Monthly Archives: June 2014

On Tom Sawyer and Reading in General

Good Tom? Evil Tom?

Alright, I give up. You’ve doubtless watched me burble on endlessly for quite a while with my book reviews and after handing out far too many 2 and 3-star reviews I have to admit that I’m done. I’m cooked. I’m out. I’ve shuffled off the mortal coil and joined the choir invisible when it comes to Amazon book reviews. I just can’t do it for one minute more. There’s just too much random rottenness out there and I can’t bring myself to waste one more second of my time reviewing all this pasty modern tripe. My God there’s a lot of junk out there and everyone seems to think they’re the next Hemingway.

So what to do instead? I have, for now, gone back to plan #9: Pick a classic novel and dive in to up to my eyebrows reading commentary and interpretation and then spiraling outward to the reading the works related to it. Then it’s my intent to read the books which preceded it and then those which it inspired directly. In this way it’s my hope to not only have read the book but also come to a keener grasp of its contexts, influencers and the resultant works within a larger literary cosmos.

Pursuant to that, I picked the lightest and fluffiest thing I could think of in the category of modern classics and sat down to spiral it out as described above. That leads me to the beloved and much adapted Tom Sawyer.

Reading this for the first time as an adult it strikes me just what a total ass Tom is. All too often we tend to hold Tom up as a delightful mischievous scamp who’s just being a playful little boy but nobody seems to mention that for most of the book he’s making plans to become a highwayman and murder people on a regular basis. Or at least that’s the persona that he’s presenting to the rest of his “gang.” It remains to be seen if Tom is really Satan incarnate or just a weaver of tall tales but the text leaves a fair ambiguity on the question of whether Tom is just a precocious boy or if he is destined to become the next Injun Joe ready to rape, murder and plunder for the sake of a few coins.

Moving on to general commentary, those who know more than I do on this topic by a factor of millions, seem to fairly consistently agree that Tom Sawyer is rather a structureless mess of disconnected narrative. Having re-read it I can’t help but agree that it seems a jumble of random anecdotes that have cohesion only in that they involve the same “loveable” scamp of a boy. The real service of the book seems to be as an introduction for the more highly respected Huckleberry Finn.

So with that I’m back to Finn followed by “Tom and Huck among the Indians”, Tom Brown’s School days and Aldridge’s “The Story of a Bad Boy.” If nothing else I’m amused by the profligate use of the name Tom in this particular genre.

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