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Kevin Bochynski <[log in to unmask]>
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Kevin Bochynski <[log in to unmask]>
Sat, 25 Oct 2014 07:37:35 -0700
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By Kevin Mac Donnell

Bresler, Kenneth, ed. _Mark Twain vs. Lawyers, Lawmakers, and Lawbreakers, Humorous Observations_. William S. Hein & Co., 2014. Pp. 121. Paperback. $37.50. ISBN 978-0-8377-3957-1. This is a handy and well-chosen edited compilation of Mark Twain's humorous (not serious) writings on the law and those who make them and break them. Compiled by a lawyer with lawyers and law students in mind as potential readers, it begins with eighteen short sketches and extracts from longer works, capturing early works like "Ye Sentimental Law Student" and including appropriate extracts from _Roughing It_ and _Pudd'nhead Wilson_. This selection of sketches is followed by thirty pages of quotations and shorter extracts. Bresler makes clear in his introduction that this is not an academic work, and only intended as a compilation for enjoyment, but he carefully footnotes and sources every sketch and quotation, and relies for his quotes on solid sources like Rasmussen's _The
 Quotable Mark Twain_ and Barbara Schmidt's website. His sources for some of his sketches and longer extracts are not as solid (some of Charles Neider's compilations, for example) but in a work intended for enjoyment, this is quibbling. Lawyers, lawmakers, and lawbreakers will laugh at themselves, and Mark Twain scholars who don't fall into one of those categories will find this volume a handy companion and laugh at everybody else. (NONFICTION)

Nafisi, Azar. _The Republic of Imagination, America in Three Books_. Viking, 2014. Pp. 338. $28.95. ISBN 978-0-670-02606-7.  Nafisi may already be familiar to many scholars as the author of the bestselling book, _Reading Lolita in Tehran_. In _The Republic of Imagination_ (three chapters, plus an introduction and epilogue of sufficient length to qualify as chapters), she contrasts the place of literature in culture and education in an oppressed society like Iran and a free society like America. Literature is appreciated in oppressed societies in a way that many Americans may not appreciate and taken for granted in ways that those from an oppressed society might not understand. Nafisi demonstrates how imagination and free thought are threatening to a totalitarian regime, but undervalued in free societies as evidenced when literary works are given less and less prominence in the Common Core Standards curriculum, where 70% of the reading material is
 non-fiction. Her chapter on _Huckleberry Finn_ will be of particular interest to all Twainians, but her entire book will interest educators, especially those who teach Twain. Her writing style is discursive and personal, recounting her friendships and life experiences, and at times she can ramble, but she makes her point. At the end of her chapter on Huck she rightly concludes that his whole story is, like all great fiction, a provocation, and that readers are left with a challenge: Will we light out for the territory of the imagination--the only territory left in the modern world--and see our "sivilized" world through fresh eyes and "welcome the dangers of thoughts unknown?" (149). Her chapters on Sinclair Lewis, Carson McCullers, and James Baldwin (the epilogue) are not as striking as her meditations on Huck, but those other chapters echo the themes set out in her discussion of Mark Twain's masterpiece. Those unable to obtain a copy of this book will
 find a similar and more concise discussion of Huck in her Foreword to the new Penguin edition of _Adventures of Huckleberry Finn_ with Introduction by R. Kent Rasmussen. (NONFICTION)