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Peter Salwen <[log in to unmask]>
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 21 Dec 2010 15:52:40 -0800
text/plain (67 lines)
Sorry about that garbled text; there's something weird going on with my email 
program.  I'll try again: 

The arguments around the Autobiography put me in mind of the blind  men and the 

Some critics think the book is bloated & self-indulgent and -- to the extent 
that it's been presented as popular entertainment, a fraud on the reading 
public. We,  on the other hand, think it is manna from Twain heaven, gloriously 
prepared and offered (free!) by the world's greatest literary  chefs. 

Thing is, they're both right. Twain may have thought  he was writing the 
Autobiography for the great mass of his readers, but  let's face it: it was 
edited and published for US, the handful  of committed (and perhaps certifiable) 
Twainiacs who, for whatever  reason, want to get as close as we  can to the 
magical mystery that was  Mark Twain. Hence the initial print  order of only 
7500 copies.  

The book's commercial success has little to do with what  it actually is, I 
think, and everything to do with Twain's  amazing charisma and salesmanship.  
And the "embargo," which probably helped the Autobiography the way the Concord 
Library censors helped Huckleberry Finn ("That will sell 25,000 copies for us, 
sure"). And the implied promise  (pretty silly, when you think about it) of 
titillating revelations. And  I'm sure the sex-toy canard some reporters thought 
they found in  Laura's book didn't hurt sales any. 

But the book simply isn't for everyone. I've been a Twain worshipper for around  
55 years and I expect to remain so. I ordered the Autobiography the moment it 
went on sale and it was  the treat of the year when it arrived, like Sam 
Clemens, two months  early. It's on the shelf with the other treasures from the 
Mark  Twain Project and kindred scholars and institutions, and I expect to  
spend many happy hours rummaging between its covers. But even I have no  plans 
to actually read all of this seven-pound monster any time soon. My eyes  can no 
longer cope with those acres of 8- and 10-point Garamond,  it's too heavy to 
read in bed -- and anyway, I've  already heard most of the stories. 

What the world is still  waiting for, I suspect, and perhaps may get in another 
five or six years  (after vols. II and III come out), is an adroitly abridged 
edition in a  subway-friendly format. 

Pete Salwen


From: Harold Bush  <[log in to unmask]> 
To: [log in to unmask]
Sent: Tue, December 21,  2010 10:44:05 AM
Subject: Re: Garrison Keillor on the  autobiography

I'm intrigued by Barbara's observation here, and Michael  Kiskis's remarks 
awhile back -- and now I'm wondering what these two  rather comparable reviews, 
both in topnotch NYC publications, tell us  about this as publishing and/or 
cultural phenomenon. In other  words, what is the "kernel of truth" that both  
these writers is picking  up on here?  is it completely about their sense  of  
being hornswaggled?  or is this symptomatic of something even  bigger - and if 
so, anyone care to take a stab at identifying the real  issues at  stake, the 
prognosis as it were?