Friday, April 15, 2011

The Man, Myth... Mr. Mark Twaaaain!!!

AAAAAAT LAAAAAAAAAAAAAAST mmm mm mmm mm mm mmm mmm…. (that's the Etta James's song, if you didn't catch the reference)… I'm sure you've all been wondering what's been going on.  I haven't posted since March, and in the process, have missed my one-year anniversary! (April 11).  I know the questions that were running through all of your heads… is Rochel abandoning us? Has she left the labor of love that is book review blogging behind as she heads off to brighter ventures? Was she - gasp - *kidnapped*?! Never fear, loyal followers.  I have merely been reading *the same book* for the past month.  It was a long book, in my defense, over 700 pages.  I only read around 250 of them, towards my condemnation though :)  My hunk of reading material these past weeks has been non other than the newly-published Volume I of… Mark Twain's autobiography.  He dictated that it not be published until 100 years after his death, which came by this past year.  I had to wait through around 300 people on the hold list before me, so when I got it, you better believe I was going to read it.

And I did.  I carried it back and forth for a month, reading it every day on the train.  (My Shabbosim happened to be busy for the past few weeks).  The funniest thing was what a conversation piece a 700 page tome by a famous author can be.  I must have talked to five different strangers about how much I was enjoying it (or not).  I gave them all the same answer - it's great.  Because it was pretty great.  The man is a master, we all know that.  He's one of the greatest humorists ever, and he pretty much invented the American personality.  Maybe a little brash, not as cultured as his European part, but we love him all the same, he's intelligent, he's moral, he's altogether superior.  Mark Twain's characters are like this, and the funny thing (or maybe it's not funny?) is that he is too.  I find myself agreeing with him much, though certainly not all, the time.  His political opinions, his values, he's just seems like he's on the right track.  But it's not like i'm evaluating him for a shidduch, I don't even know why I'm talking about this.

The point is, was the book good? So, first of all,  it wasn't unbelievably good or anything.  I mean, it was an autobiography, i.e. non-fiction (or ostensibly so :)) and therefore, mostly lacking in any driving plot.  And this one was even more lacking than most, since Twain's much trumpeted format is to talk about whatever he feels like at the moment (the book was dictated).  He makes much of this celebrated method, mentioning it at numerous times as the only way to write an autobiography.  And he's right, it keeps the book fresh and light.  And if I can't write a book report on "The Life of Mark Twain" now, I think I have a good idea of the man himself.  Maybe that's why I went off on the above tangent.  The book is really an illustration of his personality, not his biography at all.   

So we're taken on a tour of Mark Twain's philosophies, his memories, and his views on the matters of the day.  The philosophies are sometimes interesting, sometime not so much.  The matters of the day are at times laughingly archaic, at times eerily relevant.  And the memories… well the memories are sometimes tinged with sadness, something achingly poignant, sometimes light and amusing, but always evocative and always exquisitely related.  It's amazing how much we can care about people who died over a hundred years ago, when Mark Twain cares too.   He's definitely right about this format of autobiographing being compelling.  It doesn't move that fast, but it's rarely boring (other than the 10 or so page description of his houses in Florence, which I could have done without).  I definitely feel like I would have liked some more background.  Despite explicitly writing for the audience of 100 years in the future, Twain seems to assume we know as much about him as any of his most devoted contemporary readers.  I don't know about you, but that's certainly not true about me.  So it got a little annoying at times, but only a little.   There was repetition occasionally too, natural in a book that was dictated only by what was on his mind, but, again, only a little annoying. 

Overall, what can I say about this book? Well I'm definitely going to be reading the next few volumes, whenever they're released.  And I'm going to be re-reading his other books too.  Not like I wasn't a Twain fan before, but now, it's personal.

Verdict: 4/5

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