Mark Twain’s “Tom Sawyer”

BLOG #27, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #42
MARK TWAIN’S TOM SAWYER
July 8, 2015

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It is fitting that we follow up last month’s selection, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, the first great and timeless book ever written in America specifically for girls, with Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, the first great and timeless book ever written in America specifically for boys.

What intrigues me no little is now modern each book was: how both authors suck the reader into the book with that very first sentence. Both authors, scorning preambles, leap immediately into the heart of their book (most unusual for the time to start in the middle of a conversation).

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First: Little Women

“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.
“It’s so dreadful to be poor!” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.
“I don’t think it’s fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all,” added little Amy with an injured sniff.
“We’ve got Father and Mother and each other,” said Beth contentedly from her corner.

Now re-read those four lines. This time note how completely Alcott captures the essence of each of the sisters in those four lines.

Now, let’s see what Twain does with his beginning lines:

“Tom!”
No answer.
“Tom!”
No answer.
“What’s wrong with that boy, I wonder. “You TOM!”
No answer.
The old lady pulled her spectacles down and looked over them about the room; then she put them up and looked out under them. She seldom or never looked through them for so small a thing as a boy; they were her state pair, the pride of her heart, and were built for “style,” not service—she could have seen through a pair of stove lids just as well. She looked perplexed for a moment, and then said, not fiercely, but still loud enough for the furniture to hear:
“Well, I lay if I get hold of you I’ll—”

* * *

Both are priceless beginnings.

Little Women was published in 1868 – 1869. Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was published in 1876, eight years later. So clearly Twain had eight years to ponder the one-of-a-kind phenomenon that was Little Women before he launched Tom Sawyer. In the Airmont edition of the book are these words:

But it was in 1876, with the publication of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, that unforgettable excursion into the private province of the very young that Twain attained the stature of greatness. Lively, touching, penetrating—the whitewashing incident is one of literature’s wittiest dramatizations of applied psychology—Tom Sawyer is one of those rare novels that become more endearing with each reading. Its beloved sequel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, published in 1884, is immortal.”

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Samuel Langhorne Clemens [Mark Twain was a pseudonym] (1835 – 1910), is one of the very few American writers who reached the very pinnacle of both popular and academic success—and who has stayed there for over a century, not just in novels, but in short stories as well. His books are still read by generation after generation of readers. Books such as—

The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County (1865-1867)
The Innocents Abroad (1869)
Roughing It (1872)
The Gilded Age, with Charles Dudley Warner (1873)
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876)
A Tramp Abroad (1880)
The Stolen White Elephant (1882)
The Prince and the Pauper (1882)
Life on the Mississippi (1883)
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884)
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889)
The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894)
Tom Sawyer Abroad (1894)
Tom Sawyer, Detective (1896)
Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1896)
Following the Equator (1897)
The Mysterious Stranger (1916), etc.

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In his later books, due to many reasons, Twain became embittered and cynical about the human race. He had reasons. Late in life, he suffered through personal tragedy after tragedy. In 2010, sealed for a hundred years, Twain’s autobiography saw light at once, becoming an instant bestseller.

* * * * *

There are many editions of Tom Sawyer. Just make certain you get an unabridged copy. My personal favorite edition is the Heritage Press boxed edition, wonderfully illustrated in color by Norman Rockwell. Huckleberry Finn was also boxed and illustrated as a companion book. Another splendid edition is the 1931 John C. Winston hardback edition, illustrated by Peter Hurd.

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Even if you’ve read the book before—you owe it to yourself to read it again. It never grows old!

Gold Country, Lake Tahoe, Loneliest Road, Great Basin

BLOG #25, SERIES #4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
SOUTHWEST NATIONAL PARKS #15
GOLD COUNTRY, LAKE TAHOE, LONELIEST ROAD, GREAT BASIN
June 26, 2013

As we reluctantly left the park, slowly, we realized again why Yosemite is, for untold thousands, on their Bucket Lists to see before they die. As for the Ahwahnee, mortgage your house rather than not experience it at least once. Disengage from your parasitic electronic tentacles, and get out there with your families and travel. Over a billion people are doing that each year.

After leaving Yosemite, we descended to the Gold Rush towns on California Route 49, passing through Angels Camp, made famous by Mark Twain’s “Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” story, Jackson, and then up into the Sierra Nevadas [very “Nevada” (snowy) then], via Route 88 to Silver Lake, almost 9,000 feet in elevation. Then down to a lake that ought to also be on everyone’s Bucket List–Lake Tahoe. Fond memories came back to Connie and me, for we honeymooned there.

