Author: Mark Twain
Type: Fiction, novel
I read it: September 2013
The inscription in my copy reminds me that this book was given to my dad by my brother for Christmas ten years ago. A while back I read my dad’s copy of Huckleberry Finn, but never got around to Tom Sawyer. It’s been haunting my shelves for a long while. I’m not sure what finally made me pick it up. Laura and I were on summer vacation (aka parental leave) and something about the wistfulness of Tom’s adventures reached my mind. I was thinking of my son growing up in a vastly different world, but still bound by the same boyish desires and mischief.
I read exactly one chapter a day until I finished the book. This was a new strategy for me, and I think I used it on the perfect book. Each day I had a bit of a Tom Sawyer break, so over breakfast or while burping Isaac I read the usually short chapter, enjoying its old-timey illustrations. After returning to work, I even had the pleasure of reading a few chapters right by the Mississippi River on my lunch break. Late summer was a good season for this classic.
The book is a blast, and as breezy as expected. But there is proper drama in there too: there is a murder after all, and a couple genuine threats to young Sawyer’s life. There is also plenty of Twain commentary, and you can tell he can’t resist panning out of Tom’s viewpoint to touch on broader musings of the era. The youth are filled to the brim with colorful superstitions, and Twain observes that “Often, the less there is to justify a traditional custom, the harder it is to get rid of it.” He waxes poetic when Tom and Becky are stuck in the cave: “For a little while, hope made a show of reviving–not with any reason to back it, but only because it is its nature to revive when the spring has not been taken out of it by age and familiarity with failure.” Indeed the central theme of the book is the looming certainty of aging up and out of innocent beginnings.
It’s a great piece and deserves its timeless status. You can feel Twain gearing up for Huckleberry Finn throughout, and I’m already wondering when to re-read it. Maybe next summer. A chapter a day. Try it yourself and you’ll knock these out in no time.