Posts Tagged ‘Mark Twain’

Leave it to Mark Twain to reach from beyond the grave and publish a book. And what a book it is!

The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1 is like no biography you’ve ever read before. There is nothing chronological about it. Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, dictated memoirs of his life’s major and minor events to his assistant as the mood struck him. One moment he’s chatting amiably about a humorous event in his life, the next he’s ranting about some injustice in the world. Along the way, the reader is treated to gut-busting humor as only Twain can write it; and we’re also treated to the more serious side of the man, a side rarely portrayed in his writings. It is the more serious side and the frank manner in which he speaks of people and events that made Twain dictate the autobiography not be published until 100 years after his death.

The gut-busting side: Twain relates the story of a turkey hunt he went on as a boy, where he “followed an ostensibly lame turkey over a considerable part of of the United States one morning.” What follows is an hilarious accounting of a young boy being outwitted by a bird, told in that remarkable tall-tale manner for which Twain is famous. (He never got the turkey, by the way.)

The more somber side: Twain tells the tale of the time he and his invalid wife stayed at a villa in Italy, and the nightmare he had dealing with the Countess who owned the estate. The Countess was cold, calculating, and cruel, and made life miserable for the Clemens family while they lived there. “I was  losing my belief in hell until I got acquainted with the Countess Massiglia, Twain writes.

Yet, even when Twain was speaking about political injustices, he managed to do so with humor. “…(M)y own seventieth birthday arrived … on the 30th of November, but Colonel Harvey was not able to celebrate it on that date because that date had been preempted by the President to be used as Thanksgiving Day, a function which originated in New England two or three centuries ago when those people recognized that they really had something to be thankful for—annually, not oftener—if they had succeeded in exterminating their neighbors, the Indians. Thanksgiving Day became a habit, for the reason that in the course of time, as the years drifted on, it was perceived that the exterminating had ceased to be mutual and was all on the white man’s side, consequently on the Lord’s side, consequently it was proper to thank for Lord for it and extend the usual annual compliments.”

This is a scholarly book, no doubt. It contains original notes he took over the years, photographs, and an extensive reference section. This additional material actually makes up the largest part of the book, and is why it is a whopping 735 pages. It weighs four pounds, which makes it difficult to read simply because you practically need heavy construction equipment to lift the thing. I never thought I would hear myself say this, but if I had a Kindle, I think I would have preferred this book in electronic format simply for ease of reading.

Yet, scholarly as it is, it is also very readable, because it is written in Twain’s wonderful conversational style. I laughed, I cried. But most of all, I fell in love all over again with the man who has delighted readers for well over a century with his Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, and plethora of other books. How fortunate for Twain fans that 100 years have passed, and his wonderful autobiography is now available for all to read.


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