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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mark Twain at his second-best is still Mark Twain, February 1, 2011
This review is from: Autobiography of Mark Twain: The Complete and Authoritative Edition, Vol. 1 (Hardcover)
Garrison Keillor panned this book in his NY Times review, and I figured that he, of all people, should "get" Mark Twain. So I wasn't at all disposed to tackle this volume. Luckily I received it as a present from my perspicacious daughter-in-law.

Between the ages of perhaps ten and thirty, I think I read every book-length work of Twain's--but nothing in the thirty years since. What a delight he is! I'm writing without having finished this book because I want to encourage anyone who likes Twain and may have had my initial reaction to READ IT! Also do not be put off by the cubic footage.

There are about 740 pages in this door-stopper, but sixty is an introduction. Skip it. Another ~375 are endnotes and references. (The first note explains that Twain has exaggerated his father's Tennessee land purchase. Nice to know, but hardly a surprise.) The four hundred pages of meat in this sandwich include some long (multi-page) newspaper excerpts that are only mildly charming in some cases. Many of Twain's individual pieces have page-long introductions of their own.

Nobody is going to mistake what's left for LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI, but if you like Twain you MUST read it. He riffs on his huge financial setback in the automated typesetting business; on Grant and his memoirs; on London and Vienna; and much more. He's a wonderful writer, with the insight, the light touch, the comedic turns of phrase that you remember and expect.

If I had half Mark Twain's talent I would now write a comic paragraph or two about the last printed page of this tome, which makes it clear how near to the angels the University of California Press feels it is for having used 30% recycled paper in this book. It enumerates the number of trees saved (even their height and diameter), the 999 million BTUs of energy saved (what, not a billion?), the pounds of solid waste and more. I'd have saved that much again by simply putting all the academic stuff online, leaving a normal-sized physical book that could introduce Twain to a new generation of readers.

Maybe it will anyway!

PS Having finished this book, I'm going to temper my initial enthusiasm just a bit. Per posts already made, there's an important distinction between an academic edition and a mass publication--but in this instance the academic effort is being published and promoted for a wide audience. So I think it's fair to suggest that the editors might have productively cut out about half of Twain's material here and come up with a more entertaining and successful book. Still, the good parts are awfully good.
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