This is an exhaustive and in a good way, exhausting read. Indeed if the book has a fault is it's sheer scope. There is so much in here that you have to put it down regularly to get your breath back! Luckily the format lends itself to such "dipping" as it is not laid out in traditional, chronological chapters, but in the order the separate episodes were dictated and recorded. This means that you can re-join the story almost like you are picking up an ongoing conversation with the great man himself.
In this first volume there are also various snippets and notes that Twain had intended for publication as well as loads of references and expanded footnotes for the true enthusiast. But the bulk of the volume is the series of dictations that were recorded from 1906 which allows Twain to digress and return to various narratives, introduce different characters (including many famous ones like RL Stevenson) and tell their stories as well as the often hilarious, poignant and exciting tales involving the author himself. These are annotated in the margin either by year of the event or name of the protagonist which seems a neat way of dealing with what might have become an overly rambling and hard to follow account. I don't know how much of the praise should go to the author or the editors for ensuring that the narrative is easy to follow but they succeed admirably. For me the unique aspect of this sort of autobiography is that you can almost literally hear Twain's voice which gives an added piquancy to the story and makes it easy to digest.
This is a physically imposing volume so you won't be reading this on the train, but it is a beautiful piece of work, an amazing price and there are two further volumes promised! I can't praise this book enough and it and the successor volumes will surely go down as one of the greatest literary biographies of all time, if not one of the best of any kind.
BTW I have heard a snippet of the audio book and it sounds like an excellent investment as well although I don't know how this will deal with the notes etc.
on 3 December 2010
I have been waiting for this book to be published for quite a while and I was amongst the first to order it. Mark Twain has left us a wonderful legacy with his autobiography but you may want to give this volume a miss. This is an academic book filled with words by people who are not Mark Twain but who are in the Mark Twain business. The book is so weighed down by academic comment that the enjoyment is somewhat spoiled; it is also quite massive and difficult to handle. There will, no doubt, be a trade edition of this book next year which will be easier to handle and more enjoyable to read. I would recommend waiting for that. We have already waited 100 years, what's another year?
I'm going to agree with 'MOM'. About 240 pages of this 700-page plus book are by Mark Twain - the first part of his full autobiography, appearing now 100 years after his death. You can get bits of that in other, earlier extract-based volumes, but not all of it. It's a ramble ; it wanders apparently just as the mood takes him ; you are often not quite sure whether he is speaking the plain truth, an embroidered version of the truth, or something that is largely fantastical. All of which is to say that it is genuine Mark Twain, and completely individual. So far, so good. Many pages are very funny, some very poignant (when he touches on the death of his daughter Susy and his memories of her), all of it is more than worth reading. However, in addition to this unquestionably valuable material, there is a huge amount of baggage - which would not be baggage to the scholar, but is to the general reader. The result is a book which is extremely heavy and unwieldy, whose print is small and, when there are quotations, even smaller. So the three-star rating is a composite, and it certainly should not be taken to reflect on Mark Twain's own pages, but there is a great deal more to this book than that.
on 14 September 1998
This is technically perhaps not a great autobiography, in that it is rather a scrap book of anecdotes from Twain's life, with a casual tone that serious-minded readers might find less than fulfilling; but the anecdotes that work are brilliant, and I have read the brilliant ones countless times. I have read the parts about Twain's mother over and over, because she is the type person I aspire to be!! I'll give one anecdote about her to explain: There was a fierce, strongly built Corsican in Hannibal chasing his daughter through the streets with a thick rope, threatening to beat her with it. All the strongest men did not interfere as this man chased his daughter. The daughter finally came to Mrs. Clemens' door, and she let the girl in the door. But rather than shut the door, Mrs. Clemens--a frail woman--stood in the door way, blocking the way of the Corsican. The Corsican yelled at her, threatening her with the rope to get out of the way so he could get to his daughter. But Mrs. Clemens stood firm, and then berated the Corsican for chasing his daughter, and shamed his manhood, so that he finally swore with a blasphemous oath that she was the bravest woman he had ever met. He gave the rope to her, left his daughter alone, and he and Mrs. Clemens were friends after that. For, as Twain puts it, "he had found in her a long-wanted need. Someone who was not afraid of him."
I'd truly love typing my favorite bits of this book for you to read here. But Twain certainly tells them better, so I recommend you buy the book instead. You won't regret it. It will make you feel good about being American. And not in any patriotic sense, but in a down-to-earth sense.
"And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." -- John 8:32 (NKJV)
I haven't had this much fun with a new book since the corrected version of Joyce's Ulysses came out. Let me explain. The only thing better than reading an outstanding work by a great writer is seeing the anatomy of how the work was written. It's fascinating to see the false starts, the problems, their solutions, and the process of mixing it all together to make a wonderful, tasty concoction for readers.
