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Tear it off

December 22, 2009

So, hey, like, just for kicks: Joe Queenan with a primer on wrecking your books:

… I simply could never get physically comfortable with the book. The problem was the packaging. My copy, which I’d picked up at a rummage sale, was a traditional Bantam Classic, but the cover was a doctored photo from the 1993 Walt Disney film version of the novel. It was typically nauseating Disney iconography, depicting a promiscuously cute little Huck, played by a very young Elijah Wood, and a surprisingly dapper Jim (Courtney B. Vance) sashaying through the woods into a gorgeous synthetic sunset. Tucked inside were pictures of Huck sucking on a corncob pipe, dickering with the Duke and the Dauphin, posing as an English valet. Every time I picked up the book, my eyes were lured back to those fulsome photos of Sugarplum Huck. I do not know what Huck looked like as Twain imagined him, any more than I know how F. Scott Fitzgerald envisioned Jay Gatsby. But Gatsby cannot look like Robert Redford, and the most memorable character in American fiction cannot look like the diabolically cuddly Elijah Wood. Cannot, cannot, cannot.

Illustration by Leanne ShaptonI ditched the Bantam edition of “Huck Finn” and when I returned home fished out a second copy I owned. But the experience was exactly the same. The cover of the Signet Classic was a drawing of a ruddy-cheeked scamp, buck teeth prominent, clutching an apple, with a perky little newsboy tam cocked at a saucy Depression-era angle. Here Huck bore an alarming similarity to both Jerry Mathers of “Leave It to Beaver” and Britney Spears. Revolting. So once again my efforts to polish off this peerless classic were stymied. I could never get more than a few pages into the book before the illustration on the cover made me sick.

Or, as the caption reads:

What to do about an ugly cover: 1. Brown bag it; 2. Reverse it; 3. Try spandex; 4. Use house paint; 5. Duct tape it; 6. Tear it off

Ah, the Sunday Book Review.

-bd

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