A Look at Young Protagonists in Literature

With the school year underway, kids are on the minds of many — including book lovers. So, our subject this week is literature’s most memorable young characters (from babies to teens).

I just finished Elsa Morante’s History, and Giuseppe in that magnificent/heartbreaking novel is one of the most adorable, engaging, precocious, well-drawn kids I’ve ever encountered in fiction. This is especially amazing because he was conceived when a German soldier raped his Italian mother Ida — after which she and Giuseppe spend the rest of World War II suffering additional privations such as the loss of their bombed home, near starvation, and Ida’s constant fear that her half-Jewish ancestry would be discovered by the Nazis. (All that horror, combined with a hereditary condition, does eventually affect Giuseppe’s psyche and health.)

Obviously, the vast majority of young people in literature don’t have to go through those things. Readers can enjoy the innocence of many kid characters, hope those characters turn out okay when older, cringe if they get jaded or go bad, and be reminded of their own childhood and/or their own kids and grandkids.

Another unforgettable child in fiction is Anne Shirley, who’s an 11-year-old orphan when we first meet her in Anne of Green Gables. Brainy, friendly, funny, needy — Anne has captivated readers since L.M. Montgomery’s novel was first published in 1908. Heck, a late-in-life Mark Twain said Anne is “the dearest, most moving, and most delightful child since the immortal Alice.” That of course being Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland-visiting Alice — another enduring kid in lit.

Montgomery created a second memorable girl in her semi-autobiographical Emily trilogy, whose title character becomes a writer.

Among the many other young females who strongly resonate in literature are the four diverse sisters in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women; the bright, frustrated Maggie Tulliver, who’s initially nine years old in George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss; the mistreated, resilient Celie when a teen in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple; the neglected, loyal Florence in Charles Dickens’ Dombey and Son; the iconic Dorothy in L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; and the offbeat, perceptive Pearl — daughter of Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.

The young Owen Meany is also offbeat and perceptive in John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany. Other compelling boys in lit include Charlie, the beleaguered teen son of a semi-crazy dad in Paul Theroux’s The Mosquito Coast; Twain’s entrepreneurial, bossy, annoying, sometimes admirable Tom Sawyer; and the more likable Huck Finn, a secondary character in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer before taking the spotlight in Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Speaking of annoying, the kidnapped boy in O. Henry’s “The Ransom of Red Chief” story is so grating that the kidnappers have to pay his father to take him back! Now that’s a memorable young character.

Other great literary creations include the intelligent, buffeted-by-tragedy fraternal twins — impulsive Rahel and mute Estha — in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things; and the destined-to-meet Yuri Zhivago and Lara during their adolescent years in Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago.

The seven Harry Potter books are of course chock-full of distinctive young people: the brave Harry, the brilliant Hermione Granger, the affable Ron Weasley, the hilarious Weasley twins, the spacey Luna Lovegood, the spoiled Dudley Dursley, the often-brutish Draco Malfoy, the at-first-downtrodden Neville Longbottom, etc.

Children’s books also have tons of interesting kid protagonists, but that could be the subject of a whole other blog post. So The Cat in the Hat‘s Sally and her brother get only a brief Seussical mention here.

Who are your favorite young characters in YA or grown-up literature?

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else.)

For three years of my Huffington Post literature blog, click here.

I’m also in the middle of writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering/meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in New York City and Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson, among others.

211 thoughts on “A Look at Young Protagonists in Literature

  1. My favourite young person in a book would be Lyra from Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy. So beautifully written that I couldn’t help sobbing like a child myself. And I too noticed an omission of Jane Eyre, but I personally don’t think you can mention her enough. You obviously feel quite passionate about the book, and I don’t think there’s ever anything wrong with sharing that 🙂

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    • Susan, it was great how you described “His Dark Materials” and how moving it was. Lyra must be an amazing character.

      I was mentioning “Jane Eyre” so much that I put a semi-moratorium on it for a while, but it remains my favorite novel and will return to my blog! 🙂

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  2. Hi Dave!

    I’m taking two lit classes at William and Mary this semester (British Literature and American Literature). For the latter, we contrasted two typical “young protagonist” novels: Little Women and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. I have to say…I just loathed Louisa May Alcott’s story. Just absolutely loathed. I felt that it maintained the status quo, reinforced gender-normative behavior, and had barely any plot. Each chapter was a moral and a lesson, utterly pedantic and nauseatingly sentimental. It was a total chore to get through all 500 pages. Jo was a breath of fresh air, but even she gave up her passion – her writing – at the end in favor of marriage and children. I am at a loss as to why this continues to be a classic. Interestingly, Alcott really disliked Little Women. I am very interested to know your thoughts on this novel. Do you disagree with me?

    As for Tom Sawyer, that one was just lovely. It definitely tends to focus on males at the expense of females, but it was better written, lively, incredibly witty, and less moralistic. It gave more room for melancholy behaviors without judgment (Alcott was all about guilt, guilt, guilt) and showed the grim side of life (Alcott barely acknowledges the Civil War). The two are certainly at odds with one another, and it was really fun to look at the differences and similarities between the two.

    I’d love to know your take on this!

    -Lauren M

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    • Nice to hear from you, Lauren! And glad to know that you’re taking those two literature classes. If you don’t get top grades in both, I’ll be shocked. 🙂

      I liked but didn’t love “Little Women.” It was indeed sentimental in many ways, and mostly conventional, but I confess to being touched by sections of it. As you allude to, Jo March was the best part of the book. It IS a shame that Louisa May Alcott felt she had to give Jo a more traditional fate than she deserved, but I consoled myself by thinking that at least the real-life Jo (Alcott) had a long career as an author.

      Not sure if you’ve read Geraldine Brooks’ “March,” which focuses on the “Little Women” father’s experiences in the Civil War — while including “Marmee” and the four daughters as secondary characters. (Brooks depicted “Marmee” as smart, fairly independent, and occasionally hot-tempered.) An excellent novel, and much harder-edged than “Little Women.” Brooks was a war correspondent for part of her journalism career before becoming a novelist, and it shows in “March.”

      I love “Tom Sawyer” (first read it as a teen boy and then reread it as an adult with similar enjoyment). I did find Tom’s “taker rather than giver” personality annoying (and hated his role in the later “Huckleberry Finn”), but, as I partly mentioned in my column, I also found him to be fun, brave, entrepreneurial, and “his own person.”

      Thanks for your eloquent comment!

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      • There are a lot of interesting parallels between Alcott’s life and that of her fictional counterpart, Jo. Did you know that Alcott also wrote similar novels to that of Jo (adventure, romance, etc, the ones that Bhaer thought were so detrimental to young people)? It seems very counter-intuitive for Alcott to deride such novels in Little Women but for her to have written them herself. Perhaps that was her way of atonement? I’m very conflicted – I admire Alcott in the sense that she had to write in order to support her family, but the output (Little Women) reinforces the status quo so much that I just can’t quite get behind her.

        I haven’t read “March,” but I do adore Geraldine Brooks’s writing. I’ll have to read it (I’m not sure when!…but I’ll add it to my long, long list).

        I’ve heard a lot about Tom Sawyer’s role in Huckleberry Finn, and most of it isn’t positive, just like you said. I agree with you, though, about his personality – I really enjoyed the novel and am eager to read more from Twain (I somehow got through life without reading any of his work until now…imagine that!)

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          • I forgot about that scene; it has been at least 10 years since I reread “Huckleberry Finn.” 🙂 But I do remember Tom being very unkind to the runaway slave Jim in the last third of the novel — sort of toying with him, in fact — and it’s mostly that behavior that soured me on Tom in the book.

            I think the first two thirds make “Huckleberry Finn” one of the greatest accomplishments in the history of literature, American or otherwise. But the other third knocks Twain’s iconic book out of my 20 favorite novels.

            Thanks, Eric! Hope you’re doing well!