Lake Tahoe holds enough water to cover the entire state of California to a depth of fourteen inches. It is said that the water in Tahoe is 97% pure, nearly the same as distilled water. The lake is 22 miles long and 12 miles wide, about one-third lying in Nevada. Its average depth is 989 feet, and deepest point is 1,645 feet, making Lake Tahoe the third deepest lake in North America. The water is mighty cold: the first twelve feet below the surface can warm to a toasty ☺ 68 degrees F in summer, while depths below 700 feet remain a constant 39F year-round.

The “lake in the sky” (elevation 6,229 feet) is ensconced in a valley between the often snowcapped Sierra Nevadas and the Carson Range. The Sierras tower more than 4,000 feet above the lake, contributing no little to its magic.

Immigrants and early miners did their utmost to destroy the lake’s environs; fortunately, just in time, the decline of the Comstock Lode caused the miners to turn their attention elsewhere.

In winter, snow covers the lakeshore to an average of 125 inches, but snow depth in the mountains can reach 300-500 inches, making the region a mecca for skiers (think Alpine Meadows, Diamond Peak, Squaw Valley, and Heavenly Valley).

We’ve never seen the lake when it wasn’t beautiful, but to see it on a clear winter day, offset by snowy mountains the incredibly deep blue waters of the lake can take your breath away.

We had dillydallied so long in Yosemite, it was evening before we descended from Silver Lake to Tahoe. We drove along the west side of the lake to the north end, considerably quieter than the casino-generated hubub in the south end; there we stayed at Mourelatos Lakeshore Resort.  Connie - SW Nat Parks 531

Next day, after breakfasting at the Old Post Office, so popular with locals, we crossed over the pass, then down to Truckee, Reno, and Fallon, before abandoning boring Interstate 80 for Highway 50, famously known as “The Loneliest Road in America” (gained a cult-following through commercials featuring pretty vagabonding girls in convertibles). For trivia-buffs, “Where in America is concentrated the largest number of north/south mountain ranges?” Answer: Here in Nevada – one after another: the Stillwater Range, Clan Alpine Mountains, Desatoya Mountains, New Pass Range, Shoshone Mountains, Toyabe Range, Simpson Park Range, Toquina Range, Monitor Range, Sulphur Springs Range, Diamond Mountains, White Pine Range, Butte Mountains, Egan Range, Schell Creek Range, and Snake Range – one after another like oncoming waves (most snow-capped) we cruised through them. Very few automobiles and even fewer trucks – hence its name.

We stopped in Austin: Bob desperately needed an ice cream fix. Also in the old mining town of Eureka, with its serpentine roads. Arrived in Ely late afternoon, and checked in at Prospectors Hotel. Lodging pickings are lean at best on the Loneliest Road in America. Especially when you’ve just been spoiled rotten at the Ahwahnee!

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Next morning, again those long long straight stretches of road, on into infinity. So quiet you could hear each other breathe. Soon we turned south into Great Basin National Park.

According to Michael L. Nicklas, “Although only a small part of this immense, wild land, Great Basin National Park is undoubtedly the best example of the entire Great Basin region. Its geologic diversity–from windswept playas to mysterious caverns and icy summits–defines the hydrologic boundaries. . . . Great Basin’s only remaining glacier lies sheltered within the national park in the cool shadow of 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak, which also supports bristlecone pines, the oldest living trees on earth. . . . Precious water draining from the mountain ranges does not flow into the oceans. Rather, this priceless substance either percolates underground, accumulates in bodies to form lakes, or evaporates back into the atmosphere.

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“Typically long winters grip the land above 10,000 feet from November through June. Bristlecone pines stubbornly cling to lofty slopes and windy ridges between 9,000 and 11,500 feet, living for 5,000 years or more. In 1964, a living tree was discovered in the Wheeler Peak grove which contained 4,844 annual growth rings.”

Lehman caves were first protected on January 24, 1922, when President Warren G. Harding established by presidential proclamation Lehman Caves National Monument. It took 43 more years to achieve national park status: Finally, on October 27, 1965, President Ronald Reagan signed the Great Basin National Park Act.

