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This review is from: Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1: The Complete and Authoritative Edition (Hardcover)
It really should be made clear just what this book is and isn't. It is a completist's edition of a project Twain talked about for years but never actually sat down and wrote. In this scholarly volume, roughly one-third of the massive book details the process of its compilation, by Twain and by the editors (his contemporaries as well as the present ones), and includes what might today be called "outtakes" (several of which are quite interesting and enjoyable), pieces determined not to be intended as part of the Autobiography. One reader commented that "the book needs an editor". That misses the point; the scholarly editing is masterful. It COULD not credibly be edited in the sense of cutting it down as one might a contemporary manuscript to make it suitable for publication.
Another one-third of the tome consists of scholarly notes explaining many of the references in the text. Many of these are clarifications of people (some major, some insignificant)to whom Twain refers, or locations. In many cases these are extraneous to all but the most scholarly or the compulsive who needs to know who EVERYbody is and cannot determine it by context. In some cases, they correct lapses in Twain's memory (he clearly didn't research or check many of his facts)
Only one-third of this volume is the Autobiography itself, and it is only mildly interesting. It is certainly not a chronological narrative, much of it was dictated by an aging and bitter man(part of its sardonic charm), and much of it--- amazingly--- is drawn from a biography of Twain written, as a child, by his beloved daughter, which Twain explicates, albeit through the filter of the subsequent and ongoing grief Twain suffered since her youthful death.
My eyesight is lousy but I was untroubled by the type. I read it in book form, but I can see where it might be problematic on kindle; one has to skip back and forth between the text and the notes, and kindle may not lend itself to that (I wouldn't know). The sheer bulk of the book is indeed troublesome, and one will need two bookmarks, one for text and one for notes (as I often use in reading History).
Lastly, what remains as the "Autobiography"--- the reason, I think, most people would read this edition---is not terribly interesting nor funny. Fortunately, there is so much of Twain that is, and that is in print and easily available, and if one wants to read of Twain's earlier life, I would suggest reading or rereading Life on the Mississippi or his other (in a sense and ironically) more "autobiographical" works. The Library of America volume including Life... (as well as Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer) contains copious but manageable notes and biographical information. My opinion is that it would make a better gift than this to all but academics and (pardon me) twainiacs.
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Showing 1-10 of 12 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 7, 2010 6:39:07 PM PST
J. Bradford says:
Thanks for the heads up - was hoping for a witty autobiography - guess they did this one first because they knew if it was the last one not many folks would buy it (if it was just the notes and appendix type stuff without the beginning) due to its dryness.
In reply to an earlier post on Dec 7, 2010 7:46:29 PM PST
Mark Levine says:
You're welcome. Of course, others may disagree, and Twain scholars will love it. It is, however, a HUGE bestseller (so long as they can keep it in stock, which is not easy for a book and publisher of this type) and will unsuspectingly be given as a gift to many non-scholars who enjoy Twain's lighter stuff. I believe they will be disappointed, but I guess a door stop isn't a bad Christmas gift. Enjoy your holidays.
Posted on Dec 10, 2010 4:51:25 PM PST
Thank you for this review. I've been waffling on whether to get this book, and i feel much better equipped to make that decision now.
Posted on Feb 8, 2011 8:46:22 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 8, 2011 8:50:48 AM PST
I completely and emphatically disagree that the Autobiography is unfunny - sense of humor is something that isn't universal - personally, I laugh so hard I fall out of my chair at much of the Autobiography. Certainly, there are also poignant moments, and pathos interlaced with the humor - as would be true of anybody's life, however, to characterize Twain as "bitter" is inaccurate, and ironically, the kind of comment Twain himself complained of in the Autobiography. It was said long ago by some critic of his later writings; that Twain was bitter at the end of his life - and so this misrepresentation is passed on and on and on thru the years. Twain is not bitter in the Autobiography - he is wordly wise, and perhaps a little world-weary, but he has not lost his sense of humor, he is avuncular, candid, but also, loving, empathetic, compassionate. His love for his family, and for the good in the human race is ever present - and it is that love that fuels his disappointment at the stupidity of the human race, for behind his sardonic humor, he sees our potential.
Twain wasn't the type of person that whitewashed reality - he saw it for what it was - and he spoke about it as he saw it, and if that's bitter, than let me out of the saccharin view of reality, because I want no part of it. When he speaks of raising his children it is achingly sweet - absolutely adorable, how anyone can say he is bitter is beyond mortal ken.
In reply to an earlier post on Feb 8, 2011 8:56:21 AM PST
Mark Levine says:
Glad you got that degree of enjoyment out of this edition. I am now rereading Innocents Abroad, and will Roughing it, and Life on the Mississippi, all --- in my opinion--- truer (and funnier) personal reminiscences, but that is, as you say, subjective. Thanks for yr reply.
Posted on Feb 19, 2011 9:02:11 AM PST
Philip Monger says:
This review is on the mark - excuse the pun.
Posted on Feb 25, 2011 12:26:42 PM PST
Glenn W. Harding says:
Thanks for the reviews. I think I will not buy it and read it. It does not sound like Twain fun. I could get by though, as I seldom read foot notes. My belief is if it is important it should be put in the text!
Posted on Apr 30, 2011 8:29:30 AM PDT
Thank you for this thoughtful review. I was about to buy this for my Mom for Mother's Day, but she really just loves the wonderful humor of Twain. It doesn't sound like this would be the great early summer read I'd envisioned. Thanks, again - Maytal
Posted on Dec 16, 2011 11:11:43 AM PST
Amy Gregory says:
I think I will pass on this one. I love Twain, but would hate to not like this book.
Posted on Nov 11, 2012 6:06:17 AM PST
Anna Singt says:
Thank you very much - this was very helpful!!!