“Huckleberry Finn” turns 125 this year, which is also the 175th anniversary of Twain’s birth and the 100th of his death. It’s a perfect time to reconsider his importance, not because of these anniversaries but in spite of them. Such occasions, after all, often obscure our ability to engage with a writer; they become mausoleums built around the life and work. What does it mean to call “Huckleberry Finn” a great book, and Twain a quintessential American voice? Such praise means nothing if we can’t feel it, if we can’t get inside the language, the world view, if we can’t experience it as living literature, something that transcends its time. For this reason, Norman Mailer chose, on the occasion of “Huckleberry Finn’s” centennial, to celebrate it as if it were a new book, transformative and fresh. “The book was so up-to-date!” he wrote in the New York Times Book Review. “I was not reading a classic author so much as looking at a new work sent to me in galleys by a publisher. It was as if it had arrived with one of those rare letters which says, ‘We won’t make this claim often but do think we have an extraordinary first novel to send out.’ So it was like reading ‘From Here to Eternity’ in galleys, back in 1950, or ‘Lie Down in Darkness,’ ‘Catch-22,’ or ‘The World According to Garp.'”
more from David L. Ulin at the LA Times here.