Snapshots from Green Victoria (tedwords) wrote,
Snapshots from Green Victoria

Summer reading

My summer reading so far has been centered on two books: The Complete Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, and John Adams by David McCullough.

The first I just completed a few days ago, and I have to say, it was a complete joy. I love Mark Twain, particularly his unpublished, more eccentric material, but I haven't read Tom Sawyer since I was a boy, and at that, I never read the "complete" Tom Sawyer, which included two short novellas, Tom Sawyer Abroad and Tom Sawyer, Detective . The Adventures of Huck Finn weren't included, although Tom appears in that, too. So I guess it's less than complete.

I love the episodic nature of the first Tom Sawyer, and the fact that the book isn't as well constructed as today's novels are. Twain allows himself the luxury of being able to deviate from the main narrative, and that's a welcome relief. I love meandering.

In fact, the climax, with Tom and Becky, lost in the caves, and encountering Injun Joe, seems rushed and hurried. Tom sees Injun Joe, gasps, moves back to Becky, and they find a way out. The drama is underplayed. In today's literary world, that scene would have played out in excruciating detail, which much sturm and drang.

I think there's something to be said for this. It comes across as more direct, from the author. It doesn't feel as contrived. It's a simpler time, a simpler read, and more enjoyable, in some ways, as a result. Twain didn't have to go through 50 readers and an agent and editor asking for a million and one changes, that's for sure.

The subsequent novellas are even less polished. One is written as a parody of a Jules Vern fantasy, the other as a parody of the detective genre. It's almost as if Twain were looking to place Tom Sawyer in a variety of genres. Admittedly, he wrote both of these for the money, so literary aspirations are few.

Tom Sawyer Abroad is particularly silly. Tom and Huck discover a fantastic flying machine and travel to Africa with Joe. Not much of anything happens, except that Tom Sawyer lectures Huck and Joe endlessly. I think even Twain got tired of the story after a while, because it ends quite abruptly. In one section, the boys have entered Egypt and stop to see the Sphinx, and suddenly, Tom's corn cob pipe breaks. He asks Joe to travel back to home to get another pipe, and when he comes back, Joe says that Aunt Polly is made at Tom and said that she's sitting on the front porch until he returns. They leave. Two pages, end of story. No climax whatsoever.

Tom Sawyer, Detective, in my opinion, is much better written and quite entertaining. It's also only about 40 pages, but feels more like the original Tom Sawyer, except that somehow Huck has almost become like an adopted brother to Tom, with Aunt Polly's consent, and travels with him everywhere. Even so, it has an extremely abrupt ending, too, with a final chapter of about 12 pages (much longer than any other chapters, which were typically only 3 or 4 pages). The climatic court scene is extremely involved and entertaining, but after that, Tom gets a reward, splits it with Huck, Huck is happy, you turn the page...

And there's nothing more. I don't know, I was expected the whole thing to be wrapped up a little prettier than that.

I am not yet through with John Adams, in contrast. Still, it's a fascinating, well-written biography, and gives me tons of detail about this period in American history, which thrills me to no end. I like obscure details!

My friend Judi, who just finished directing 1776, actually met David McCullough a few weeks ago. She asked him about the mini series. From the sounds of it, she doesn't think he much liked Paul Giamatti in the lead role. Thought he lacked passion, which is what he felt Adams was all about.
Tags: books
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