The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884)
Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.
One-sentence summary: Huckleberry Finn runs away from his drunken, violent father and sets out on an adventure rafting down the Mississippi River, accompanied by Jim, an escaped slave.
When read: I read this in college.
Why read: It was an assignment.
Impressions: Mark Twain wears well, I think. I first read Huck Finn in college, which I think is the appropriate place for its introduction — not grade school, as seems to be the norm. You need to be able to apply historical context to the story, to grasp Twain’s sense of irony and satire, as well as his political motivations. You also need patience, as there is dialect and regionalisms in this book. It was a first in that regard.
I recently acquired a copy for my library, and I started reading it again while my toddler played outside on a sunny afternoon. It wasn’t long before I was swept away into Huck Finn’s world. Twain has a gift for telling a good story while doing a lot more at the same time. His famous introduction cautions against finding a motive, moral or plot in this story, but how can you help it?
Current status: I have a copy of the Penguin Classics edition of this book in my library. I foresee rereading it with my son someday.
- This is the first novel in major American literature to be written in a regional dialect.
- Upon learning that his novel was banned by the Concord Public Library, Twain remarked, ”Apparently, the Concord library has condemned Huck as ‘trash and only suitable for the slums.’ This will sell us another twenty-five thousand copies for sure!” The novel continues to be challenged in libraries and school systems to this day.
- My answer to the question on Quora, “What are the great friendships in literature?” was Jim and Huck.
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