16 March 2011


It was more than 50 years ago when I first read the story about Tom Sawyer and the fence Aunt Polly tried to make him paint. My reaction then, and when I read Tom Sawyer to young David a few years ago, was that Hannibal, Missouri must have been full of dumb, gullible, backwoods boobs.

Then Mark Twain, 100 years dead, proved me to be a dumb, gullible, backwoods boob, too. He sold me a copy of his so-called autobiography.

I was excited to read Twain's autobiography, and he sold it well. I bought a copy during the week of its release. "Don't publish this until I've been dead for 100 years," he said. The purpose was to allow him to say what he really thought without earning the enmity of the people he wrote about.

Well, old guy, nobody cares about or even knows most of the people you wrote about. Even your good buddy General/President Grant is pretty much forgotten, except as a notorious drunk.

Twain might have begun doing an autobiography. Some of the opening chapters are about his family and the childhood he heard about, but was too young to remember. He quickly became bored with that. A few years later, he started again. The second time, he decided to write about what he was interested in and change topics whenever his interests change. Sometimes his interests waned in the middle of a story. Okay, most of the stories weren't interesting to start with.

Every once in awhile, Twain told a good one. In that way he resembled my blogger friend Sank. Twain would tell an amusing anecdote with some insightful commentary. Sank does it more often than Twain did. Those moments were why I kept reading (actually skimming). I kept at that skimming for over a month. Toward the end of the book, Twain goes on quite awhile about his daughter Susy, who died at age 24. It was touching and the man's pain was palpable. The book is 736 pages. Well, there are 276 pages of notes and index, but the few gems don't make the other 460 pages worth the effort. Twain needed an editor.

Oh, but there was a whole team of editors. Editors from the University of California. Instead of editing, they collected every little word Twain wrote with the note "autobiography" appended to it and put them all in this book. Well not all. They promise more volumes. Oh, goody.

I find myself in agreement with Garrison Keillor. He reviewed this book for the New York Times. If you want a more complete or informed consideration, read it. Skip the book.

Usually, I put a link here so you can easily buy a copy of the book. No link this time. Go the library, check out a collection of Twain's short stories and read those.

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