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Not surprisingly, given the sparse traffic on Highway 50, Great Basin is one of the least visited of all our national parks, attracting only about 90,000 visitors a year. Which isn’t at all a bad thing, for when we walked into the visitor center, we were treated like long-lost relatives; quite a change from the ho-hum oh, Lord, not another one attitude of some weary attendants in parks that are swamped by travelers. Connie, of course, made sure to get them to stamp her national park passport. The quiet winding road up to the base of Wheeler Peak (second highest peak in Nevada) was narrow, but scenic, passing through many varieties of trees as we ascended. Other than the beauty of the land and snowcapped peaks, the main roadside photo-op proved to be a rusty old car, complete with a skeleton.

 

 

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Then it was back down to The Loneliest Road – sometimes 30 miles without a curve – into Utah. Spectacular scenery along Interstate 70.Then we pulled into our favorite oasis stop in Green River, River Terrace Inn, shaded by verdant trees on the river side, and situated next to the very popular Tamarisk Restaurant, also on the river. But the real reason we always stay at River Terrace Inn is the comp to-die-for full breakfast prepared on the site by chefs who are either owners, relatives, or close friends of the owners. Each guest orders a la carte – scrumptious omelets, decadent cinnamon rolls, and on and on. You either eat inside or outside by the partly shaded pool. Needless to say, the Inn is usually booked up – so get your reservation early!!

Next day – our last day –, after pigging out at breakfast, we headed east through the Colorado Rockies, alongside swollen rivers, until late afternoon, we reached home; at 9,700 feet elevation, blessedly cool.

After two years, we’d finally reached the end of the Great Circle!

SOURCES USED

Northern California & Nevada Tour Book (Heathrow, Florida: AAA Publishing, 2010). [Source for Lake Tahoe information].

Nicklas, Michael L., Great Basin: the Story Behind the Scenery (Las Vegas: K.C. Publications, 2008).

DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB – PENROD

BLOG #44, SERIES #3
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #14
BOOTH TARKINGTON’S PENROD
October 31, 2012

For November’s book, I’m reaching back to my childhood for one of the books I loved most during my growing-up years. Coming in the midst of Hurricane Sandy devastation, I felt following up Mendenhall’s Cool Names with a book like Penrod might be an additional opportunity to stir in a few chuckles—well, more like a lot of them.

Another reason for choosing this book is that it graphically—by contrast—highlights how much childhood, family life, and community interaction has changed since Booth Tarkington launched his bad boy on an unsuspecting public. “Bad” is a poor choice of words, for Penrod can more aptly be described a tornado of mischief wrapped up in boys’ clothing.

In reading Penrod, our readers will rediscover this America that is no more. A world of picket fences, stay-at-home moms, two-parent families being the norm, fathers being the breadwinners, and children feeling free to roam in and out of neighbors’ homes at will, children living and playing out of doors, and boys having the opportunity to be boys.

The contrast is obvious: today, with pedophiles being a constant threat outside, porn criminals weaseling their way into home computers, and violent crimes becoming the norm in society, no one—least of all children—feels safe anymore.

I’m not claiming that world was utopian, for there were also dark sides to it: racial stereotyping and inequality, inadequate career opportunities for women, to name just two. But the beauty of reading Penrod is that you the reader have the unique opportunity to vicariously immerse yourself into that world, sort out for yourself the positive and negative aspects of it, and draw your own conclusions.

But, as a child, I read Penrod first not for its social commentary but because I laughed myself half to death over Penrod’s antics: getting in big trouble for his mischief only to get deeper into trouble the next day. There is a direct correlation between Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Tarkington’s Penrod. Given that today it is so hard to find a book that appeals to boys, here’s a heaven-sent opportunity to set a boy loose on Penrod, and just let him cackle as the town’s goody-goody boy, Georgie Bassett, gets his comeuppance. The “Little Gentleman”/“Tar” sequence by itself is one of America’s all time classics of humor.

Booth Tarkington (1869-1946) was born in Indianapolis, and remained there for much of his life. During his life, he won two Pulitzer Prizes, one for The Magnificent Ambersons in 1919 and the other for Alice Adams in 1922.

Donald Heiney declares that Tarkington was an expert satirist, one of the first to depict the urban middle class. Heiney also notes that Tarkington had a marvelous talent for creating unforgettable characters. His key fictional milieu has to do with the rise of a midwestern aristocracy, essentially Victorian and conservative, beginning in the 1890’s Gilded Age, its ascendancy, then gradual decline at the hands of a new industrial and mechanical generation.

