Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tiltawhirl John by Gary Paulsen - 1977

I have always been an admirer of the work of Gary Paulsen, the author of over 200 books. Paulsen specializes in survival tales, outdoors stories and most often writes realistic books for a young adult audience. His book Hatchet is required reading in most American public schools. He has written books for a variety of ages, both fiction and non-fiction.

I enjoy Paulsen's earliest books the best. My favorite is Tiltawhirl John from 1977. It is about a 16 year old farm boy who runs away to find out about "life and sex and what it means to be a man". The story, like many of Paulsen's books, takes place in his home state of Minnesota. The young protagonist ends up working on a beet farm, where he essentially gets himself into a horrible situation. The patron of the farm refuses to pay him and beats him. When he finally escapes, he manages to hook up with a bunch of carnies that includes a geek and a stripper. He learns to be independent, with the carnies acting as his family. He learns about people, has experiences with women, and learns to be independent. According to Wikipedia, Paulsen ran away from home at 14 to join the carnival, so it's very much possible that some of this is based on his own experiences. This is quick, enjoyable reading and can be consumed in one sitting, in probably less time than it takes to watch a movie. For me, Paulsen's writing lies somewhere between Ernest Hemingway and Sid Fleischman.

1977 was an interesting year for Paulsen, who by then was a well-established writer of fiction. Three of his young adult books were published that year, in addition to several picture books. It was also the year that his prolific output was interrupted by a libel lawsuit against his book Winterkill. Paulsen won the case, but became disillusioned with the publishing business, just as he had previously been disillusioned by Hollywood after working there as a magazine editor. Instead, Paulsen took up trapping and dogsled racing. This effected his later writing in the 1980's that usually revolved around teenage characters who arrived at an understanding of themselves and their world through pivotal experiences with nature. Then, later in the 90's, Paulsen would write more humorous stories such as Harris and Me.

Several of Paulsen's books from the late 1970's and early 1980's were reprinted in paperback format by Puffin Books (Penguin) in 1990.

1 comment:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.