The arguments around the Autobiography put me in mind of the blind men and the
elephant. Some critics think the book is bloated, self-indulgent and—to the
extent that it’s been presented as GP 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, we’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
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 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
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.
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 a
while back -- and now I'm wondering what these two rather comparable
reviews, both in top notch NYC publications, tell us about this as a
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?
for example: one might read this as symptomatic of a widespread resentment
-- if not paranoia -- against institutionalized, "academic" type treatments
of the great authors. Or: as the incommensurability of these two disparate
worlds: i.e. that the hornswaggle is not by MT per se, but rather is a hoax
perpetrated by the likes of eggheads like the ones populating this LIST.
(me included, I suppose).
Any other thoughts?
just wondering, --hb
On Mon, Dec 20, 2010 at 10:44 AM, Barbara Schmidt <[log in to unmask]>wrote:
> The two reviewers
> call the book a "Royal Nonesuch" because they are not able to
> comprehend the larger picture and they think they have been
> hornswaggled by publicity.
Harold K. Bush, Ph.D
Professor of English
Saint Louis University
St. Louis, MO 63108
314-977-3616 (w); 314-771-6795 (h)