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            • Eric, I should have also noted in my previous comment that Tom Sawyer did have some good in him and some admirable qualities, especially as depicted in the earlier novel with his name in the title. For instance, he was a mostly steady presence when lost in the cave with Becky Thatcher.

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        • Lauren, I didn’t know that Alcott wrote novels similar to Jo’s. Thanks for the information! I knew Alcott penned many books in addition to “Little Women,” but I’ve never read them and never focused on what they might be about. And, yes, “counter-intuitive” is the word for Alcott criticizing the kind of novels that partly comprised her own canon. But, as you allude to, it may have been an economic necessity for Alcott to write some of the stuff she did.

          I hear you about long, long to-read lists! Now that I’m writing about books weekly again, my list is getting longer than a Proust sentence… 🙂 So I totally understand, in a very busy life, that one can’t always have read a lot by certain authors — such as Twain in your case.

          “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” is great, of course, and much more scathing (in an anti-war way) than the Hollywood film. “Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc” deserves to be better known, and that historical novel certainly differs from most other Twain fiction in having a prominent (albeit doomed) female protagonist. In the nonfiction area, Twain’s “The Innocents Abroad” is the funniest travel book I’ve ever read (as I mentioned in my current post about fiction writers who also wrote/write nonfiction).

          Thanks for your follow-up comment!

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  3. This is another interesting topic, especially from the point of view of adult literature with a child protagonist. The first book that comes to my mind is E.L. Doctorow’s “World’s Fair”. Doctorow is absolutely one of my favorite living authors, and this book is really a combination novel/memoir about a pre-teen age boy growing up in New York City (Bronx, I believe) in the late 1930’s. I think he really nails a child’s perspective during this crucial period in American History. Although my childhood was spent in the turbulent 1960’s, I could really relate to young Edgar, as he views his world through his child’s eyes – focusing on what is important to him and interpreting events as a child would, but using the brilliant prose of an accomplished novelist. I loved this book.
    At this moment, I am about half-way through another book with a teenage protagonist – “Blood Meridian” by Cormac McCarthy. Dave – I am finally reading this book that you recommended about a year ago. Here, the story is told through the point of view 15 or 16 year old referred to only as “the kid”, as his dysfunctional journey finds him involved in a ultra-violent gang of misfits seeking bounty for Native-American scalps in the pre-Civil War southwest. This one is hardly as universal as “World’s Fair”, but is beautifully written and quite impactful.
    On a lighter note: I previously mentioned how much I enjoy classics that were originally written for adolescents. I continue to love Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” with young Jim Hawkins as the hero. The book had just enough violence to keep a 13-year old engaged, but I now wonder how this book would have read if Cormac McCarthy had been the author

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    • Thanks, drb19810! Glad you liked the post!

      “World’s Fair” is a Doctorow book I haven’t gotten to. It sounds terrific, as was your description. I have relatives who grew up in the Bronx in the 1930s; I bet they would love the book. Not sure if they attended the 1939 World’s Fair. 🙂

      Great that you’re reading “Blood Meridian”! Such a disturbing book, but riveting. It certainly captures the violence of the 19th-century American West, and, by extension, the violence that’s still around in more modern times.

      Ha — “Treasure Island” in the hands of Cormac McCarthy! It would undoubtedly have had a LOT more carnage.

      Excellent comment!!!

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      • The only other McCarthy novel i’ve read to date is “The Road”, which also has a young boy as one of the protagonists. This was another fasciating book that fits in with your topic. Such a disturbing post apololyptical setting that is experienced through the perspective of a child – making it all the more sad, yet leaving the reader with an inkling of hope due to the innocence of this child.

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        • Well said, drb19810!

          “The Road” is definitely a book with a kid co-star. That boy (I’m not sure if he had a name) went through way more than anyone should bear — an apocalypse, mother gone, father sick. Yes, a tiny bit of hope in that novel — which is about as much hope as one will get from Cormac McCarthy. 🙂

          His “Border Trilogy” (“All the Pretty Horses,” etc.) features two male protagonists who I believe were in their teens for most of the three novels. And McCarthy’s “Suttree” features a rather odd teen (I think that was his age) in a supporting role. (As one can see from this comment, McCarthy unfortunately had many more males than females in prominent roles!)

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  4. “We Are What We Pretend to Be”, contains two previously unpublished stories by Kurt Vonnegut. The first, Basic Training, was his first novella. What a delightful book to read, Haley Brandon a sixteen-year-old youth whose adoptive parents die in an accident. He moves from the city to the country to live with his uncle and cousins whom he has never met. It is a bitter, story that satirizes the military, authoritarianism, gender . Haley Brandon, the adolescent protagonist, comes to the farm of his relative, the old crazy who insists upon being called The General, to learn to be a straight-shooting American.In the end Haiey survived by standing up to the General who proved to be a caricature of a man with deranged values.

    Client by John Grisham is another page turner “The Client ” is about an eleven year old named Mark Sway and his little brother Ricky witnessing a suicide and the thriller continues on until the end of the book . I had the book read it long ago wanted to read again and darn just realized recently donated it to the library

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    • bebe, I read both the books you mentioned (after you recommended Vonnegut’s “Basic Training” and Grisham in general), and they feature EXCELLENT examples of young protagonists.

      First novels are sometimes so-so, but I thought that Vonnegut work was great — as was your description of it. “The Client” is indeed a page-turner; I kept reading it until my eyes blurred. Having some VERY bad guys go after a kid definitely gets a reader’s blood racing!

      Perhaps you can go to the library to check out your own copy of “The Client”? 🙂

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      • Yes…and the second novella made no sense at all…ended abruptly also. I want to read Client again which was my favorite book. Funny once I read a comment by a reviewer that in his novels Grisham makes all republicans look bad and the democrats good..I thought that was an exaggeration but I have no problem with that.
        Now I am stuck on Low Land with the CD`s..getting interrupted. Finally i found the book so i can move faster. The narrator was very good but CD`s take a long time to finish.

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        • I agree about that unfinished second novella, though it had a laugh here and there. I guess the elderly Vonnegut was not in the greatest health at that point, and had probably said just about everything he was going to say in a book after all those decades of writing.

          Grisham is indeed someone who hates social injustice, and today’s Republican Party is all about trying to make social injustice continue so the rich can get even richer. “I read a comment by a reviewer that in his novels Grisham makes all republicans look bad and the democrats good. I thought that was an exaggeration but I have no problem with that” — love the way you ended that passage, bebe!

          I’m still very interested in hearing what you think of Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel after you finish. 🙂

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  5. I am awfully late to this blog piece, Dave! My favorite children in fiction are Scout and Jem from “To Kill A Mockingbird”, but I’m sure you could have guess that. The other young person that popped into my mind is Woody from “Lady” by Thomas Tryon. I wasn’t particularly proud of Woody when he found out the great secret, but during those days who among us would have behaved differently? In addition, let us not forget about Mark Sway from “The Client”. That young man was memorable in every respect. If we want to include novels where the protagonist started out as a child but grew up in the pages of the book, Jane Eyre must be mentioned, as well as Idgie Threadgood from “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe.”

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    • Mary, you named several great young protagonists! I’ve read every book you mentioned, so I’m wondering how I forgot to include at least a couple of them!

      Yes, I know how much of a fan you are of the wonderful “To Kill a Mockingbird.” 🙂 I was telling another commenter that I should reread Harper Lee’s novel because I read it so long ago that I keep forgetting to include it in blog posts!

      I agree about Woody — he didn’t behave well in the “Lady” novel’s climactic scene (set during a less tolerant time), but, overall, as you know, he was a likable, goodhearted person. As always, thanks for recommending that book a couple of years ago!

      “The Client” — such a terrific book with that terrific Mark character. I guess his younger brother was also memorable in a traumatized sort of way.

      And Jane Eyre and Idgie are tremendous examples of unforgettable girls who became unforgettable women in their respective novels.

      Thanks for a comment that covered so many bases!

