Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome

Yes, it’s true, I only finished this because of my affection for To Say Nothing of the Dog, which steals its title from the subtitle of this book. I gave up on it for several weeks, and it took a plane trip and some work lunches to get me to actually finish it.

Which is not to say that it’s bad. It’s actually quite delightful. But this is definitely one of those stories that was meant for serialization, which is how it was first published way back in the day. It gets a little tedious all at once.

Three Men in a Boat is ostensibly about a up the River Thames with Jerome and two of his friends, to say nothing of Jerome’s dog Montmorency, which is totally the name of my next puppy. In fact, it started out as a guide to river travel! But the river trip is less the point of the story than a vessel (see what I did there?) for Jerome to tell amusing anecdotes about fishermen lying about the fish they’ve caught, hitching a tow up the river with someone who lost the boat she should have been towing, cute little doggies starting giant fights, and other such tangential funtimes.

Jerome also has astute observations on life, like how to boil water: “If it sees that you are waiting for it and are anxious, it will never even sing. You have to go away and begin your meal, as if you were not going to have any tea at all. You must not even look round at it. Then you will soon hear it sputtering away, mad to be made into tea.”

Or how to be lazy: “And I am careful of my work, too. Why, some of the work that I have by me now has been in my possession for years and years, and there isn’t a finger-mark on it. I take a great pride in my work; I take it down now and then and dust it. No man keeps his work in a better state of preservation than I do.”

And all the writing is chuckle-ful like that, so that’s good, but there’s no plot and very little even connecting these anecdotes, so it’s hard to stay focused. I can see what Connie Willis sees in this book, and as I read it I could where she stole things to put in her own. But I’d rather go read To Say Nothing of the Dog again!

Recommendation: Best in small doses, best read by lovers of non-sequitur humor.

Rating: 7/10

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

The moral of this story: Don’t be friends with Tom Sawyer. Just, really. Don’t. I haven’t even read his book, and maybe I won’t. What a crazy person.

I’m not sure how I managed to avoid reading… any Mark Twain at all during my school years. It was never assigned, and I was too busy reading various other things, I guess. And after listening to it now, I can tell you I would never have made it through this book even if it were assigned β€” straight to SparkNotes I would have gone.

This is largely because of the dialect business, which is hard enough to understand as spoken to you via a lovely audiobook narrator, and which, upon opening up my paperback copy of the book, is a little overwhelming in print. It is also because of the distinct lack of plot, which I am getting more accepting of in my old age but would have bored me to tears in high school.

So I cannot really tell you what this book is about, if you haven’t already had the pleasure of reading it yourself, except that there’s a kid and he fakes his death and goes off down the Mississippi with a runaway slave. And while he’s doing it, some seriously nutty stuff happens.

But I can tell you that I quite appreciated the book, which I felt portrayed Huckleberry Finn as a very realistic kid, even if his circumstances were not realistic at all. He faced tough decisions that he reasoned his way through as best he could, and went against some of his greatest instincts in doing so. I can definitely get behind that.

And of course, there’s been that whole thing recently about the use of the word “nigger,” which is in fact quite prolific throughout the book. I personally think its use is quite valid, and that “slave” would not have quite the same effect of placing this book solidly in the time period and mindset that Twain is writing about. It’s obviously not a word I’d like to bring back into fashion, but you can’t deny its existence any more than you can deny the fact that Jim was running away from slavery in the first place.

Recommendation: Totally worth a read if you haven’t managed it yet; best if read with a sense of Twain’s sarcasm.

Rating: 7/10
(A to Z Challenge, TBR Challenge)