Gavin F (gavluvsga) wrote in 50bookchallenge,
Gavin F
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Book #25: The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent by Washington Irving



This was a completely blind read for me, as I had no idea what exactly it was about; it certainly wasn't about someone writing in a sketch book, as I had imagined!

This book is nothing like any book I have ever read before, and certainly seems very post-modern in format, though written in a typical style for the 19th century. This book comprises of a series of self-contained pieces of writing, mostly in the style of essays and memoirs (some of these effectively combine both), with a few short stories. However, this wasn't the thing that made this book unusual.

The whole thing is written from the point of view of the eponymous (and fictional) Geoffrey Crayon, and the writing demonstrates a variety of subjects. There are essays on Westminster Abbey and also on Native American history, and at times the fictional author describes himself walking around the place while talking about the historical importance. This book effectively feels partially like a textbook and partially like a book on observations on life 200 years ago; I also noticed that the character Geoffrey Crayon seemed to spend a lot of time in Britain, and at times it felt like I was reading a book by a very early version of the travel writer Bill Bryson.

At times, I wasn't sure exactly what to make of it; most of the historical stuff was presumably from Washington Irving's own knowledge, while some of the accounts of times spent in the company of others could have been based on real-life events or could have been written up based on Irving's knowledge of customs of the time. I noticed that a few of the chapters did join together to form a whole story, particularly about six chapters in the middle which tell of Geoffrey Crayon spending Christmas with an English family, and talking about all the customs that he witnessed. I got the impression that maybe Washington Irving was just curious about some things that he must have observed while visiting England himself.

As for the fictional short-stories, there are only a few. This includes the story of Rip Van Winkel (the man who slept for twenty years), which felt like a very quirky, but entertaining tale, although I could tell where it was leading because it is so well known. The longest story, located towards the end, is The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, which wasn't exactly what I was expecting. The story spends a lot of time talking about parties in the town of Sleepy Hollow and introducing main characters, with the headless horseman from the Tim Burton movie not showing up for a long time. This did make me realise that the movie version included a lot of stuff that wasn't from its source material, which deals with the appearance of the phantom and finishes with the disappearance of a character who he was pursuing.

Overall, I had mixed-feelings about the book; at times, it felt long-winded, but there was something in the style of writing that made me want to keep reading it. I remember one of my favourite bits was the fictional author talking about how me made the obvious social faux pas of laughing out loud in a reading library. Overall, I would say that this is worth reading, though at times it wasn't the easiest book in the world.

Next book: The X-Files Season 10, Volume 1 (Chris Carter, Joe Harris, Michael Walsh, Jordie Bellaire)
Tags: 19th century literature, book review, classic, diary, essays, ghosts, history, horror, literary, literature, memoir, non-genre fiction, philosophy, post-modern, scholarly, short stories, supernatural, urban fantasy
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