I spend my days writing, revising, or reviewing writing. The first two books in my series ‘The Chronicles of Caleath’ are available on Amazon. Although well received by readers, they are not readily available here, so I am now looking for an Australian publisher/distributor.

What is one of your favourite books?

Once upon a time (1990) Douglas Adams wrote a book with Mark Carwardine called Last Chance to See. With The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on my favourite’s shelf, it was an automatic reaction to read this offering, although it veered away from his fiction writing. From the opening paragraph Douglas Adams worked his magic. I stumbled onto a book that remains my favourite to this day.

How do you describe this book when you recommend it to other people?

Describing Last Chance to See? It’s a travelogue; an ecological essay; and an informative and brilliantly funny look at the world from the perspective of Douglas Adams. It brought me to tears. Literal tears of laughter, while my belly ached from ROFL, and tears of regret and loss learning of the dire predicament of too many endangered species.

How old were you and what was going on in your life when you first read it?

I was raising a family, trying to instil in them the love of environment and nature. As a member of Greenpeace I was campaigning for the Southern Whale Sanctuary, renewing petition pages every few days in our local library. The interest (in the plight of our whales) from a staunch coal mining community, amazed me then, and still does. They were not a ‘green’ community by any means.

How many times have you read it?

Too many to count, and not enough to remember all the best bits. I bought several copies way back when, gave them to people for presents, then lost track of them. When asked about my favourite book, I started asking around, looking for a copy. Yesterday Fate led me to an op shop where Last Chance to See hardcover version, was sitting on the shelf, begging me to buy it for $2. What could I do? So, now I am reading, and laughing, again.

Who wouldn’t you recommend it to?

I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who might suffer from too much laughter. Then again, someone who has no heartbeat or sense of humour might not enjoy it either. All others should find something of interest within the covers.

Do you have a crush on one of the characters, or the author? Or do you want to be one of them?

A friend of mine has actually met Douglas Adams. I don’t think I have ever had a crush on him, but he would definitely be high on my list of people I would have liked to have met. What a tragedy he has passed on. The world lost an incredible mind.

Have you read other books by the author? If yes, what did you think of them? If no, why not?

Everything, from Hitchhikers Guide, Long Dark Teatime of the Soul, The Meaning of Liff, to The Salmon of Doubt. All have his touch of genius. The Adams stamp.

What do you love most about it?

Adams’ ability to look at everything in such a way as to leave the reader rolling around clutching their belly, laughing aloud or weeping. It is not a book to read in public, unless you are prepared to explain the chuckles, the belly laughs or the weeping openly.

Think about the feeling it gave, or gives you. What could you most closely relate that to?

By its nature, this book looks at the tragic predicament of several endangered species. Not all are glamorous, or well documented, but their predicament is dire. Still Douglas manages to convey their situation without leaving us despondent. The overall tone of the book is uplifting. There are people who care. He shows us the funny side of life, while looking into the darkest shadows.

Can you share with us a favourite moment, passage, or line in the book?

Not sure if copyright allows, but here goes… oddly these snippets are more about his attitude to flying rather than the species he visits, but anyone who has reservations about flying will identify with him.

Douglas is preparing to fly to the island of Komodo to visit the dragons there. He has finally managed to get his luggage onto the right plane.

That done we could finally relax about the baggage and start seriously to worry about the state of the plane, which was terrifying.

The door to the cockpit remained open for the duration of the flight and might have been missing entirely.

Mark was watching the instruments in the cockpit with curious intensity, and after a while said that half of them simply weren’t working. I laughed, a little hectically, I admit, and said that it was probably just as well. If the instruments were working they would probably distract and worry the pilots and I would rather they just got on with what they were doing.

Again, later in the book, Douglas is about to embark on a sixteen seater missionary’s plane in a remote part of Zaire.

I wasn’t disturbed so much by the ‘O Lord, we thank Thee for the blessings of this day’, but ‘We commend our lives into Thy hands, O Lord’ is frankly not the sort of thing you want to hear from a pilot as his hand is reaching for the throttle…

Do any other books come close? Name a couple if so.

Well, for the unique Douglas Adams style of wit and humour, my favourite is Long Dark Teatime of the Soul. Close second is Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. A book that comes close to Last Chance to See with its mix of travel, zoology and human insight, I have not found anything yet, nor do I expect to now we have lost Douglas Adams.

See Saxxon Blue on Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood; Chris Pash on Larry McMurty’s Lonesome Dove; and Barry Simiana on Robert Heinlein’s Tunnel in the Sky.

Email me if you want to tell the world about your favourite book, or if you’re a writer and want to show us your workspace … click ‘About Angela’ for contact details.

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