I admit, I'm sitting in the stands with peanuts and beer enjoying the
present duel regarding the new Kaplan book. While not having read that opus
yet, I thought I'd share a few notions from the peanut gallery.
First, I sympathize with Mr. Kaplan regarding the proofreading brewhaha. My
new book (SPY TELEVISION, Prager, 2004--available at Amazon.com) went
through a rigorous process of editing, proofreading, and copy-editing. In
fact, three copy-editors found all sorts of minutia to call to my attention.
(For example, never use "madmen" to refer to nefarious villains--madwomen
might be offended by the omission.) Still, when my freshly-minted copy
arrived last week, one caption to a photograph of the cast of "24" leaped
out at me--"case" instead of "cast." You just can't scrub 'em clean. (I
hereby refer to Anne Bradstreet and her great poem about her verse as
Second, I thought of one aspect of reviewing we often can't
avoid--discussing the book the author didn't write. As in all those
suggestions that Huck would have been a better novel had Twain turned right
at Cairo instead of going south. This is a bit different from writing
non-fiction, but when a bio is as complex as Twains, I'm always skeptical
about notes on what was left out. This is why, I suspect, we find it easier
to praise books that deal with specific periods of Sam's life, from
Emerson's *Authentic Mark Twain* to that troublesome Pulitzer Prize winner.
(Which reminds me of one student blooper I once got--the "Pullet Surprise."
But I digress.)
Speaking of, I was also bemused by the continuing references to Ham Hill's
*God's Fool.* If memory serves, that book didn't lack for controversial
responses when it first appeared. I recall Ham telling me he would have
changed some things and tinkered more with the tone after some time had
passed and he had time for deeper reflection. Do I take it the book has now
become "unblemished" and a mirror to judge other bios by? Me, I still think
it was one of the best--again, a book focused on one period. But I do
remember the criticism about the book wasn't about what wasn't in it but
Lastly, I'm not sure it's fair to blast blurbs on book jackets. Me, I didn't
see mine until the book arrived. True, I wrote most of it before the
publicists did their magic. Come to think of it, by the time most readers
check out the book in libraries, the dust jacket will be gone. (My wife
tells me I treat my new book like a newborn child, and the dust jacket is
the diaper. But, again, I digress.)
Last, I think Mr. Kaplan noted in his counter-review that his book points to
complexities in Twain's singularity. Hmm. Makes me wonder if someone out
there will now write a bio that will say Justin Kaplan didn't go far
enough--that mere duality doesn't begin to show the multi-faceted,
ever-changing, and usually complicated life of Sam Clemens.
P.S. Yes, I know brouhaha is misspelled. Refer to first sentence.