Saturday, September 25, 2004

Literary Cringe

One of the teenaged boys with which I work is a reader. He likes science fiction and fantasy (Anne McCaffrey is a favorite of his) which make me cringe, but in this world, we readers gotta stick together. I'll call this reader "Harry" because he's also fond of a certain series featuring a boy wizard.

Harry told me recently that one of his favorite books is ROBINSON CRUSOE, and that he's read it many times. I was embarrassed as hell. I began ROBINSON CRUSOE in the summer of 2001, but I bought a really cheap paperback copy with flyspeck print and pages so thin that the flyspecks bled through. Reading was a chore. I shelved the book. (Still have it. WHY???) Although there was this nibbling guilt that I was calling myself an English major without having completed a Daniel Defoe novel, I thought about it infrequently, especially when "Survivor" was on.

I couldn't confess to Harry that I hadn't finished this classic, so I made up my mind to read it soon. I stumbled upon a plan: Instead of hunting for another equally cheap-ass flyspecked copy, I would prevail upon Manfred, Jr. to find his poor old mother one of those abridged/adapted copies that have an illustration on every other page. I didn't have to wait long; Manfred, Jr. went back to his room and came back 2 minutes later with a copy of the book. (Manfred, Jr. has also read ROBINSON CRUSOE, which only added to my shame.)

Determined to put all shame behind me, I eagerly cracked open the book. Within one paragraph, I was in dismay. The person who adapted ROBINSON CRUSOE for the peanut gallery changed it from first-person to third-person! I'd gotten far enough in the other copy of the book (he'd been shipwrecked for about three years) to really enjoy the character's telling of his own tale. In contrast, the abridged/adapted version reads like a dry summary of events, almost like a laundry list.

Manfred, Jr. just asked me if I'm going to finish the version with which he provided me. I sighed and said, "I'll try." But in my secret heart, what I really want now is to read the CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED comic book version. If I'm going to see an illustration on every page, why not see some of that excellent comic book art with the vivid colors? (Actually, I haven't read one of these in years -- the last one was JANE EYRE back in middle school, which I thoroughly enjoyed) I'm pretty sure that with the CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED version of ROBINSON CRUSOE, the writers didn't switch to third-person narraration. One way or another, I'm getting this book done. This year.

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