Thursday, June 7, 2012

Mark Twain

I recently finished reading Mark Twain's book, Roughing It. This was a long book (419 pages) with precious little "white space." There's not even a space between paragraphs and the font seems no bigger than 8 point. The book I have was printed between 1871 and 1913 which could have something to do with the formatting style. Perhaps a more recent edition of the book would be easier on the eyes.  To be fair, there are three or four pictures scattered throughout the book which help break up some of the monotony of the small print and lots of it.

My first reaction was not unlike a grade schooler who sees a grown-up's novel for the first time--no pictures, just all words. It looked daunting.

However, I was hooked by Mark Twain's (Mr. Samuel Clemens, if you will) Prefatory (his words, not mine). This is how he starts his book:

"This book is merely a personal narrative, and not a pretentious history or a philosophical dissertation. It is a record of several years of variegated vagabondizing, and its object help the resting reader while away an idle hour...." 

The book is a record of a trip Mark Twain took in the late 1800s from the "Missouri frontier" to Nevada and then on to San Francisco and Hawaii. He meant to be gone three months and ended up staying out west for six or seven years.

Reading the book, I could see the world through Mark Twain's eyes. He left St. Louis by steamboat.  It took him and his fellow travelers six days to get to St. Joseph, Missouri where they boarded the overland stage. Then, he says,

"We jumped into the stage, the driver cracked his whip, and we bowled away and left 'the States' behind us." 

He was off on an adventure and we go right along with him.  I never would have thought that to enter Kansas, we were leaving the United States behind. When, months later, he enters San Francisco, he has this to say.

"If it is winter, it will rain--and if it is summer, it won't rain, and you cannot help it...You would give anything to hear the old familiar thunder again and see the lightning strike somebody. the summer, when you have suffered about four months of lustrous, pitiless sunshine, you are ready to go down on your knees and plead for rain--hail--snow--thunder and lightning--anything to break the monotony--you will take an earthquake, if you cannot do any better. And the chances are that you'll get it, too." 

He has a magnificent way with words! Just listen to this:

"In one place in the island of Hawaii, we saw a laced and ruffled cataract of limpid water leaping from a sheer precipice fifteen hundred feet high." 

That is pure linguistic beauty. I want to be able to write like that.

I want to thank my son for sending me this book and suggesting I read it. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good story that is both a memoir and a travelogue with a few tall tales thrown in to liven things up a bit.

Quote of the week:
When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.
Mark Twain

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