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      • By the way, Mary, I’m about halfway through another book you recommended — “My Family and Other Animals.” It’s great! So funny and engaging, and the nature stuff is fascinating.

        Gerald Durrell depicts some rather eccentric characters in such a natural way — an interesting contrast to the more forced way J.D. Salinger (who we discussed in another comment) depicted rather eccentric people. Of course, Durrell’s book is nonfiction, but still…

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        • I’m so glad you’re enjoying the book! I hoped that you would! I think that I told you that Corfu was one of the destinations for the cruise I took in 2011. We took the “tours” on most of the Greek isles, but opted not to on Corfu. I have kicked myself ever since because the house that Gerald Durrell and his family inhabited was a part of the tour!!!

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          • Thanks, Mary!

            Sounds like a great trip you had back in 2011. But sorry you didn’t see the Durrell family house. I assume the second, bigger house that family moved to after son Larry insisted on inviting a bunch of (offbeat) guests? (In real life, Larry became a successful novelist, from what I saw on Wikipedia. I’ve never read his work. Have you?)

            One thing that puzzled me about the family was how they could afford their Corfu stay without working. Maybe I missed some explanation in the book. I can only guess that the (absent? deceased?) father left them a lot of money!

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            • I did wonder how in the world they could have afforded such an extended stay, but I assumed the dead/absent husband/father must have left them with an endowment of some sort. I haven’t read any of Larry’s works. I must admit that I had never heard of them at all until my sister stumbled upon this book at Goodwill. What a find it was! We have gotten so much joy out of it!

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            • Laurence Durrell’s “The Alexandrian Quartet” was much beloved by many of my fellow students when I was an English major, so, ever the outlier, I thought it was overwrought and pretentious way back when. Used to see it pop up in the Salvation Army, whole or in pieces, but haven’t in years. Probably deserves the second look I plan to give it next time I happen on it.

              Surprised it no longer commands the attention of lit lovers it once had.

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              • Thanks, jhNY, for the information on Larry Durrell! He definitely does not seem to be a “name” novelist anymore (not that I’m representative, but I had never heard of him until my current reading of his brother’s book), so your opinion of his work back then may very well have been spot-on.

                In “My Family and Other Animals,” Larry comes off as rather “overwrought and pretentious.” 🙂

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                • Read a bit about him via wikipedia– turns out Henry Miller was an early influence and a friend for decades, and that, on the basis of the AQ, Lawrence Durrell (I knew I’d spelled his first name wrong as soon as I saw it appear in the column) was a finalist for the Nobel Prize in the early 50’s (as was Karen Blixen)– but Steinbeck won that year.

                  Perhaps of most interest to you and to Mary Harris is that he wrote a “somewhat fictionalized…lyrical account”, titled “Prospero’s Cell”, “which may be instructively compared with the accounts of the Corfu experience published by Gerald Durrell in My Family and Other Animals and the rest of Gerald’s so-called Corfu trilogy”

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                  • Thanks for all that interesting information, jhNY! It’s funny — after seeing how annoying Lawrence Durrell is in “My Family and Other Animals,” I don’t have a strong desire to read his work. I realize Gerald Durrell could have been “off” in his depiction of Lawrence, but I read (perhaps also in Wikipedia) that those brothers got along well during their lives.

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                    • I was just perusing the comments on this and thought I’d mention that after finishing re-reading “My Family and Other Animals” for probably the 6th time, I just started re-reading the sequel “Birds, Beasts and Relatives.” As I recall, it wasn’t quite as funny as the first, but it begins with a conversation at a family reunion during which the siblings all complain about how long it took them to live the book down. Larry says, “You’ve no idea what damage that Dickens-like caricature did to my literary image.” Guess he was right. 🙂 And this is when Gerry announces that he’s planning to write a sequel, much to the family’s horror.

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                    • Thanks, Kat Lib, for the great comment and all that great information! Perhaps Gerald Durrell DID exaggerate the characteristics of his family to try to make things even funnier. (And that book IS funny.) Also interesting, as you engagingly note, that the sequel refers to the prequel as well as the future sequel to the sequel.

                      Whether consciously or not, Gerald also doesn’t always make himself look good in “My Family and Other Animals.” I’m referring mainly to how he’s always grabbing these poor animals out of their natural habitats to add to his collection. Understandable that those animals (such as the gull or albatross near the end of the book) are indignant about that. Gerald’s love of animals seems to have a blind spot.

                      I have about 30 pages to go before finishing the book… 🙂

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                    • Dave, I wasn’t given an option to “Reply” to your last response to me about Gerry Durrell so this will appear a little out of order I admit that at times I found his collecting a bit off-putting, but in his defense, he went on to become a well-known conservationist and was one of, if not the first, to be concerned about zoos. He had many expeditions to collect animals all over the world, but he would not “over-collect” and he fed and treated these animals well. He saw the purpose of a zoo to be as a reserve and a placed to breed endangered species. He founded the Jersey Wildlife Refuge on the island of Jersey and wrote many funny books on the subject, such as “The Overloaded Ark” and “A Zoo in my Luggage.” He wrote books only to make money for his zoo and foundation. I was amused to read that the logo for both was the Dodo, because it made me think of the story in “My Family” about his mother’s dog Dodo, and the scene where Dodo has a pup that must be carried around on a pillow by a servant girl because the dog wouldn’t let Mother out of her sight and would forget to nurse her pup. Just thinking about that “procession” makes me giggle.:) I read Durrell’s biography a while ago, and though I don’t remember much of it, I did get the impression that he wasn’t exactly a saint, unless it was for his work for animals.

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                    • Thanks, Kat Lib, for your reply — which nicely ended up at the end of the thread. It seems that when one scrolls up to the final reply button visible in a thread, the new reply, when posted, ends up correctly jumping down to the end of the thread — right under the comment being replied to. Not sure how that works, but I’m happy it does. 🙂

                      It’s great that Gerald Durrell was, overall, a friend of animals — with the way he treated animals well once he captured them, with his career of conservation efforts and making zoos better, etc. You described all that so well!

                      Yes, Durrell’s description of Dodo’s pup being carried around on a pillow was laugh-out-loud funny. What a picture his words created of that eccentric “procession”!

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  6. On an essay reflecting on young literary protagonists inspired by the start of a new school year we have yet to have a mention as far as I can tell of young Holden Caulfield ? As a HS student in the 70s there were four or five books all of us had to read Catcher in the Rye being the most common. It seems to me it’s considered hip to disparage Mr. Salinger’s best seller while perhaps throwing in a good word for Franny and Zooey . Never one to go with the flow if possible it pains me to concur with the fashionable type reader’s opinion ,after at least three reads over the years I still think it possibly the most over rated novel ever . Holden strikes me as not only a pretentious unlikeable hero but one dimensional and guilty of his favorite epitaph.. PHONY . The language and dialogue of the writing, often lauded for it’s honesty, sounds and sounded utterly artificial to my ears. I said as much when discussing the book in sophomore English back in the day causing the teacher to confirm he didn’t care for me by assigning John Knowles’s A Separate Peace as additional reading to be compared and contrasted with the former. Did little to make me popular with my classmates but the joke is on them because I thought the latter a wonderful book.

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    • I thought about including “The Catcher in the Rye” in my post, but had to pick and choose books to avoid the piece being too lengthy. So I didn’t include it — partly because, like you, I find the novel very overrated and its protagonist annoying, pretentious, and more. I also found the late Salinger to be rather obnoxious, from everything I read about him.

      Perhaps “Catcher” as a piece of literature was a bit innovative and “zeitgeist-y” around the time of its 1951 publication, but I don’t think it’s close to belonging on a list of the greatest American novels of the 20th century.

      I’m not a big fan of “Franny and Zooey,” either, though it has a bit of arch charm here and there.

      Terrific comment, Donny, and I loved its John Knowles ending! Great that you independently spoke your mind back then (and now!).

