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
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.
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?