Friday, May 15, 2009

Revisiting classics

Every so often, I get so caught up in new releases (like Cecelia Ahern's Thanks for the Memories, which I giddily picked up from the hold shelf yesterday) that I forget how many classics I've not read in my life. Once I graduated and no longer needed to write essays on the light in The Great Gatsby or the moor in Wuthering Heights, I let those books fall to the wayside.

Last year, I decided it would be good to go back and revisit some of the classics I'd overlooked. (Frankly, I was hoping to combat the sneaking suspicion that I get a little more stupid with each passing year by reading things that at least would make me sound reasonably intelligent.) When I'm feeling at a loss for what to read next, I've been turning to Jane Austen (the classics, not the updated zombie kind which, frankly, creep me out), the Brontes, and, more recently, Mark Twain. I had, of course, read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer but I hadn't ventured far beyond that. I recently stumbled across Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc and was surprised I'd never heard this book talked about as one of Twain's great works. Ostensibly written by a childhood friend of Joan's who grew up to be her page, it is quite different from his other books. It lacks the humor I've always known him for, but makes up for it with a true passion for the subject that often made me forget, in the way of any really well done historical novel, that I was reading fiction. I couldn't believe how caught up in it I found myself. While it has never been critically acclaimed, it was Twain's favorite (and last) of his novels: "I like Joan of Arc best of all my books; and it is the best; I know it perfectly well." – Mark Twain

Agreeing with Mark Twain on something that critics don't? That'll fight off the encroaching feelings of stupidity for at least a few days.


Bob Thalman said...

I have always liked reading Mark Twain's works. I had not heard too much about his Joan of Arc novel, so I appreciate you writing about it! I'll have to check the book out after reading this post.

I do remember reading a short story that Twain wrote. The story is called "Cannibalism in the Cars" and it's a real humorous political satire. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes Twain's other tales. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Mark Twain's biography about St. Joan of Arc is excellent and it is in the public domain so you can find it online at places like:
Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc
Tell everyone they can read it there free.