Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Hey, Tom Sawyer!

I find myself reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer with my youngest daughter.  She reads in Lithuanian while I follow along in English, helping make sense of the many colloquial expressions and superstitions that abound in this marvelous book.  My daughter's copy actually has facsimiles of the original illustrations.  Mine is combined with Huckleberry Finn in the rather plain Everyman's Library edition.

I had forgotten so much of the story over the years, like Joe Harper tagging along with Tom and Huck when they decided to abandon St. Petersburg and become "pirates."  Huck doesn't really come into his own until the second book, which to me is the better book.

Twain draws quite a bit from the relationship between Tom and Becky Thatcher.  It was funny to read that Vera Nabokov was dead set against young Dmitri reading Tom Sawyer, because of Tom's infatuation with Becky.  She felt this was too early to be showing such affection.

Tom Sawyer has been translated into many, many languages, and even a 1936 Soviet film.  I guess that boyhood anarchist spirit appealed to Stalin.


  1. I can see why parents weren't too excited about having their kids read this book. After all, it encourages truancy, pirating, robbery and other assorted boyhood reveries that most parents don't want their 12-year old boys thinking about.

    Twain was pretty harsh on public education, figuring kids learned more by coping with their environment than they ever did in school, so I imagine he would have gotten a good laugh seeing so many schools, including ones in Lithuania, make Tom Sawyer required reading. Ah, the ironies!

  2. Now they read about vampires and adults setting them up to kill one another. I'd much rather have Twain! I think it's fantastic that Tom Sawyer is required.

  3. At this point, if kids are reading anything in this country it has to be encouraged. If you haven't spent any time in a college classroom these days, you might be surprised.

  4. Yeah, I know. That's why I was a supporter of Harry Potter -- good to see kids in restaurants or on planes buried in huge novels. Ditto Oprah Winfrey, although I always wished she had used her influence to raise the bar beyond rape, incest, and dysfunctional families. There are so many good novels out there to choose from.

  5. She did have a "classics" reading group going there for a while, including Ana Karenina and Grapes of Wrath. Still dysfunctional families, but on a higher literary level ; )

  6. Yeah, I remember that at the end. I think she took the Franzen slight to heart, but didn't quite know what to do with it. Still, I give her credit for trying. (Not sure she sold a million copies of Ana Karenina like she did the other ones though ....)

  7. The Pevear and Volokhonsky translation, which she included in her book club, was briefly a bestseller. P&V were much more thankful than was Franzen.

  8. I bought The Hunger Games box set for my 11-year-old daughter. We went through the entire Lemony Snicket series a couple years back, taking turns reading. I think it is very important to read with kids, share in the stories, not just send them up to their rooms to read. Of course, it takes effort on the part of a parent.

    I couldn't bring myself to go through the Harry Potter series, and as it turned out she wasn't much interested beyond the first book. The writing was pretty bad from what I read. I've heard it got better in later books, but it just seemed like a pastiche of tales told many times over.

    Children's and young adult books today seem largely commercial driven, like the Twilight series, with authors hoping to strike it rich like Rowling did. I'm sure the same can be said for Collins. First printings of the first book in the series, which came out in 2008, are already selling for thousands of dollars! And, judging by the opening weekend success of the movie, she will soon rival Rowling in commercial strength, making book collectors very happy.

    What I liked about the Lemony Snicket series is that it didn't strike me as commercially driven, and only one movie came of it. I imagine at some point another effort will be made, probably in animated form since it would be a pretty tall order to do all 13 books with real kids. I enjoyed the fact that my daughter picked up on the differences between the movie and the first three books on which it was based, preferring the flow of the narrative in the book. Makes a father proud.