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Posts Tagged ‘classics’

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

September 30, 2010 1 comment

I’m not sure if I mis-remember what classic books I read up through high school or if I just don’t remember the plots.  I am 100% sure that I read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; in fact I can remember buying the book when my parents took us on a summer trip that included Hannibal, Missouri.  (I wonder what ever happened to that edition?)  I thought I had read Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but I now suspect that I had read selections from the novel, or perhaps an abridged version for children.

I selected this novel from the Essential Man’s Library on the artofmanliness.com, which is part of my 101 goals in 1001 days list.  I found an audiobook and Janet and I started to listen to it when we drove to Minnesota in early September.  We only listened to approximately 2 minutes before we had to shut it off; the narrator attempted to read the book in a similar dialect in which the book was written.  It was almost unbearable.

Several weeks later, I tried it again.  After about 30 minutes or so, the dialects started to disappear into the text.

My favorite parts of the novel:

  • The articles to which each member had to sign in blood to belong to Tom Sawyer’s gang.  I laughed at how Tom used half-remembered stories and histories to create his blood-thirsty gang, how his imagination could fill in details of Arabic caravans and ransoms, and how many of the gang members had trouble getting free to rob and pillage because their parents wouldn’t let them out.
  • The episode with the snakes and rats.  Tom Sawyer wanted to recreate those same adventure stories (like The Count of Monte Cristo) where prisoners had to use, for example, spoons to dig out of castles.  To make Jim’s captivity and eventual escape more real, the two boys decided to capture snakes and rats for the cell.  Unfortunately, the trap of rats was stored safely under his aunt’s bed and Tom’s cousin opened it, just to see if the rats would exit the cage.  The snakes were captured in a bag, but it wasn’t tied tightly enough, while the two went to supper.  Huck couldn’t understand why rats would disturb the aunt so much and why snakes dropping from the rafters down her back would make her scream.  And, then Huck’s wistful comment that even though they captured some more, the original group was better.

The episode of the feud between the Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons and the antics of the King and the Duke were completely unfamiliar to me.

When I mentioned the book to Janet, she vividly remembered Huck’s attempt to dress as a girl and what tests were used to discover that he was really a boy.

For me, the major theme seemed to be deception:

  • Tom’s self deception via his imagination
  • Huck faking his brutal death
  • Huck attempting to disguise himself (1) as a girl to get local information — he’s caught; (2) as an orphaned boy in the home of the Grangerfords — with tragic results; (3) as a valet — somewhat better results after he tells the truth
  • The King and the Duke

I found it to be an enjoyable read, very witty at times, with a strange mix of naivete and self-reliance.

4 out of 5 stars (Sept 20, 2010)

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A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

September 5, 2010 Leave a comment

On the way to Minnesota this weekend, we listened to a reading of A Christmas Carol performed by Tim Curry.  This unabridged version was a free selection on Audible several years ago and doesn’t appear to be available any longer.

A Christmas Carol is one of those books which has been performed hundreds of times:  in movies, TV specials, cartoons, and has been interpreted by the Muppets, Rich Little, and even updated by Bill Murray in Scrooged.  I’ve read the story itself a number of times and won’t waste any time giving an outline of the plot.  Instead, I’ll remark on my reactions this time.

  • I do feel that this is a book to be read aloud, preferably by a good narrator.  The lines are so rich with traditional character that one can almost quote them by heart.  Tim Curry did an excellent job with Scrooge’s character:  not taking the lonely, miserly character over the top and bringing believability to his night of repentance.
  • This reading, I noticed how the Ghost of Christmas Present not only showed Scrooge the households of the Cratchits and Scrooge’s own nephew, but also guided him through the streets of London, giving him a taste of good Christmas cheer even to those downtrodden (the miners, for example) who might be perceived to have little to be thankful for.
  • Janet and I both remarked that the prize turkey delivered to the Crachits had no hope of being Christmas dinner, not at that late date!
  • The story still has power today, despite the specifics of the mid-Nineteeenth Century.

4 out of 5 stars

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Lord of the Flies by William Golding

August 30, 2010 2 comments

Just completed Lord of the Flies by William Golding which I vaguely remember reading when I was in high school.  My recollection was that I had found the book interesting, but not wildly so, and that I was a bit startled by the idea that supposedly civilized human beings would devolve into an anarchist, thrill-for-the moment state.

Now in my early 40s, I’m not quite so naive.

The theme itself was still fascinating.  I thought perhaps the execution was a bit heavy-handed, though.  Golding tries too hard to include symbols and metaphors rather than allowing them to more naturally and more subtly unfold.

I found the reading to be rather a difficult slog, perhaps due to my own reading laziness.  Too much description for me.  I also had a hard time trying to determine who was speaking in much of the dialogue.

While I’ll never forget the last two or three pages, I found it strange that I completely mis-remember most of the events in the last half of the book.  I didn’t recall Simon as a character at all and I seemed to have merged Simon’s and Piggy’s fate in my memory.

One poignant comment was made at the end of the novel where the naval officer mistakes the paint and the hunt for the more idyllic life in The Coral Island, a 19th Century novel by R.M. Ballantyne, which I loved as a kid.  (Ah, the breadfruit tree!)

I know. Jolly good show. Like The Coral Island.

2 1/2 out of 5 stars

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The Odyssey by Homer

I thought I had read The Odyssey when I was in high school.  Having just finished it, I realize that I knew the plot and the various exciting adventures of Odysseus from reading tons of mythology when I was a kid, but I had never actually read the epic itself.

The version I listened to was translated by Robert Fagles (who was the translator for the Aeneid we used in my Latin language class) and was read by Ian McKellen.  The translation was smooth and very readable, but yet still seemed to have the classical verse feel.  I generally dislike reading these classics in verse form since the line breaks interrupt the flow of the thought for me; it is intensely worse if in rhyming verse (which this was not).  But having GANDALF read the lines, easily tripping from his tongue, was wonderful.

Back to the content, a few thoughts:

  • The Telemachus’ frame story was much more rich and lengthy than I had imagined.
  • Many times, Homer alludes to the actions of the gods and goddesses in ways that could easily be attributed to chance, to natural events, and to “inspiration”.  I found this to be very charming.  I was also  intrigued by the repeated references to Athena transforming Odysseus, Laertes, and Telemachus into taller, more robust, more noble men.
  • One tiresome image was the repetition the break of day as “Dawn with her rosy fingers”.  I suppose that this might be a literary devise when reciting the epic, but its unvarying wording became grating a bit.
  • The actual adventures were rather short episodes in the story:  Calypso, Circe, the Lotus-Eaters, the Cyclops Polyphemus, the winds of Aeolus, the Sirens, and Scylla and Charybdis.  The vast share of the story is about Telemachus’s search for news of his father and the events after Odysseus lands on his home shores of Ithaca.
  • My image of Odysseus’ vaunted loyalty to his wife and his neverending desire to return to her was a bit tarnished, since he clearly has a physical relationship with Calypso and Circe (albeit pressed to it by the power of these women) and his untrusting testing of Penelope.
  • I was enthralled by the cast of commoners (the pig herder, the housekeeper) who truly exemplify some of the most noble character in the book.  I wonder if this was unusual for the time period?
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