Tarkington wrote three Penrod books: Penrod (1914), Penrod and Sam (1916), and Penrod Jashber (1929). In Seventeen, Tarkington depicts an older character than twelve-year-old Penrod. Interestingly enough, today’s teenagers are so much more sophisticated, jaded, and cynical about life that they’d have little in common with the protagonist of Seventeen.

So welcome to the three worlds of Penrod.

BLOG #24, SERIE…

BLOG #24, SERIES #3

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

SOUTHWEST NATIONAL PARKS #13

KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARK

June 20, 2012

 

 

 

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We left the Southwest National Park series on April 25, with Sequoia National Park.  You may remember that Sequoia and Kings Canyon are administered as one entity, albeit with two separate management teams.  Without question, Kings Canyon is the lesser known of the two, perhaps because of its relatively late entry into the park system.  When you look at the map, things get confusing, what with the Sequoia National Forest (southern and northern branches), Giant Sequoia National Monument (southern and northern branches), and Sequoia National Park.

 

In 1891, the massive (sixteen feet in diameter) Mark Twain tree was cut down, then cut up into a dozen pieces (since it weighed nine tons), then shipped to the New York Museum of Natural History.  Two years later, the equally massive General Noble tree was cut down at the government’s orders, and shipped to Chicago for its Columbian World Fair exhibition; there it was turned into a two-story structure, then moved to the Smithsonian where it stood until the 1930s.

 

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Stephen Mather, John Muir, the Sierra Club, and others all stepped in to save sections of this Sierra Nevada corridor before it was too late, but commercial interests kept the Kings Canyon section from national park status until 1940.  It was a close call since Los Angeles coveted the Kings River watershed and came within the proverbial inch of damming it up.  Had they done so, the Kings Canyon’s wilderness would have been lost forever.  In 1978 Congress added the Mineral King area to the park.  Altogether, today, over 450,000 acres of Kings Canyon wilderness (mostly roadless) is preserved for those who wish to escape roads and backpack in—some 80,000 a year do just that.  Altogether 1,500,000 people a year love Kings Canyon/Sequoia to death with their traffic—all on only 120 miles of roads.

 

Providentially a great rampart of high mountains (the backbone of the Sierra Nevadas) barred east/west roadways from being constructed long enough to preserve this area in perpetuity for the American people.

 

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OUR VISIT TO THE PARK

 

Bob and Lucy Earp, Connie and I, after a delicious breakfast at Wuksachi Lodge, headed out into the cold grey skies that gradually dissipated as we moved out of Sequoia National Park into Kings Canyon.  We stopped at both the Sequoia and Kings Canyon visitor centers, making a point to see both films.  We have found that travelers who don’t do so severely shortchange their visits.  We can all be grateful to the park rangers who serve us so well in facilities across the nation.

 

By the time we reached the rim of Kings Canyon—I hadn’t seen it in over forty years—the sun had come out.  It turned out to be one of those all too rare absolutely perfect blue sky days.  Way down below was the still undammed Kings River (Spanish explorers named it El Rio de los Santos Reyes), which translates to River of the Holy Kings (the Magi).  The river grew ever larger and louder as we zigzagged our way down the canyon wall.  Just as had been true with the snowmelt-swollen Kern River, the Kings River was torrential!  With a half-century high snowpack to stoke it, what a time to have picked in which to re-experience the canyon!  Since tourist season hadn’t yet begun, the day proved to be a serene one.  Everywhere we looked tributary streams and waterfalls fed into the gorge.  At the east end, where the road ends in the Zumwalt Meadows, we took advantage of the opportunity to explore the area.  We discovered that the park not only includes one of the greatest stands of Sequoias in the world, it also includes magnificent stands of sugar pine, ponderosa pine, white fir, red fir, and incense cedar.

 

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Afterwards, regretting we couldn’t remain longer in the park, we drove back down the canyon, up over the canyon wall, back into Sequoia, down into the San Joaquin Valley, and then up through California’s legendary gold-mining towns such as Angels Camp (made famous by Mark Twain’s “The Jumping Frog of Calavaras County”), back into the cooler temperatures of the Sierras, a quick stop at one of our oldest national park lodges, Wawona, then on to that  famous tunnel that opens onto one of the grandest vistas our world has to offer: “Yosemite National Park, with its iconic peaks, waterfalls, and river.  Tourists seeing the vista for the first time are awe-struck.

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 Even those native Californians like Connie and me are moved almost to tears by being privileged to set eyes on it once again in this all too brief journey we call “life.”

 

 

SOURCES USED

 

Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (New York: Alfred A. Knopfk, 2009).

