Today, in honor the holiday and the long weekend, I’ve decided to forgo Friday links and instead focus on one of my favorite American authors: Mark Twain.
For a lot of people, “summer reading” means one of two things. Either they’re referring to the mandatory “great books” assigned by High school English teachers or they’re talking about the light, “trashy,” less-than-literary novels commonly termed “beach reads.” But when I hear the term “summer books,” I think about something else entirely.
For me, a summer book is one that I return to over and over, one that breathes heat out of its pages and soothes with its particular brand of fantasy. These books feel carefree – reading a summer classic is about as satisfying as climbing a tree, or diving into a swimming hole.
My all-time favorite summer book is The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, though Huck Finn comes in at a close second. These novels perfectly capture the mischievousness of childhood, the excitement and the continual yearning for freedom. They speak to a part of me that still sometimes secretly longs to run away from home and join a circus, or a band of traveling musicians, or just float lazily down a river, ignoring all of my other responsibilities. With his sharp wit and ability to capture the local color perfectly, Twain transports me back to a different time, one that only appears simpler at first glance.
Another reason I love Twain has less to do with his characters and more to do with the setting. Twain is an American Author. He is quite possibly the quintessential American Author. Not only does he write in that hilarious, rambling, biting-yet-kind voice that feels so American, he also manages to inject each of his novels all the beauty of our country while remaining authentic. He does not sugar-coat his books; childhood is not a perfect place, free of tension. Tom and Huck may not be aware of the great injustices of the world at the beginning of their journeys, but as they grow and progress, they come to see our world for what it really is.
This July 4th, do America proud and pick up a book by one of our many great authors. If Twain isn’t your cup of tea, how about some Faulkner? Or Melville? (May I suggest Benito Cereno?) Or, if you don’t have that much time, check out one of our articles on Mark Twain, which include A Revealing Interview with Terrell Dempsy, Author of Searching for Jim: Slavery in Sam Clemens’s World, Mark Twain in Unionville, Nevada, and Finding Mark Twain’s Hannibal. You can also search for other American authors at LiteraryTraveler.com.