This cowgirl was a little sad…

I recently borrowed the audio book for Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins for another road trip to see the Sista. I chose it 1) because there were a limited amount of books in the correct format available on the library website, and 2) because I’ve been a big fan of Tom Robbins since high school (Jitterbug Perfume was my first) and hadn’t read this one in years. And I have never seen the movie – I was just looking stuff up and realized it stars Uma Thurman & was directed by Gus Van Sant.  Maybe I’ll give it a shot on a slow night.  However:

Sometimes, it’s a bad idea to re-read books.

I know, that’s practically blasphemy, coming from me.  But, while I had remembered the good stuff about this one, I’d forgotten the bad stuff.  Or maybe, being older and (presumably) wiser, I noticed the bad stuff more.

ECGtB is the story of Sissy Hankshaw, a woman born with thumbs twice the size of regular thumbs.  Of course, she becomes the greatest hitchhiker the world has ever know, but can’t unbutton her own shirt.  She falls in love (several times) and learns all kinds of interesting things about herself, whooping cranes, the nature of time and other wonders in her travels.

There is a lot of great stuff in here about finding your own path, and not letting public opinion tell you who you are – none of that has changed. And Robbins is FUNNY, and a master of the interesting metaphor. It was a good choice in a lot of ways.

And the bad stuff isn’t terrible stuff.  It’s just that all the fun/sexy/strange stuff totally came off as masturbatory – it’s supposedly about a girl/woman being open with her sexuality, but is really about the kinds of fantasies young men have about a woman being open with her sexuality… ya know? In a book otherwise populated with deep-thinking and light-heartedness, it was disappointing and distracting to listen to (since I was listening, not reading) the kinds of stereotypical crap you can get anywhere.

And to top it all off… I was missing the last two sections of the book on my iPod. I have yet to determine if it was operator error or a glitch in the matrix, but either way – I was a bit pissed off! Luckily, I had two other books in reserve (of course!). So I listened to a few chapters of Tom Sawyer until I got home.  phew!

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.