Sunday, November 11, 2012

Book Review: Roughing It, by Mark Twain (1870-1872) - More Stuff

This book deserves more than one post.  I bought the audio book and listened to a few sections of it again last night.  Absolutely wonderful.  Parts of it are so interesting, and parts are so comical, I have to share them.  By the way, if you get the audiobook, it should be narrated by Norman Dietz.  No one does Mark Twain like him.  Anyway, here's a few snippets from the book.

He starts the trip by steamboat, going from St. Louis to St. Joseph.
No record is left in my mind, now, concerning it, but a confused jumble of savage-looking snags, which we deliberately walked over with one wheel or the other; and of reefs which we butted and butted, and then retired from and climbed over in some softer place; and of sand-bars which we roosted on occasionally, and rested, and then got out our crutches and sparred over.  
In fact, the boat might almost as well have gone to St. Jo. by land, for she was walking most of the time, anyhow—climbing over reefs and clambering over snags patiently and laboriously all day long. The captain said she was a "bully" boat, and all she wanted was more "shear" and a bigger wheel. I thought she wanted a pair of stilts, but I had the deep sagacity not to say so.
On the stagecoach, they're comparing guns.
I was armed to the teeth with a pitiful little Smith & Wesson's seven-shooter, which carried a ball like a homoeopathic pill, and it took the whole seven to make a dose for an adult. But I thought it was grand. It appeared to me to be a dangerous weapon. It only had one fault—you could not hit anything with it. One of our "conductors" practiced awhile on a cow with it, and as long as she stood still and behaved herself she was safe; but as soon as she went to moving about, and he got to shooting at other things, she came to grief. 
The Secretary had a small-sized Colt's revolver strapped around him for protection against the Indians, and to guard against accidents he carried it uncapped. Mr. George Bemis was dismally formidable.  He wore in his belt an old original "Allen" revolver, such as irreverent people called a "pepper-box."... To aim along the turning barrel and hit the thing aimed at was a feat which was probably never done with an "Allen" in the world. 
But George's was a reliable weapon, nevertheless, because, as one of the stage-drivers afterward said, "If she didn't get what she went after, she would fetch something else." And so she did. She went after a deuce of spades nailed against a tree, once, and fetched a mule standing about thirty yards to the left of it. Bemis did not want the mule; but the owner came out with a double-barreled shotgun and persuaded him to buy it, anyhow. It was a cheerful weapon—the "Allen." Sometimes all its six barrels would go off at once, and then there was no safe place in all the region round about, but behind it.
Most of the stories are too long to put here.  Even the ones I add I have to trim them down so I won't bore the reader.  You're just here for a glimpse of the book.  But let me warn you, these stories can be long and drawn out.  That's just how things were written back in the day.  I was going to put the bit about how he started out as a silver miner, but any little bit of it may not be amusing on its own.  You have to read the whole section to "get it".

So that's possibly the main disadvantage with this book, and perhaps any Mark Twain book.  The humor is there, but its sometimes dry, sometimes subtle, and sometimes long in coming.

The current rising generation that is raised on instant gratification may not be a fan of Mark Twain.  But maybe that's what we need - to slow down and appreciate things that often take a little longer to appreciate.

The later part of this book is also one of my favorites.  Mark Twain has spent half a year in Hawaii.

Yes, you heard me right.


Mark Twain was sent there by a local newspaper to send back stories about the place.  Even then, people were willing to pay for his stories, he had such an interesting and comical take on things.  So he goes to Hawaii, hangs out, meets people, writes about it, and comes back a literary hero, of sorts.  The story of how he became a lecturer is fascinating.  That's really the end of the book, but well worth reading.  Even if you skip big chunks in between.

And as far as skipping big chunks, no big deal.  Not everything he did is worth reading about.  Perhaps that's his flaw.  He writes too much.  It may be great for literary scholars, anyone interested in his life, or people studying the history of the American West.  But for the average reader, feel free to skip whatever bores you.  You won't miss anything.

I was going to add several more examples of his humor but I changed my mind.  Just pick up the book and start reading.  You won't be disappointed.

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