Books acquired: none
Books read: “The Autobiography of Mark Twain,” Charles Neider, ed.; “Stalking the Feature Story,” William Ruehlmann.
First off, sorry for the slight delay this month in writing and posting this; the holiday put me behind, as did a brief illness. Hope you haven’t forgotten what you read in May.
It was another two-book month for me, both of them nonfiction. One is a handbook from 1979 on reporting; the other is the 1959 edition of Twain’s autobiography.
“Stalking” wasn’t bad despite being pre-Internet. I don’t know that I learned a lot from it at this stage in my career, but the story examples were worth reading and the admonition to pay close attention to details, no matter how minor, is worth heeding. (See what I did there?) I bought the book in Portland in 2010 at Cameron’s, one of the “other” used bookstores in the town dominated by Powell’s. In part, it was a pity purchase, but it did seem potentially useful.
Twain’s book was bought circa 1985 at my college bookstore, I think for pleasure rather than a class. All I’d ever read from it is the last chapter, to which I must have been directed somewhere along the way; it’s about the death of one of his daughters and was written just months before his own death.
There are multiple editions of the mass of writing and dictation known as the Autobiography, all compiled after Twain’s death in 1910. Neider’s was the third and was considered definitive, I think, until the whole thing was published in three volumes the past few years, to great acclaim, in part due to the sections suppressed earlier. I suspect many who bought the books, which collectively run about 2,500 pages with notes, never bothered reading much of them. They certainly intimidate me.
Neider’s 500-page edition seems like a sensible version in which the material is organized chronologically and, at least as he tells it, material which is nothing more than newspaper clippings with Twain’s commentary was left out. He laments that several days’ dictations on the subject of religion weren’t available at Twain’s surviving daughter’s request.
What’s left is somewhat unsatisfying as autobiographies go, as Twain didn’t write about a lot of stuff you’d wish he’d write about, such as writing “Huck Finn,” or famous people he met (other than Bret Harte and Robert Louis Stevenson). Instead, he writes at length about his childhood, which was fun to read, and about his family. There’s also an extended section about General Grant, whose memoirs Twain published.
Twain is not one to let the facts get in the way of a good story, but with stories this good, who cares? This was a highly enjoyable book, often hilarious, and surprisingly often will move you to tears, especially regarding the deaths of his wife and two of his daughters, sections in which his grief, still fresh as he wrote, spans the years to strike home. Flawed as the book is, he comes across as a three-dimensional figure, sometimes bumbling and foolish, unable to understand business matters or things that are clear to his young daughter, and of course witty and perceptive.
I started reading my original copy, the brittle cover of which began to loosen about 60 pages in; at that point, rather than destroy it, I checked out a more modern, easier to read version from the Rancho Cucamonga Public Library. That’s what’s in the photo.
Those were my two books. How was your May — if you recall?
Next month: ehh, probably two more books, one of which is 550 pages.