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      • Thanks Dave and I’m thrilled to read you have the exact same opinion of the novel as I but as for independently speaking my mind honesty demands I admit to having been a typically obnoxious and contrary teenager who probably should have been slapped around more, metaphorically speaking of course….ironically enough just like Holden Caulfield 🙂

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        • Well, many teens can be contrary, and I think (if it doesn’t go too far) it’s better than being docile and conformist.

          I have a copy of “The Catcher in the Rye” at home, and I might just slap it around this morning. 🙂

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        • When I was teaching way, way back in New Hampshire, I had a student say “Holden did not have his ham in his sandwich.” At the time, I had no idea what he meant. Now I do.

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          • Mary, I love your “I don’t think his cheese was squarely on top of his cracker” phrase! Eric, the same for your former student’s “ham in his sandwich” comment. I imagine Holden would not win a popularity contest even among some of the readers who love “The Catcher in the Rye.”

            Salinger lived in New Hampshire much of his later life, so, Eric, I suppose you might not have lived that far from him back then.

            Mary and Eric, I was just checking the late Salinger’s NH residency on Wikipedia and stumbled across a piece of trivia I hadn’t known: Salinger dated Eugene O’Neill’s daughter Oona before she eventually married Charlie Chaplin.

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              • Mary, I love literature-related trivia! Interesting facts like that are the subject of the book I’m currently working on.

                I’ve never seen the “Doctor Zhivago” movie, so I was only vaguely aware that Geraldine Chaplin was in it — and I didn’t know which role she played. Thanks for that information! I’m sure she was excellent as Doctor Zhivago’s wife (but not his true love).

                By the way, I gave you a credit for recommending “Doctor Zhivago” in a comment I posted as soon as the blog post published. (It’s near the bottom of this comments area.)

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            • Wonder what Holden might have thought of “Atlas Shrugged”…
              I’m thinking, despite his disaffected brattiness, he would have liked it not– because there’s nothing more phony on this earth than all those diatribes-as-conversations.

              Makes me like him better, just thinking about it. After all, too many likeable teens have been lost to that tome too often– some never recover.

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              • If Holden didn’t like Ayn Rand’s phony-baloney philosophy, that would earn him some points. Salinger’s protagonist is self-centered enough to prefer “I Shrugged.” 🙂 (Of course, people Holden’s age can often be self-centered until they grow out of it, except for those who — as you note — become Ayn adherents. Paul Ryan, I’m looking at YOU!)

                Thanks, jhNY, for another engaging comment that gets the brain gears whirring.

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                • I could try to look it up, but that would be cheating. I admit, I don’t know the reference. But I also admit I’d love to know, especially as I am left-handed. No worries though. I haven’t got the attention span for “Das Kapital.”

                  But I will make a guess: Arlo Guthrie?

                  Another: Bob Dylan?

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                  • I didn’t know the lyricist, either. I Googled it and found it, but perhaps I should leave it to you, Donny, to reveal it here? 🙂 Great lyrics, penned by a great, at-times-literature-minded songwriter.

                    Thanks for posting those lines, Donny. Excellent guesses, jhNY, but neither is the lyricist.

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                    • Thanks, Donny! Paul Simon — one of the great lyricists of rock or pop or folk or whatever way his music is categorized. And he definitely included literary references in some songs, as with his mentions of Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost in “The Dangling Conversation.”

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                • Jeez, Donny. That one hurts!

                  I only spent a year and a half working for the man and Warner Bros., cataloging and documenting (right down to xeroxing every piece of paper in every tape box) every recording tape he owned (he has ownership of all his solo album masters– but not of Simon and Garfunkel stuff from the 60’s), on the occasion of the re-release of all his solo stuff through the year 2000.

                  In my defense, I guess I could point out that the song you have mentioned was part of the S&G catalog, but as a defense, it’s probably none too persuasive.

                  However, when I was hired, I told everybody that I only knew his catalog from the radio, having never taken anything he recorded home. (Truth is, I hardly ever listen to anything not first recorded on a 78, and haven’t for many years.) Later, it seemed to me that was taken as a plus– no fan mania to contend with, no souvenir stealing, no interest in attempting to insinuate myself into some personal relationship with the man– which would have been impossible anyway. I only met him for a few minutes when I showed him, after that year and a half, how to navigate the database. I told him I was happy to meet him. “Meet me? You KNOW Me!” was his memorable reply.

                  When he was asked to do one of those ‘behind the music– show us how you made that famous album’ shows, his assistant told me Simon showed no interest, having to his satisfaction, revealed what he wanted revealed on the lp itself. Offstage was out of bounds to the audience.

                  One last PS trivia bit: of all the catalogs I have worked on– and over the years they’re been a few dozen, no one has had fewer unreleased songs in reserve. His brother told me he’s like a French chef. If you are served braised carrots in the evening, expect carrot tops in your soup at lunch. He wastes nothing. Given the consistently high quality of his output, I find that fact a bit amazing.

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                  • jhNY, so exciting that you did some work for Paul Simon, and met him! That WAS a great reply he made to you. So interesting to read your memories of Simon, and all that information about him. I also met Paul Simon once — the U.S. Senator from Illinois. 🙂

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                    • Here’s a Simon quote I have always liked since first I ran across it, in the booklet accompanying a Japanese-issued cd box set of his solo recordings (I think): Being asked if he had hung out as an older teen in the Greenwich Village folk scene in the early 60’s, he said: “I hung out, but I could not pierce it, coming from the disadvantage of Queens.”

                      You have been around these parts long enough to see all that lies unsaid in that little sentence.

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                    • Yes, jhNY, a VERY interesting Simon sentence. I suppose Queens was and isn’t considered hip enough for Manhattan. Perhaps Simon was also responding to some people’s misguided beliefs that Jewish singers/songwriters/musicians are not considered ideal singer/songwriter/musician material — though of course Bob Dylan didn’t seem to be hurt by that.

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  7. Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird was an innocent,wise girl much smarter than her years. As was Francie in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn who grew up impoverished with an alcoholic father. She had to grow up fast,was as strong and resilient as the tree that represented freedom,hope through adversity. Many times these young characters must take on adult characteristics,are older than their years,they do what they must do to survive. Its a wonderful,empowering read and the film is excellent and true to the novel.

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    • Michele, you mentioned two memorable novels in your eloquent comment — and made a great observation that some kid characters have to take on adult responsibilities way too soon.

      I haven’t read “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” but saw the excellent/melancholy movie and assume the book is even better. I plan to read it.

      Thanks for your thoughts!

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  8. Just finished Life of Pi by Yann Martel. A 16-year old declares he wants to love God and simultaneously decides to become a Christian, a Hindu, and a Muslim, much to the confusion of his family and acquaintances. Then his faith is put to the test when he comes a shipwreck victim on a speck of a lifeboat in the vast Pacific with a Bengal tiger. After much anguish and despair, he determines that he and the tiger need each other to survive. He later tells an interviewer that it’s a story to make one believe in God. Either way, it’s a compelling tale.

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    • I also found “Life of Pi” compelling, pendragn52. Kid and tiger on a boat (eventually two attached boats); it wasn’t quite like “Calvin and Hobbes.” 🙂 And all the philosophical and religious musings you refer to. One of the most original novels I’ve read in recent years. I haven’t seen the movie, but I’ve heard it’s great, too.

      Excellent description and thoughts about the book!

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      • Haven’t seen the movie, but I, ever the outlier, found the book, such few pages as I read, a bit ostentatiously outlandish in set-up and character development, and them musings were a bit on the low end of thought-provoking, promising much but delivering only themselves. I was able to put the book down. And so far, I have shown no inclination to pick it up where I left it.

        I would imagine folks who read and loved “The Five People You Meet In Heaven” found much in”The Life of Pi” to chew on. But I am not among that happy band.