 

Palmer, John J., Sequoia and Kings Canyon (Wickenburg, Arizona: K. C. Publications, 2009).

 

BLOG #24, SERIE…

BLOG #24, SERIES #3

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

SOUTHWEST NATIONAL PARKS #13

KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARK

June 13, 2012

 

Image

We left the Southwest National Park series on April 25, with Sequoia National Park.  You may remember that Sequoia and Kings Canyon are administered as one entity, albeit with two separate management teams.  Without question, Kings Canyon is the lesser known of the two, perhaps because of its relatively late entry into the park system.  When you look at the map, things get confusing, what with the Sequoia National Forest (southern and northern branches), Giant Sequoia National Monument (southern and northern branches), and Sequoia National Park.

In 1891, the massive (sixteen feet in diameter) Mark Twain tree was cut down, then cut up into a dozen pieces (since it weighed nine tons), then shipped to the New York Museum of Natural History.  Two years later, the equally massive General Noble tree was cut down at the government’s orders, and shipped to Chicago for its Columbian World Fair exhibition; there it was turned into a two-story structure, then moved to the Smithsonian where it stood until the 1930s.

Image

Stephen Mather, John Muir, the Sierra Club, and others all stepped in to save sections of this Sierra Nevada corridor before it was too late, but commercial interests kept the Kings Canyon section from national park status until 1940.  It was a close call since Los Angeles coveted the Kings River watershed and came within the proverbial inch of damming it up.  Had they done so, the Kings Canyon’s wilderness would have been lost forever.  In 1978 Congress added the Mineral King area to the park.  Altogether, today, over 450,000 acres of Kings Canyon wilderness (mostly roadless) is preserved for those who wish to escape roads and backpack in—some 80,000 a year do just that.  Altogether 1,500,000 people a year love Kings Canyon/Sequoia to death with their traffic—all on only 120 miles of roads.

Providentially a great rampart of high mountains (the backbone of the Sierra Nevadas) barred east/west roadways from being constructed long enough to preserve this area in perpetuity for the American people.

Image

OUR VISIT TO THE PARK

Bob and Lucy Earp, Connie and I, after a delicious breakfast at Wuksachi Lodge, headed out into the cold grey skies that gradually dissipated as we moved out of Sequoia National Park into Kings Canyon.  We stopped at both the Sequoia and Kings Canyon visitor centers, making a point to see both films.  We have found that travelers who don’t do so severely shortchange their visits.  We can all be grateful to the park rangers who serve us so well in facilities across the nation.

By the time we reached the rim of Kings Canyon—I hadn’t seen it in over forty years—the sun had come out.  It turned out to be one of those all too rare absolutely perfect blue sky days.  Way down below was the still undammed Kings River (Spanish explorers named it El Rio de los Santos Reyes), which translates to River of the Holy Kings (the Magi).  The river grew ever larger and louder as we zigzagged our way down the canyon wall.  Just as had been true with the snowmelt-swollen Kern River, the Kings River was torrential!  With a half-century high snowpack to stoke it, what a time to have picked in which to re-experience the canyon!  Since tourist season hadn’t yet begun, the day proved to be a serene one.  Everywhere we looked tributary streams and waterfalls fed into the gorge.  At the east end, where the road ends in the Zumwalt Meadows, we took advantage of the opportunity to explore the area.  We discovered that the park not only includes one of the greatest stands of Sequoias in the world, it also includes magnificent stands of sugar pine, ponderosa pine, white fir, red fir, and incense cedar.

Image

Afterwards, regretting we couldn’t remain longer in the park, we drove back down the canyon, up over the canyon wall, back into Sequoia, down into the San Joaquin Valley, and then up through California’s legendary gold-mining towns such as Angels Camp (made famous by Mark Twain’s “The Jumping Frog of Calavaras County”), back into the cooler temperatures of the Sierras, a quick stop at one of our oldest national park lodges, Wawona, then on to that  famous tunnel that opens onto one of the grandest vistas our world has to offer: “Yosemite National Park, with its iconic peaks, waterfalls, and river.  Tourists seeing the vista for the first time are awe-struck.

Image

Even those native Californians like Connie and me are moved almost to tears by being privileged to set eyes on it once again in this all too brief journey we call “life.”

SOURCES USED

Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (New York: Alfred A. Knopfk, 2009).

Palmer, John J., Sequoia and Kings Canyon (Wickenburg, Arizona: K. C. Publications, 2009).