As I was reading my biography of Daniel Boone, I noted that, in 18th century America, the three most-read and influential books were (in order): The Bible, Pilgrim's Progress, and Robinson Crusoe. When I read a book, I have a tendency to be led to other titles so I can learn more about this first. In this case, I wanted to know why Daniel Boone would want to read Robinson Crusoe. So I decided to revisit that old novel myself.
Reading Crusoe, I was amazed at how much Steven Spielberg has swiped from the novel when he shot Castaway, starring Tom "Life is Like a Box of Chocolates" Hanks. But Crusoe is definitely an 18th century phenom. The literary devices and style that worked in the 1700s just don't work to capture a modern-day readers imaginations and interests. After thirty pages of plant description and observations about the geography and tides, I grew weary of the book. When does Crusoe meet Friday? I kept asking myself. Answer: Not until near the end of the novel. By then, I'd had enough interior dialogue and first-person observations about corn stalks to tide me over for a good long while.
And here's an interesting fact. Crusoe wasn't a castaway at all. Seems like he took up permanent residence on his island (sort of like Gilligan after his three hour tour and the five seasons he was on TV and all the reunion shows that came later!) and stayed for twenty-five years. Listen, you're not a castaway after that length of time, you're a native, and don't you forget it.
Well, one good thing though. I did complete "a classic". I've had two new copies of Crusoe on my shelf for twenty years (never opened, still in the wrapper) and I was glad to finally darken their pages with my filthy, donut and coffee stained fingertips.