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        • Thanks, jhNY! I guess we differ a bit here. “Life of Pi” had its flaws, but overall I was impressed. Just one person’s opinion. 🙂

          From my limited experience reading Mitch Albom’s books, I prefer Yann Martel. (Though Albom perhaps writes a better newspaper sports column!)

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          • Wasn’t aware Ablom wrote about sports! Perhaps I’d like him better under that hat…

            Re Pi: I spent a half hour with the book, and felt I might better spend the time it would have taken to read the whole thing on something else– just one person’s opinion also.

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            • Mitch Albom was, and perhaps still is, a syndicated sports columnist based at the Detroit Free Press. He was working there before becoming a (sappy) best-selling author. As a matter of fact, he got so busy with his book, newspaper, and broadcast work that he once submitted a Sunday column on Friday about something that was supposed to happen at a Saturday game, but didn’t happen. I forget the specific details, but he got suspended from the Free Press for a while.

              If I don’t like a novel, I now drop it quickly, too. (I used to struggle to the bitter end.) As you’ve noted, so many books, so little time.

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        • Reminds me, somehow, of an old joke:The great Jewish director has toiled for years, amassing a fortune and much acclaim, but until his latest Biblical epic, nothing he had done did he think suitable to show his devoted mother. Now, at long last she sat beside him in the darkened theater, and as so often happens in such pictures, a scene involving the savagery of the Colosseum was getting underway.

          “Oy,oy,oy,” said his mother. “Look at those lions eating the Jews!”

          “Relax, Ma, said the director. “Those people in the arena aren’t Jews. They’re Christians.”

          A period of silence ensued.

          Then: “Oy, oy oy!”

          “What is it now, Ma?”

          “Look at that lion over there in the corner. He’s not eating anything!”

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  9. Hi Dave, I have to agree with you on the mention of the Harry Potter series. I loved reading those books, and I was especially taken by Hermione. She was so intelligent, brave and such a loyal friend — who could ask for a better role model? I also thought the casting of the whole movie series was wonderful, but the performance of Emma Watson was outstanding, especially as both she and Hermione mature during the course of the series. You are aware of my fondness for John Green and all of his YA books, especially “The Fault in Our Stars.” One of the reasons I love all his books so much is that most of the main characters, all teens, have a very good relationship with their parents, something that I was lucky enough to have myself. Other very good YA books are “If I Stay,” by Gayle Forman and “Eleanor & Park” by Rainbow Rowell.

    I’ve also mentioned in other posts my fascination with Africa, and in reading memoirs as well as in novels such as “The Poisonwood Bible,” by Barbara Kingsolver. The characters of the four Price daughters are so well written, that I could read one of the narrators’ chapters, and know immediately which one of the daughters it was without reading the chapter heading (as well as the mother’s voice).

    I also found myself thinking about a book I read many years ago, “Dandelion Wine,” by Ray Bradbury. I read quite a few of his books when I was younger, but I remember this one being so charming, with the 1920’s small town, which I believe was somewhat autobiographical in nature. The protagonist was a 12 year-old boy, Douglas Spaulding, and there is definitely something that happens during this particular summer that has elements of fantasy, along with the nostalgia. This book is on my list of those to reread. Bradbury was such a great writer that even his “The Martian Chronicles” was still compelling when I reread it last year, though we now know no one could live on Mars.

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    • The four daughters in “The Poisonwood Bible” — of course! I love that novel, and Barbara Kingsolver’s work in general. You’re right that those daughters have very distinctive “voices.”

      There are also interesting young boys in Kingsolver’s “The Lacuna” and “Flight Behavior,” with the boy growing up in the former novel and the boy staying basically the same age in the latter novel — which spans months rather than years.

      Hermione is indeed a wonderful character in the “Harry Potter” books, and I agree that Emma Watson did her justice in the films — just as the films mostly did justice to the whole series. I sometimes wonder what the series would have been like if J.K. Rowling made Hermione the star and Harry one of the sidekicks!

      I must, must, must try John Green eventually. He has been on my list since you mentioned him many months ago.

      Your description of Ray Bradbury’s “Dandelion Wine” intrigues me, too. Would like to read that as well.

      Thanks, Kat Lib, for a comment jam-packed with interesting books and thoughts!

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      • I have on my bookshelves “The Lacuna,” still to be read, and I keep meaning to get “Flight Behavior,” as it’s now on the bargain bookshelf at B&N. I did just start “Prodigal Summer,” but got diverted to rereading “My Friends and Other Animals,” as you well know :). Also, my sister just bought me the latest Louise Penney novel, and we’re both huge fans of her mystery novels set in Quebec and a small town called “Three Pines.” I read it in less than two days and loved it. Did you read “Prodigal Summer” and is it worthwhile? I didn’t get so far as to know either way.

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        • Thanks for the follow-up comment, Kat Lib!

          I think “The Poisonwood Bible” and “Prodigal Summer” are Barbara Kingsolver’s best novels, in that order, but “The Lacuna” and “Flight Behavior” are also excellent. As you know, “Prodigal Summer” is basically four interlocking story lines — all interesting, and I love the way those four come together at the end.

          I’m also still reading and enjoying “My Friends and Other Animals.” Nonfiction is rarely this fun! 🙂

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        • I wish I had a lacuna on my bookshelves. I just bought another bookcase, and in less than five minutes, I managed to get most of the books nearby off the floor and crammed into it, leaving merely dozens in tottering piles…

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          • LOL! A lacuna would indeed come in handy for your book-filled place. Why doesn’t IKEA sell ready-to-assemble lacunas? 🙂

            As you might know, Barbara Kingsolver literally and metaphorically used the idea of a lacuna quite effectively in her novel.

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      • That comment reminded me of the Bennet sisters in Pride and Prejudice. The sisters ran the gambit in personalities, behavior, and other characteristics which happen to escape me now.

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  10. John Irving and his latest ” In One person”, it is a complex novel on sexuality. The book is by no means his best but his openness dealing with the politics of gender bending and the ravages of the AIDS epidemic, with bisexuality, cross-dressing.
    The story is about Bill Abbott, an impressionable adolescent who is struggling with his bisexuality at a repressive boarding school in the 1950`s narrated by adult Billy, who later became a famous Irving-like writer named William Abbott and is nearly 70. John Irving is one of the best story teller of modern days. He can be brave and offer a bold voice for fairness and common sense. Book sounded like an autobiography with lots of wrestling matches incorporated but obviously not.Somewhere I have read his own son is a homosexual man.
    Billy`s first sexual encounter was with the librarian Miss Frost ( a broad shouldered large handed person with deep voice ) who opens Billy`s mind to know it is okay to feel the way he does with his unconventional sexual yearnings.

    Well Dave..it was difficult book to read but I like to read all of Irving`s book and he is always for the underdogs about unconventional truth and he is full of compassion .

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    • You’re right that John Irving is a great, interesting, compassionate author. “In One Person” sounds excellent and multi-layered — as Irving’s novels usually are. Superb description of it, bebe!

      Some critics have likened Irving to a 20th/21st-century Dickens. Not sure I totally agree, but Irving does share Dickens’ strengths of taking time to tell a story, dealing with social issues, and creating characters who are often eccentric.

      So far, I think “The Cider House Rules” is my favorite Irving book.

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      • The beauty of Irvin`s novel is he deals with ordinary people those we may see in our everyday lives with no names or faces to remember then makes them totally extraordinary that twists and melts your heart.
        Also there is a a whole-hearted kind of irving novel “A Prayer for Owen Meany” as you have mentioned Dave.
        Of course my favorite is “The Cider House Rules” that novel again captures your heart.

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          • Great point, bebe, and well said! Irving does usually focus on ordinary people — as in people struggling to make a living, not the upper class — and often makes those people seem extraordinary. Some are indeed extraordinary (like Owen Meany, Dr. Wilbur Larch of “The Cider House Rules,” etc.) — and often have an appealing dose of eccentricity as well as a social conscience.

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  11. Seventeen is still young enough to qualify for inclusion here, I assume.

