Adventures on the Mississippi and the U.S. Highway system

I recently moved to the Portland area, which means I can now drive to see my sister in Montana in one day (only 600 miles away – practically next door!).   Having done this drive alone twice before, I knew it could be incredibly long and boring, even with an iPod full of music to keep me company.  I have a friend who listens to audio books while she paints and thought they might be a great way to entertain myself for the 9.5 hour drive. And when I found out that I could get them free from my local library – well, it was all over but the shouting.

For my maiden voyage, I chose The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain – another of those books that I can’t believe I’ve never read.  This recording was about 9 hours long and read by someone named Tom Parker – who did a great job with the accents and didn’t try too hard to be a woman.

I’m sure I’m not the first person to say this – but the characterizations in this book are first-rate.  You know boys like Huck Finn and men like his dad and many of the rest of the people you meet here.  Other than some of the archaic language (and really, there’s not much that isn’t still in use), you have heard people say the very things uttered by characters in this book.  Aunt Polly shows up at the end, and Tom says “What?” all innocent – like my son has done a million times – and she says “Don’t ‘what’ me!” – which is exactly what I say every time.   Cracked me up.  The reality of the characters and dialogue helps to sell the exaggerated, humorous plot.

I laughed out loud a few times at the irony in this book.  The fact that Huck is sure he’s going to hell because he’s freeing a slave, the fact that he thinks less of Tom because he’s willing to help Huck free Jim, his self-deprecation in the face of Tom’s ‘better’ crazy plans – these are just a few of the dozens of things – large and small – that Twain turns on their heads for our amusement.  Of course, Twain was not just trying to amuse people, he was beating up on those who still believed that black people were less than white people.  He constantly talks about how ‘surprising’ it is that black people (whom he refers to as ‘niggers,’ as was typical of the time – and rather jarring to hear) seem to actually care about their families and otherwise behave and think just like white folks when given the chance.  He uses every opportunity to pound home the idea that it is ridiculous to believe anything different.  Twain started writing the novel 10 years after the Civil War, and it was published in 1884.

Twain reminds me of Dickens, with all of the (what I consider) extraneous descriptions of rooms and paintings and physical appearances of minor characters.  He also puts all these vignettes in the book that really have nothing to do with Huck or Jim and – in my mind – distract from the main storyline rather than enhance it.  The drama of breaking Jim out is funny, the story of the feuding families and the chapters and chapters of the con artists were much less interesting.

While the book didn’t keep my legs from stiffening up and making me walk like an octogenarian when I stopped to pee, it did keep me from moaning to myself with boredom until I reached my destination.  And while Huck Finn will never be my favorite book, I enjoyed it enough to consider making The Adventures of Tom Sawyer my next road-trip audio book.

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