Samuel L. Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain) decided he wanted to write a truthful autobiography that would be so accurate in its portrayals that he directed it not be published for 100 years. Despite that admonition, his source material has been scoured to produce earlier versions of "an autobiography." It turns out that what Clemens had in mind was something much more difficult, writing an exhaustive autobiography that allowed him to also candidly share his unusual turn of mind and insert the kind of humor that makes his writing so appealing. As a result of many unsuccessful attempts, he chose to ignore the normal chronological order in favor of dictating segments (and side trips that are not necessarily very related) that appealed to him.
In the process, I came away with a strong feeling that it's hard to put your imprint on an autobiography . . . even if you are a wonderful storyteller and writer. The constraint of telling the truth (no more and no less) is also a daunting one, one that the footnotes to this fascinating volume indicate that Clemens often violated (probably unwittingly in many cases).
Even the "failed" sections make for fascinating reading, including his close association with Ulysses S. Grant while that ex-president and retired general coped with lethal cancer to complete his memoirs and to earn a little money for his family that was financially struggling, the many ways that publishers took advantage of Clemens, and his awful experiences with investing in new technology for typesetting.
To me, the most moving sections are those where his daughter Susy's biography is displayed and he elaborates on her stark, utterly honest thumbnail sketches. I came away impressed that he learned quite a lot about himself from Susy and wanted to rise to the challenge of not "embroidering" his personal history. Alas, the storyteller in him turned out to be stronger than the researcher. The result is a candid portrait of a man (like all men) who had feet of clay, but aspired to do better. I liked him the more for it, and my desire to read more of his writing was vastly increased.
The book is not an easy read. It starts with some very tiny type that even made my post-cataract operation eyes with reading glasses squint to see clearly. The material is very dense. I found myself settling down each day to study 15 to 30 pages at a time (an amount I would normally devour in a few minutes). In addition, there's much food for thought here. It would be a crime to leave it undigested. The notes in the back are very helpful for turning sections that are hard to penetrate into more accessible material. Don't neglect them.
Normally, I would question devoting so much scholarly effort into an autobiography. Having seen Volume I of this one, I think it's well worth the time, money, and effort . . . especially since this book begins to expose what Clemens most wanted us to know about him, in the way he intended.
Don't miss this book!!
If you know any writers, give them this book as a gift. They'll adore it (and probably you, as well, for being so thoughtful).
on 7 June 2011
(I am talking about "Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1 (Mark Twain Papers)" in hardback, and no other edition).
After the preliminaries from the editors, the first paper introduced is a description of his father and family circumstances, and moves on to discuss his involvement with General Grant and how he became his publisher. There is also plenty about his stays abroad -posting a letter in London or secretly admiring irrepressibility of the Austrian maid nicknamed 'Wuthering Heights' 'cause he name was unpronounceable.
Mark Twain has an honesty that makes it clear why he would want to wait 100 years before publication of some material. It also shows an ambiguity of character we all face (namely generosity and thrift can co-exist in the same person). He also shows why he can still be considered one of the most witty, charming and satirical writers of any age. I imagine he is at this very moment, up in the correct corner of Heaven (where 100 years down her is only a few days up there), having just received his wings, dealing with the aftermath of a mid-air collision with the Archbishop of Canterbury and an Irishman.
Please note that this is no stuffy tome (you don't have to read the editors' remarks - which are not so bad anyway), it's lively and very refreshing.
The only drawback? Be warned, this is a laaaarrrge book and I would advise against reading it in the bath lest the corners get wet.
on 8 April 1998
If you like Twain this is a must. Others may find it laborious in spots. However, the last chapter, "The death of Jean", is alone worth the purchase price. It is the most vivid, honest and heart-wrenching writing on the death of a loved one that I have ever read.
on 4 December 2010
It is difficult to reconcile what we read here with the time in which he wrote it. He sounds at times like Salinger; at others like Kurt Vonnegut; but always 'modern'. What he rarely sounds like is a 19th Century man. Deceptively easy to read, he also enchants with his honesty. It is a pity that the editorial team is no match. The plodding prose and attempts at too much exegesis manages to add a weirdly 19th Century tone. The meat of this extraordinary autobiography is entirely worth reading, so perhaps there will be more Twain and fewer footnotes and articles by 'scholars' in a subsequent edition.
on 16 January 2014
This is a book which looks great in my bookcase but honestly I wasn't able to get too far in it. But I am glad that I own it. Sometimes I am just turning it's pages and reading a few words here and there.
on 18 January 2015
If you expect an autobiography, you will be disappointed. The rambling reminiscences of an old man. Occasionally quite interesting, but a lot of it rather boring, because for pages and pages it goes on about people one has never heard of. Yes, he does touch on incidents from his own life and his family, but there is not enough of it to warrant calling it an autobiography. Three stars because of the typical Mark Twain humour which twinkles through here and there.