    Jacob Von Gunten is that age, narrator of the Robert Walser novel of the same name. He comes a good distance, on his own, from a good family to an outlandish and failing school for servants, to learn obedience and service despite himself, or to spite himself. Obliging, obsequious, grandiose, egotistical, commanding, subject to intense attractions and repulsions, who would sometimes, and sometimes voluntarily, prostrate himself before the school’s master and yet mostly retain notions of his own superiority to circumstance and authority– he idolizes the uncomplicated conformist discipline of a fellow student, but cannot adopt his methods or attitudes for his own use.

    The school is a sort of dreamscape, another Walser construction of commerce that cannot thrive any longer, if it ever could. Jacob arrives at its last throes, only to hasten things along, in spite of himself, to spite himself.

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    • Seventeen qualifies! (The age, not the magazine. 🙂 )

      I thought “The Assistant” was superb, and it sounds like that was not the only memorable novel Walser wrote. Thanks for the brilliant description of “Jacob Von Gunten”!

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      • I actually prefer, if I must choose one, “Jacob”, because Walser’s narrator is more complex, perceptive and self-aware, while remaining characteristically beyond the purposes of others, and because through him, Walser arrives at a more articulated and complete environment for his own vision in print, especially in the scene taking place beneath the public spaces of the school, at the Inner Chambers, a place of light and revelation as well as of poverty and deprivation– a hallucinatory, possibly hallucinated yet instructional environment for the servant-trainee through which Jacob is ferried by the Principal’s daughter, who is also a teacher. Dreamy, haunting stuff.

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  12. Dave! As a kid, it always bothered me that the libraries didn’t consider the Oz books and Nancy Drew literary enough to justify shelf space. Apparently, my mother didn’t either; she wouldn’t spring for the $2 cover price! And I suppose they still aren’t very literary, but those characters were my most memorable. Nancy Drew, Glenda the Good, all of them! Thanks for the little mental “vacation!”

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    • When I was a boy– I’m a long ways away these daze– my father would let me tag along on visits to a second-hand bookstore, and there I was able to buy Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books for a quarter apiece– printings out of the 30’s that had but the slightest tang of mildew. I read therm in bunches. Wish you had had such a one nearby.

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    • Thanks for the excellent comment, Cathy!

      Like you, I’ve never understood why there has to be such a strict difference in respect given to “literary” fiction vs. “popular” fiction, “grown-up” books vs. young-adult books, and so on. Some mass-audience novels, whether for adults or non-adults, are wonderful. And some classics are overrated.

      So, I have no problem toggling from a series like Nancy Drew or the “Oz” books, to Dostoyevsky, to Stephen King, to George Eliot, to a baseball novel, to Jane Austen, to “Harry Potter,” to Wole Soyinko, etc. It’s all great reading!

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  13. Dave, a great article. I’ll be brief as my phone isn’t the best for posting. When you mention O. Henry’s book I thought of one of my favorite young protagonists, David Balfour. Lead character in “Kidnapped” by Robert Louis Stevenson. I see he has a second book that I haven’t read, but his adventures in this one were fantastic. He got to meet so many people, including Rob Roy’s son.

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    • Thanks for the kind words, GL, and the great comment! I’m very glad you mentioned Robert Louis Stevenson. He excellently depicted young characters, including the one you aptly named, Jim Hawkins in “Treasure Island,” and others.

      Speaking of Rob Roy, Sir Walter Scott’s novel of that name is terrific.

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  14. Dave..the first young protagonist comes to my mind is Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, oh what a delight she is, so vivid in readers mind. Her deep hero worshiping of her Father Atticus and deep affection of her brother Jem .
    Then her friendship of the Mockingbird Boo Radley played beautifully by Robert Duvall in the movie. .

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    • bebe, I keep forgetting to include “To Kill a Mockingbird” when writing columns — mostly because I read that book such a long time ago. As I’ve said before, I must reread it so I don’t forget to include Harper Lee’s superb novel in future columns. 🙂 Thanks for mentioning it here!!! (And for your wonderful description of some of the reasons Scout is such a great character.)

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        • bebe, I think I’m going to see if my local library has Harper Lee’s novel when I go there next week. (I don’t own it.) I think I last read “To Kill a Mockingbird” when Nixon was president, not that there’s any connection. 🙂

          “TKAM” is a great favorite novel to have! Yes, “Jane Eyre” remains my favorite. As I told jhNY elsewhere in this comments section, I had to resist including the young Jane in this kids/teens-in-lit post because I mention Charlotte Bronte’s book so often. But Jane will return some week!

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  15. Here is a column which testifies to the giving nature of its owner, a man I feel certain could have hogged the category with his thoughts on Jane Eyre alone. Further proof of his column-inch generosity: restricting himself to a single mention of a single member of Dickens’ brood in books, so that others might exercise themselves with the remaining crowd.

    As I read “Jane Eyre” only lately, and as I have left Dickens alone since my last dose (“Hard Times”) in college, I shall leave such discussion as these categories inspire to capable others, except to quote Oscar Wilde:

    “One must have a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell without laughing.”

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    • Ha, ha — you know my writing, jhNY! I was tempted to expound on Jane Eyre’s childhood, but I obviously mention that wonderful character too often. 🙂

      And, yes, there could have been a whole post on kids in Dickens novels. Oscar Wilde hilariously nailed it when he joked about how sentimental and over-the-top a Dickens death scene could be. Of course, Dickens was not the only author to overdo the passing-away passages. One of many examples would be the overwrought death scene of Eva in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” — a novel which, overall, I love.

      Thanks for the wry, elegantly written comment!

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      • As a high school master of procrastination, I waited to read “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” till the last minute of the last hour,or rather, the night before deadline. I fortified myself with much caffeine and plowed on into the night through the whole dang thang. I will never forget stifling my sobs, so as not to alarm my sleeping parents, at way too late in the wee hours of the morning while the workaday world lay a-dreaming, as Little Eva gave up the ghost at last.

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        • As a teen, I had similar reactions to certain deaths in literature. Not easy given that boys aren’t supposed to cry — unless their favorite sports team wins a championship. 🙂

          It WAS a heartbreaking death, especially given how kind and tolerant Eva was in contrast to the various evil white characters in that novel — including the slave-holding ogre Simon Legree.

          “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is not the best written of classic novels, but few books pack as much of an emotional punch. Stowe could really tell a story. One of the most significant American novels ever published.

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          • “Significant” is a one-word review I can live with.

            Eliza skipping across the river on block after frozen block of treacherous ice– another occasion for readerly upset, but, I find, a useful illustration of my relation to solvency, as symbolized by the ice, the river being the threat of insolvency. By this latterly stage in life, I have performed this delicate dance above economic death on several rivers over several years. As another who lived Life Among the Lowly put things: ‘Feets, don’t fail me now.’

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            • That desperate escape across the icy Ohio River was indeed heart-pounding and memorable. Glad at least some characters in that novel eventually made it to Canada.

              As for your threat-of-insolvency metaphor, I hear you. Selling my house this past June saved me financially, given that offering decent pay (or any pay at all) seems to be optional for “employers” of freelance writers. (Why am I thinking of the initials HP? 🙂 ) I hope you’re in a decent financial situation now.

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                • I guess bigger ice blocks are somewhat of an improvement.

                  So many people in this country are struggling, which makes me disgusted every time some bigwig says the economy is improving. For “The One Percent,” yes, and maybe for a few percents just below that level of wealth, but not for most other people.

                  And it’s even worse when one lives in an expensive part of the country, as we do.

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    • That is so true with many authors and it could even be further subjugated between novels and short stories, and possibly verse depending on the breadth of the author.

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        • Although sometimes authors, poets anyway, ARE bankers– my first account in New York I opened at Barclay’s Bank decades ago because TS Eliot had managed a Barclay’s when he needed a paying gig. Guess I was paying it backwards.

