Pass, Fail, Promise: Classic Lit

Pass: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

I think that I must be one of only about five people in the US who didn’t have this book for required reading–ever–in all the time I was at school.

It’s kind of a shame, really, because I like the little I have read of Mark Twain. I remember being ten years old, up at my grandparent’s lake cottage. We were spending a particularly long vacation up there–two or three weeks, I think, instead of our usual one week. It was hot, and humid, and I spent most of my time either in the water, or sitting in the shade of the maple tree reading. On one of the many long walks my mom and I took, exploring the island and hitting every yard sale in town, I found a paperback copy of Tom Sawyer for ten cents. I read it in three days, and it was my favorite book of the summer. It was one of my first classics.

I don’t know why I didn’t pick up Huck Finn immediately after. Maybe because Huck wasn’t one of my favorite characters in Tom Sawyer (more likely, it had something to do with the subtle racism I was surrounded with at the time, but that’s a whole different kettle of fish).

If you are one of the few people who haven’t read this book, the plot boils down to this: a 14 year old boy fakes his own death to escape his abusive father. While making his escape, he stumbles upon a runaway slave named Jim, and the two decide to escape to Ohio together. Their plans go sideways, however, when they join forces with two grifters, and wind up going deeper south instead.

While I didn’t love every part of this book, it was highly entertaining. Huck manages to get himself into some really absurd tight spots, especially when his friend Tom shows up. Tom has a knack for overthinking and over-imagining, while Huck, though poorly educated, it much more rational.

There are some heavy issues dealt with in this book (abuse and slavery, among others) but they are tempered with Twain’s trademark humor. While the resolutions may not satisfy readers approaching the story with a strictly modern lens, they are appropriate to the time and reflect the difficulty of each situation.

Genre: Classics
Sub-Genre: Young adult, adventure
Page Count:327
Goodreads Link

Fail: Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe

Some of you might remember that last year’s village character, Lucy Spinnerman, had a penchant for sensational literature. Following that theme, I tried to find a few “shocking” books that I could read while in character, and Moll Flanders happened to fit that bill.

Moll Flanders was written in the early 1700s, making it one of the oldest pieces of classic lit I’ve read (I look at mostly 19th century literature). This is the story of a woman who was born to a workhouse inmate, given up for adoption, and the things she subsequently does to ensure her survival, which includes everything from marrying well to picking pockets.

The story is a work of fiction that is intended to read as a memoir or autobiography. The narrator spends at least a third of the book trying to justify the questionable things she does, and probably another third passive-aggressively judging the people around her who do similar things.

I can’t say that I enjoyed this book. The writing style is very detached; no characters are ever named, not even her husbands. We don’t even find out her name, only one of the aliases that she uses. Very little of the story is told “in the action,” most of it being made up of summations of things that she did, with long passages of navel gazing thrown in. More than once I caught myself starting to nod off while reading it, even in the middle of the day. After this, I can’t say that Daniel Defoe is an author I will be revisiting.

Genre: Classic
Sub-Genre: literary
Page Count:339
Goodreads link

Promise: The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

This book was recommended to me several times in quick succession, and I’m really glad. So far, this has been one of my favorite books of 2016 (yes, I know, it’s still early).

It’s a little difficult to summarize this book, since it’s a collection of short stories, but let me just say this: I don’t usually read short stories unless they are part of a series that I am already following. The last time I read a stand alone short story, I was in college.

I loved this book. Gilman goes from writing very creepy cerebral thrillers at the beginning to the book, to some of the most adorable Victorian romances I’ve come across. There’s social commentary (are street car owners morally responsible to make their conveyances safe?), feminism (a married woman finds a way to make a living and in the process earns the respect of her husband and community), romance (the boarding house owner who subtly cares for the woman he loves), and even a peppering of humor.

As soon as I finished this book, I started looking for more of her work on Overdrive. Finding none available, I immediately added five of her books to the request list for my local library.

If you have any interest in classic lit, Victorian society, or even just a quick read, then I highly recommend this one.

Genre: Short story collection
Sub-Genre: includes psychological horror, mystery, ghost stories, romance, humor, as well as social commentary
Page Count:70
Goodreads link

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