Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Good Writers Writing Bad Stuff?

Anthony Trollope
As I've written here before, I'm an addictive sort of reader--the sort who reads one book by an author, then obsessively reads all the others, too.  Sometimes I will do this in a mad consecutive rush (as I did with the forty-seven novels of Anthony Trollope); sometimes I string it out over some years, coming and going, snacking on a few novels, then dining elsewhere for a while before returning for more snacks.  This has been the case with Mark Twain.

I wrote here not long ago about my earliest experiences with Twain (my fourth grade teacher read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to us if we were "good" when we returned from recess), and over my career as a student I read some other things--assigned--like short stories ("The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg") and longer works (No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger).

And when I began teaching at Western Reserve Academy in the fall of 2001, I started teaching Huck Finn every year--and I started, as well, traveling to every Twain-related site I could think of and reading all the Twain titles I'd neglected over the years.  One by one I read them--Roughing It and Life on the Mississippi and A Tramp Abroad and Following the Equator and on and on.  Here's a complete list of his works (scroll down a bit to find it): Works of Mark Twain

Just yesterday I finished Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1896), and this morning I started his (much shorter!) What Is Man? (1906)  I have only a few remaining from that long list.  And then what?  Well ... lots of other writers out there ... lots of other books ... I'll just start on someone else.

One of the things all serial readers realize very soon is this: Not all books by even our most beloved writers are good.  I learned this early--in the Hardy Boys books (some sucked) and the Nancy Drew books (I never let my male friends know I was reading books about a ... girl!).  I would guess that today's young readers have a Harry Potter title they're not especially fond of--a Twilight--and I think I read somewhere that some fans were disappointed with Mocking Jay, the final volume of the Hunger Games trilogy.  (Can't say--haven't read it ... yet.)

So what accounts for this?  How can the author of Huck Finn write such drivel as you find in Tom Sawyer Detective?  What are the possible reasons?  And what, if anything, does it mean ... and what, if anything, does it matter?

I'm going to deal with writers whose works I know--their best, their worst.  So (I'm not sure of the order yet) look for some thoughts about Robert Frost, Edgar Poe, William Shakespeare, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Ernest Hemingway, Herman Melville, Jack London ... maybe some others.  I'll wait to see if I'm bored while I'm doing it.

I think I'll start with Shakespeare, whose works are glories of the human imagination.  Except when they aren't.

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