          (Wallace Stevens, if I remember right, was an insurance executive)

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          • Very true and very informative, jhNY! Some writers had very un-writer-like jobs/professions. I think Kurt Vonnegut even ran a car dealership at one point.

            I wonder if “The Waste Land” was a prescient poem about the devastation bankers would wreak on the economy in 2007-8? 🙂

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              • I think you’re right, Eric! And wasn’t a wish to hide his criminal background one of the reasons he took his pen name?

                Hmm…I wonder how many other famous fiction writers were in prison? Dostoyevsky is one who comes to mind.

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                • banking and imprisonment don’t necessarily have to go hand-in-hand, but every once in a while, they do come up coincidentally. When a previous poster mentioned that some authors had a job as a banker, it might be interesting that the majority of them, as smart as they were, were not always just simple tellers but bankers in positions of management. It is something I thought about when I wrote a paper on writers and their previous jobs. Many turned out not be simple beat reporters but editors and publishers.

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                  • One of the reasons banking and imprisonment don’t always go hand in hand is because even criminal bankers rarely go the jail. 😦

                    Terrific point, Eric, that some writers held non-writing positions that were fairly high up. Talented people can often be talented in more than one thing. (I realize I’m stating the obvious there!)

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                    • So true, Dave. It tends to demonstrate to students and other young people that the better one can express himself or herself, the more likely he or she is to be successful in life at whatever he or she wants to do.

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                    • in quarterly reports, bankers have very often proved themselves to be expert at the ways of fiction, so maybe the work in itself is a kind of on the job training for a would-be novelist’s avocation.

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                • Quite a pile of writers have been on the wrong side of prison walls, if you want to count dissidents.

                  On the other hand, there’s Jean Genet, subversive, yet, in his formative years, merely a criminal.

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            • Well, in 1922, he was on a leave from Barclay’s for some sort of breakdown of the mental variety (perhaps brought on by his foreknowledge of the coming financial calamities at decade’s end. E. Pound always said “artists are the antennae of the race”, so maybe he was like a crystal radio set,receiving broadcasts from the future by strategic adjustments of his whiskers, few though they were) and while convalescing managed to finish the poem, before giving it to Pound, who edited it into the shape, more or less, we know today.

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              • jhNY, you’ve hit on something there! Many big bankers are indeed masterful at fiction. Masterful enough to write “Crime and Punishment”? Well, maybe “Crime and No Punishment.”

                And thanks for that fascinating comment relating to T.S. Eliot and Barclay’s. I will not stoop low enough to say that T.S. stands for Teller Services…

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  16. History sounds like one that should be on my “list” , it appears a bit similar to Jerzy Kosinsky’s The Painted Bird without the surrealism that seems to detract from the horrors being conveyed. Oddly the topic at hand, kids returning to school, is one that I should think evoked optimistic nostalgia yet has brought to mind mostly brutal and gothic tales . Ian McEwan’s The Cement Garden with it’s disturbing incestuous resolution of confused adolescent angst, Bruno Schulz’s eerie self illustrated tales of growing up Jewish in Poland that, while written in the 30s, appear to have absorbed the Holocaust that was to come… The Street of Crocodiles and Sanatorium Under the sign of the Hourglass and a book of often considered one of the most important and emblematic of the previous century Gunther Grass’s The Tin Drum . I hope to stop back later and discuss the strange Oskar M. and Grass’s unique approach to German history.

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    • “The Tin Drum”! I should have included that one. Excellent movie, too.

      And thanks, Donny, for all your other interesting mentions. They include a couple of authors (Jerzy Kosinski and Ian McEwan) I’ve read — but not the books you named (I’ve read the quirky “Being There” and the sadly riveting “Atonement”). Those Bruno Schulz tales sound fascinating/depressing.

      Going back to school evokes mixed emotions, so I can see how not-always-optimistic thoughts would be associated with that!

      “History” is indeed an amazing book. Long (nearly 750 pages) but almost always very readable. It should be far better known. Two possible reasons for that: “War novels” by female authors are unfortunately not respected as much as those by men, and “History” (I think very effectively) views WWII mostly from a civilian perspective rather than via horrendously “exciting” battles.

      Thanks for the great comment!

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    • Bruno Schultz is a fine writer who manages to make palpable some of the most evanescent and magical impressions and moods of home, childhood, town and the family business in stories that very often revolve around his father’s maniacal enthusiasms, mental exaltations, philosophical idiosyncrasies and eventual collapse and retreat. His accompanying drawings would be prized today were there no stories, and suffer a deficit of attention only because the stories are so dazzlingly realized. Schultz concerns himself and his readers with the spiritual correspondences between things, between people and things, with the secret workings and associations out of dreams come alive in the daylight. I loved every hour spent in his authorial company, and plan to return to both books very soon, for a topping up.

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  17. I think over the years I have read more books on “fallen” kids than successful well-adjusted kids. “Lord of the Flies,” “The Outsiders”, anything by Ryu Murakami, Maul–a fight to death over the last lipstick tube by female gangs is taking it to new heights. “Less Than Zero” is a great wake-up call for the disaffected teenager. Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, and Romeo and Juliet will always forever remain young throughout eternity, and the bildungsroman offers the end perspective on a teenager’s choices in life, sometimes not in their control: Pip in “Great Expectations”, “Tom Jones”, Jane Eyre, and of course Holden in “The Catcher in the Rye.”

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    • Terrific comment, Eric! “Fallen kids” and “disaffected teenagers” — definitely a significant portion of young people in literature. You named some excellent examples, such as the harrowing “Lord of the Flies.”

      Great mentions of other works, too. Charles Dickens certainly had a huge number of memorable young people in his novels, in addition to the “Dombey and Son” book I mentioned. “Great Expectations” (as you noted), “David Copperfield,” “Oliver Twist,” “A Christmas Carol,” “The Old Curiosity Shop,” etc.

      “Kids in Dickens” could be a post of its own. 🙂

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      • Nineteenth-century literature was probably more on the pessimistic side than the optimistic side when it came to children, with of course a few triumphs along the way.

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            • I haven’t read William Blake since college! Thanks for mentioning him. I just reread the two haunting “Chimney Sweeper” poems after seeing your comment. What an evil child labor was then and now.

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                    • Many speakers of Blake’s poems were children lamenting the horrible conditions in which they toiled, and primarily took solace in knowing that in the afterlife, one would not have to continue their dreadful existence. “Songs of Innocence” and “Songs of Experience” are two very powerful and moving collections of his poetry with young protagonists the center of his work.

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                    • Well said, Eric! I guess so much of religion’s appeal is the hope that an afterlife will be better than an often-difficult life. Blake certainly seemed to be in on that idea.

                      I once took a course covering the “romantic” poets (their work was not always “romantic”!) of the late 18th century/early 19th century. Blake, Keats, Byron, Shelley, and Wordsworth. Quite a quintet! And Blake was such a great artist, too.

                      As we might have discussed before, Mary Shelley’s dystopian/futuristic novel “The Last Man” includes characters heavily based on her husband Percy and Lord Byron.

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                    • Next on my list is “Life Itself: A Memoir by Roger Ebert”, and “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” and “Around the World in 80 Days”, by Jules Verne.

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                    • Eric, that Ebert memoir should be fascinating to read. Such a great movie critic, and he led a very interesting life. As I might have mentioned before, I met and talked with him a few times when I worked for a magazine that covered the newspaper business, and he was a smart and friendly guy. Am I remembering right that you also met him, and asked him a question he was impressed with?

                      I was at a columnist conference in Washington, D.C., earlier this summer, and Ebert’s widow Chaz accepted an award on his behalf.

                      And you can’t go wrong with Jules Verne! I loved the half dozen or so novels of his I read, and would like to reread them one day.

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                    • I did ask him about how he writes a review. I thought he gets so many questions about movies, but not too many about actually writing a review. I never did meet his widow in person, only Roger once. I dont read too many reviews now that he is no longer with us. What a guy!

