A Good Book to Read: Little Big Man is a GREAT book to read
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Little Big Man
Those of you who have read enough of my stuff know that I work tirelessly toward the unintended consequence of poverty with everything I write. In my seventy-something hub articles, I have tried to sell nothing. I did one evening write up a review of my favorite movie of all time, but I’m not sure that counts as trying to sell something so much as sharing a passion among friends.
Well, if you are a book lover, I am now going to try to sell you something. I’m going to try to sell you a book that I just read. It’s an old book, fifty-ish years old. They made a movie out of it, so obviously it couldn’t have sucked too bad. But I don’t think you should get the movie until you read the book. Here’s why:
The book is Thomas Berger’s Little Big Man. I know for some of you, I am simply late to this party. That is fine. Joy is joy, so I don’t care that I didn’t get to it until just now. I did finally get to it, and joy is exactly what this book is. It is amazing.
I have never read and laughed so hard, so often, out loud—as in actually out loud, not just “lol” as an acronym—as I did at this book. I have frequently written about humor and what it means to me. I try to write funny stuff. A handful of you might actually think I accomplish it from time to time. So, I feel I have a certain qualification to speak on such things.
Little Big Man is hilarious. Berger creates a character in Jack Crabb that is so persnickety and cantankerous yet so cool and strong and heroic and loveable that it is hard to describe how all these contradictions can possibly work together as well as they do. And it is in the unexpected combinations of things that humor often comes. Jack Crabb is hilarious. This book is like an old fashioned Mark Twain romp, except perhaps in some ways more accessible. It’s just plain fun. But it’s not just fun. It’s deep. So very deep.
The story is set in the mid to late 19th century American West, but it is not a “western” in the generic, genre way. While it might get called a Western, it is NOT “a Western.” Little Big Man is a story about a man who lived through a violent and yet exciting time. It’s an unlikely yarn of epic proportions where the 111-year-old Crabb narrates his adventurous youth, placing himself pretty much everywhere anything important happened. He somehow manages to be involved in everything of note that happened during that period of the historical mid-west. If there were ever an “unreliable narrator,” Jack Crabb would be him, except that somehow, despite how absurd his tale is, you buy it. All of it. In large part, this is because Berger has taken the most painstaking care in his historical research and, while totally absurd on the face of it, Crabb’s story is actually plausible. It is a delightful defiance to what you expect and would expect yourself willing to believe. As your imagination and reason are challenged and tumbled along, Berger’s Jack Crabb takes you on a journey into the nature of humanity—the nature of race, of personal narrative, of the general essence of what it means not only to be white or black or American or Native American or even extremes as distinct as whore or fine lady… it’s about being human in an actual world that revolves around our own definition of ourselves. It’s a truly post-modern delight.
At least that’s my take on it. I’ve only read it once and it is all I can do to not just start reading it again despite having a huge stack of NEW things I really want to read too. In fact, I may anyway. I haven’t enjoyed a book this much in probably ten years. Maybe more. And I read a LOT. English major. Writer. Book Geek. Always have been. I’m telling you, if you like a great, great story, in the flavor of a Western but really SOOO much more, you are in for a real treat.
Don’t watch the movie first.
I’m serious. It’s not that it will ruin the ending; it will ruin how you appreciate what Berger has done. Watch it after. It’s good. Very funny. But it really will make it so you can’t see what takes place in the book. You just have to trust me. You will rob yourself of Berger’s amazing craft and delicious narrative voice. Read it. Read it slowly and just enjoy being in that great place and time. It’s awesome.
Then come back to this article if you think about it and let me know what you think.
(watch the movie AFTER you read it)
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