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Who Is Mark Twain?

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  • Posted October 26, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Twain from the archives: the basement letters

    This book is not Mark Twain at his best. Anyone who expects this will be disappointed. Instead, it is a collection of unfinished and unpublished pieces that give us a glimpse into Twain's mind and his creative processes. The hardcore Twain fans will enjoy this book.
    From a historical perspective, the story "Happy Memories of the Dental Chair" is unmatched. This is perhaps one of his best short pieces. I will be using it to teach dental history.
    The other stories, letters and essays give us a good look at Twain, but he might not be too thrilled that we are reading them.

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  • Posted June 6, 2009

    Twain's thought pour out almost at random over a variety of subjects and we can see why the material went unpublished in his lifetime. Ignoring rigid structure, he rambled on joyfully, entertaining himself and the Twain-lovers among us.

    This reader was taken aback by the applicability of many Twain themes to our own present day. For example, his opinion was that truly free speech is available only to the dead, for when the living exercise the privilege, they are attacked, excoriated and driven from the dais. He concludes that writing down one's thoughts and having them read only after his death can one say what he actually thinks due to the custom that excoriating the dead is considered poor taste.

    Also remarkable, considering the current state of affairs in Washington, is "The Snow-Shovelers" episode when two negro shovelers meet one morning and begin to discuss anarchists and socialists from the laboring man's viewpoint. Aleck explains to Hank that the Socialists are going to Congress and pass laws dividing up "all the land and truck mongst everybody" to that no one is obliged to work. Hank responds that such makes nim sick and 'what is the world coming to when the most honorable thing in the world, work, is being disrespected.'

    Twain has the opportunity to exhibit his irreverant cynicism a when he is visited by Satan himself while touring Austria in "Conversations with Satan." Twain and his guest are discussing the efficacy of Austrian stoves and Satan is surprised to learn that they are not used in America.

    Twain - Is it possible that 'Ihre Majestat' is not familiar with America?
    Satan - Well-no. I have not been there lately. I am not needed there.

    While none of the episodes in this book can be considered "great literature", the Twain aficianado, on a rainy day, can take great pleasure in the nuggets of classic Twainism therein.

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