                      And after Jules Verne, I am set to read Sherlock Holmes.

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                    • Many “celebrities” greatly enjoy not getting the same old questions.

                      I’ve also never liked a movie critic’s writing as much as I liked Ebert’s. His writing had a real conversational, non-elitist touch, even as it was highly intelligent.

                      The Sherlock Holmes stories and novels — also excellent. Eric, you have some wonderful reading in your near future! 🙂

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            • Remind me of a poster Norge..met in HP..was a poet posting his beautiful poems.
              He passed and before that he posted this to me..William Blake a great poet and i saved it.

              To see the world in a grain of sand
              heaven in a wild flower
              hold infinity in the palm of your hand
              eternity is but an hour.

              William Blake 1830s English poet

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                • He was posting in Dr. Cara Barkers Blogs mainly… I kept my profile for various reasons. I fanned him too late..he never got a chance to reciprocate. it is easy to find him in my profile of a handful of posters I am a fan of. I have his poems from time to time from my profile……

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                    • Dave it was the community that made HP what it is now, so many times except you or Cara i glance at the topic and then went to the posts. Now it is a silly game. BTW…today first time at the Public Library I saw a book ” Thrive”….only a few page……oh well… 🙂

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                    • bebe, the community (you and so many others) was indeed the biggest reason why HP became so successful — before the community was basically tossed overboard.

                      For a while after writing my last column there in May, I still visited the site almost every day. Withdrawal symptoms! Now maybe once a week, if that. Yes, “a silly game.”

                      A “Thrive” spotting! Oh well, libraries are MOSTLY wonderful places to be. 🙂

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                    • Dave the spotted book was not displayed and I’ll keep track how long it stays on the shelf. The cover picture was very charming indeed..the magic of photo shops.

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                    • Well said, bebe!

                      That book not displayed? Sounds like an HP post by a non-celebrity blogger. 🙂 Perhaps the book will not be checked out of the library until AOL becomes a compassionate company, which will be in the year never.

                      Wonder if the pre-photo makeup people did their work for free for the “exposure”…

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                    • bebe, it’s nice to know there are many places where people don’t care much about rich celebrities. The real heroes — in Ohio and elsewhere — are people such as teachers, social workers, those who fight against injustice, animal-rights advocates, etc.

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            • Published in 1863, see also “The Water Babies” for Tom, another child chimney sweep (a redundancy, since children, nearly always boys, were employed because of their slight stature– they could most easily wriggle down chimneys).

              Perhaps these sweeps come to the tender attentions of these authors because their work occasionally landed them in all their sooty glory right on the hearth rug where they might be examined at leisure. Much of the deprivation and meanness of an impoverished childhood was not, for the middle class’ pen-wielders, nearly so close at hand.

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              • Makes sense to me, jhNY. Seeing child poverty firsthand obviously is more visceral than thinking about it from a distance.

                By the way, I’m now thinking of Herman Melville’s very wry short story “I and My Chimney.” Have you read it?

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                • Nope– never have. I just picked up a few Melvilles, a compilation of later stuff, and about four small volumes of his early novels. Hopefully, it’s in there somewhere, and hopefully, I’ll read it one day.

                  So many books, etc.

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                  • So many books (and short stories) indeed! I think I read “I and My Chimney” five or so years ago in a borrowed-from-the-library compilation that also included somber Melville works such as “Bartleby the Scrivener” and “Benito Cereno,” so “Chimney” was a nicely amusing break.

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      • The implied relationship between Fagin and The Artful Dodger is as disturbing as anything in the modern canon which so often seems hell bent on making shock the first response of a reader. It seems to me that this gets over looked due to all the movie versions of Oliver Twist that are going for the orphan being saved angle at the expense of the bleakness of London’s underbelly in Dicken’s day.

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        • Such a good point about “Oliver Twist,” Donny! And, yes, movies (particularly ones from decades ago) strongly contribute to sanitizing some very wrenching novels in the public mind.

          Obviously, Dickens could be quite sentimental, but he also didn’t flinch from showing just how awful lives were for many people in 19th-century England. His childhood brush with poverty never left his mind, and, even after becoming rich and famous, he of course could see that London remained hell for many less fortunate than him.

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        • And all that anti-Semitism bound up in the figure of Fagin– that too disturbs, and after a while disturbed even Dickens, who in later editions, removed dozens of references to him as ‘the Jew.’

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            • According to the wikipewdia entry, he came to know a Jewish couple– I think they bought property from him or vice versa, and the wife objected to his portrayal of Fagin, at a time after he and the couple had gotten to know each other, and when he had the chance to amend his treatment, he took out a great many references to Fagin’s as ‘the Jew”, as well as some unflattering physical description.

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  18. Of course, the most obvious one to occur up front for me is Huck Finn, whom you’ve mentioned. Faulkner said that he had no doubt that Huck would grow up to be strong and independent so there’ no need for pity there. If Tom Sawyer grew up to be as obnoxious as an adult as he was as a child he would definitely meet with some resistance and would be one of those full-of-himself cocky characters I’d try to avoid. Faulkner’s own child characters are often as disturbed as they are when they grow up. We see many of the characters from ‘The Sound and the Fury’ and ‘As I Lay Dying’ in both their child and adult incarnations. In his great short story “Barn-Burning,” when the young ‘Sarty’ Sartoris must witness his father’s pyromania up close and too personal I for one hope that he gets the hell out from under his father’s control as soon as he’s old enough to choose. He reminds me of the character you mentioned from ‘The Mosquito Coast’ although in that case (possible spoiler here), fate makes some decisions for him as I recall. There are many characters, notably The Stark children, in George R.R. Martin’s ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ series, that must grow up prematurely. Initially, Sansa is much more shallow and superficial than her tomboyish sister Arya although she, happily, grows a bit by the fourth book of that series (extreme changes in circumstance will do that to a kid). The aforementioned Arya is basically a pre-teen warrior who witnesses more family tragedy than any pre-adult (or adult for that matter) child should have to experience. She has to rely on her wits for day-to-day survival and becomes quite hardened to a harsh and cruel world. Those are the kids that are on my mind at the moment.

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    • Yes, Huck Finn is way up there in the ranks of famous kid characters — perhaps even first. Funny about Tom Sawyer — I didn’t find him TOO obnoxious in his own novel, despite his cockiness and things like that famous fence-painting scene. But when he picked on Jim in “Huckleberry Finn,” Tom was fully on my dislike list.

      Thanks for your thoughts on those characters from the amazing brain of William Faulkner, who I have not read enough of. Making a character a believable kid and then a believable adult in the same novel takes a lot of authorial skill. Didn’t mention it in my column, but Charlotte Bronte certainly pulled that off masterfully in “Jane Eyre.”

      Sounds like George R.R. Martin has created some fascinating kids as well.

      I appreciate your excellent comment, bobess48!

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      • I agree with you that Tom is much less irritating as the protagonist of his own novel. We’re inside his mind so we can actually see and understand his motivations–just being a rambunctious boy, not terribly hard to understand, although his fence-painting manipulation shows not only an entrepreneurial spirit but one very capable of using and manipulating others to his advantage, which we see in plenty of adults in fiction as well as reality. Seen from Huck’s point of view he is almost unbearable.

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        • That’s an insightful comment — and eloquent, too. Seeing things from the viewpoint of a character himself (or herself) vs. the viewpoint of another character can certainly make a big difference. Almost a variation of “no man is a hero to his own valet” even if that man thinks he’s a hero.

          And, yes, Tom Sawyer’s character traits are very visible in real life. Today, he might have grown up to be an obnoxious CEO. 🙂

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  19. Thanks to jhNY and Eric Pollock for recommending “History,” to Mary Harris for recommending “Doctor Zhivago,” and to bebe for recommending “The God of Small Things.” Also, belated thanks to Kat Lib and littleprincess for recommending the work of Dorothy L. Sayers, whose “Strong Poison” was mentioned by me in a previous post.

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