Roger Ebert: Penrod Fan

If you’re on Facebook… and happen to follow noted film critic Roger Ebert… you may have run across this status post regarding Penrod on his profile the day after Christmas:

A great American comedy based on the jaundiced view of human nature by its hero, Penrod Schofield. Penrod is in rebellion against teachers and adults in general, frank about his value judgments. His narrative voice is as distinctive as Huckleberry Finn’s, and like Huck he says more than he realizes. If you read six pages you’ll keep going. Penrod won’t grow up to be a wimp like Holden Caulfield.

He notes that a free Kindle version is available.  His concise review on the publisher’s site says:

I read “Penrod” countless times as a boy, and still have my original copy, which I opened again today. I was amazed at how well-written it is, and how funny. This is a real novel, not a “children’s book,” and Tarkington earns full comparison with the somewhat later P. G. Wodehouse, whose style and word mastery resembles him. You may find yourself surprised. A great American book.

It’s not the first time that Ebert has mentioned Penrod and Booth Tarkington.  In an April 2009 nostalgia column about his childhood home, Ebert described the imaginatively formative contents of his bookcase:

A little later, I had my own bed with a headboard, and could charge down the hallway and leap onto it like superman. Warnings that I would break the bedboards. My own little radio. I would lie on the floor under my bed, for safety, while listening to “The Lone Ranger.” I thought “Arthur Godfrey and His Friends” were friends about my age. I had a bookcase in which I carefully arranged first childhood books, and then books about Tarzan, Penrod, Buddy, the Hardy Boys and Tom Corbett Space Cadet. Also Huckleberry Finn, the first book I ever read and still the best.

In October 2009, Ebert would make another favorable connection between Penrod and Finn in a column about his vast book collection:

Of course I cannot do without a single one of these possessions, including more or else [sic] every book I have owned since I was seven, starting with Huckleberry Finn. I still have all the Penrod books, and every time I look at them, I’m reminded of Tarkington’s inventory of the contents of Penrod’s pants pockets. After reading it a third time, I jammed my pockets with a pocket knife, a Yo-Yo, marbles, a compass, a stapler, an oddly-shaped rock, a hardball, a ball of rubber bands and three jawbreakers. These, in an ostensible search for a nickel, I emptied out on the counter of Harry Rusk’s grocery, so that Harry Rusk could see that I was a Real Boy.

In responding to reader comments, Ebert noted, “For kids growing up today, Penrod’s boyhood might as well belong to a space alien.”  When another reader commented about finding first editions of all three Penrod volumes, Ebert commented, “Those are priceless. Apart from anything else, Tarkington in the Penrod books was a fine humorist. Those books get better when you’re an adult.”

I disagree with Ebert about a lot of things… such as his praise of Hugh Hefner.  But on this score I agree with him.  Tarkington’s books do get better over time.

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