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WWMTD: What Would Mark Twain Do?

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PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY: Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a classic by most any measure—T.S. Eliot called it a masterpiece, and Ernest Hemingway pronounced it the source of “all modern American literature.” Yet, for decades, it has been disappearing from grade school curricula across the country, relegated to optional reading lists, or banned outright, appearing again and again on lists of the nation’s most challenged books, and all for its repeated use of a single, singularly offensive word: “nigger.” Twain himself defined a “classic” as “a book which people praise and don’t read.” Rather than see Twain’s most important work succumb to that fate, Twain scholar Alan Gribben and NewSouth Books plan to release a version of Huckleberry Finn, in a single volume with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, that does away with the “n” word (as well as the “in” word, “Injun”) by replacing it with the word “slave.” MORE

SALON: America is afraid of its past. Whether it’s how it treated Native Americans, women or black people, it is constantly trying to reframe, color or flat-out ignore major aspects of our history. America, in its constant obsession with being seen as “awesome,” will actively try to Photoshop its http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_Fv_ez3Su3m0/TOP5Bvn_p9I/AAAAAAAAA84/BDWxQsSsU4A/s1600/the-adventures-of-huckleberry-finn-puffin-classics-12910844.jpgown historical portrait. The fear is that to acknowledge the past is to take the blame for it. If we take the word “nigger” out of the classic “Huckleberry Finn” then our kids won’t see it and then we don’t have to talk about it.

America talks about race like scared parents talk with their kids about sex. We’re vague, sometimes terribly misleading and on occasion leave out huge aspects of the situation that would allow kids to make better decisions about how they conduct themselves. If we continue with our horrendously skewed and willfully ignorant interpretations of history, we will find ourselves with a generation that’s woefully misinformed and it will be completely our fault. MORE

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: It’s hard not to wonder: What would Twain himself – who became the unlikely superstar of last year’s book scene with his newly released autobiography – have said about the uproar? Chris Meadows may have found the answer. Writing for TeleRead, he points out that – although the n-word might not have been so shocking to readers in Twain’s time – severe discomfort with his writing is nothing new. In fact, Meadows points out, the Brooklyn Public Library considered banning the books due to their “coarseness, deceitfulness and mischievous practices.” A librarian there wrote to Twain asking him to defend his books.

Twain responded: “I am greatly troubled by what you say. I wrote ‘Tom Sawyer’ & ‘Huck Finn’ for adults exclusively, & it always distressed me when I find that boys and girls have been allowed access to them. The mind that becomes soiled in youth can never again be washed clean. I know this by my own experience, & to this day I cherish an unappeased bitterness against the unfaithful guardians of my young life, who not only permitted but compelled me to read an unexpurgated Bible through before I was 15 years old. None can do that and ever draw a clean sweet breath again on this side of the grave.” MORE

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