Book Reviews

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Winter's Bone book cover

Many of us have fallen on hard times in this economy. We see the effects all around us, yet most of us still have our basic needs met. In the novel Winter’s Bone by Missouri writer Daniel Woodrell, Ree Dolly is not afforded the same luxuries that some of us take for granted.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer book cover

Good golly gracious, is there anyone who has not enjoyed reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer? To the last person, everyone I have talked to fell in love at first sight (or first read) with that boy; although most have been quick to add that they are glad he is not their son!

Many of us lead double lives. There’s our “actual” life, the one that requires showing up in person, and our “virtual” life, the one that requires opposable thumbs and a high-speed internet connection.

In the winter of 2009, Australian Susan Maushart declared her household an iFree zone. She unplugged herself, her three teenagers, and their domicile from the Internet, the television, computers, cell phones, and even electricity. Maushart called it “screen-free living” and chronicled her family’s experiences and observations in The Winter of Our Disconnect: How Three Totally Wired Teenagers (and a Mother Who Slept with Her iPhone) Pulled the Plug on Their Technology and Lived to Tell the Tale. She wanted to rediscover her “actual life.”

Her teenagers, Bill, Anni, and Sussy, went bananas. They are digital natives. They’d never lived in a time when they weren’t permanently attached to a laptop or cellphone. But they went along with their mother’s experiment in “cave dwelling” as one termed it.

It took a great deal of getting used to. Sussy decided she needed to spend more time with her father (who had wi-fi) and packed herself off to spend the season with him. Eventually she returned to Home Unplugged and her brother and sister. 

Injun Joe escapes the courtroom.

Much like my fellow reviewer, Bernard (Chs. IX-XII), one of my earliest encounters with Tom Sawyer was in a class play. In 9th grade, I got to play Injun Joe in a stage adaptation written by my school’s librarian.

Of course, growing up in the Great Plains, there was some worry about offending the Native Americans in our community so the character got renamed “Cajun Joe” (I guess no one was worried about offending any French-Canadian exiles from Louisiana). Aside from awakening in me a passion for the theatre, this was the first time I had read the unabridged novel. Previously, I’d only read a couple of children’s adaptations.

I was astounded by the richness of it! It’s been noted that one of the great strengths of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is that Twain wrote it for both children and adults. Being a freshman in high school, I was at last at an age to appreciate the novel in a whole new way. In particular, I found that Injun Joe was a far more frightening character than the sanitized versions I’d been presented with as a child.

Frankenstein cover

As we are now in October, it seemed a good time to revisit a classic of the horror genre, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Those of you into whose minds flash Boris Karloff as the monster, in James Whale’s Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein, are in for a shock. In the first movie, the monster speaks not a single word, but simply growls and howls; in the second film, the monster learns a few words, which he grunts out. Who can forget the memorable “Friend … Goood!”?

Well, if that’s the monster you’re expecting, you won’t find him here.

Karloff and Whale both felt that the monster was to be played like an innocent, a child who doesn’t understand the world into which he has come. In other words, the monster is something like a baby – a big, scary, grunting baby, but a baby nonetheless – and so, it does not have language, but must learn it, a word or two at a time.

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