Yesterday at work, one of my associates, Roger, slyly convinced Janice to do some of his work for him. Janice turned to me, dropped her shoulders and said over the top of her glasses, "I guess he read Tom Sawyer and remembered it better than me!" It's hard to imagine how anyone could be considered culturally literate if they didn't follow Janice's meaning. Notwithstanding the fact that Mark Twain is perhaps one of the most quoted authors of our times, I sometimes wonder how many of us have actually read more than one or two of his works. I remember reading both Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn as a child. That was over forty years ago, and it's difficult to recall if I ever read more than the children's versions. The opportunity to read two of his books along with thirteen shorter pieces was too good to pass up.
Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer were my idols. We had some things in common. I grew up on a cotton farm in the 1950's about an hour from the Mississippi Delta. Vicksburg, Natchez, Port Gibson, St. Francesville, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans all figure into my history as they did that of Samuel Langhorn Clemens. Jeans and overalls were my uniforms along with bare feet.
A Tramp Abroad begins with a convincing list of reasons why a walking trip across Europe would be preferable to other modes of travel. Twain then discusses his efforts to find a traveling companion willing to travel on foot. After resting in Hamburg, plans were begun for a long walk south in the spring weather, but, as Twain says, "at the last moment we changed the program, for private reasons, and took the express train." Stories abound that Twain was a much sought after speaker; I wonder if his delivery was deadpan (like Steven Wright).
Another memorable story is that of a man who can interpret the chatter of blue-jays. During the recounting of the "Blue-jay Yarn," Twain includes a jab at politicians as he describes the character of a jay as having no more principle than a "Congressman" [sic]. An owl delivers the low key punch line as he compares the yarn to his recent visit to "Yo Semite" [sic].
Following the Equator is another road trip. (Many consider Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to be a road trip as well.) After declaring bankruptcy, Twain went on a successful speaking tour around the world to raise money to repay his debtors. The thirteen shorter pieces that complete this edition were not previously available in one volume and round out a unique collection of one of our country's favorite authors.
Library of America has put together a collection of Twain's writings edited by Roy Blount, Jr. The size of the book is a surprise. It's barely five by seven inches and is printed in ten point print. The print size is my only concern as many baby boomers are beginning to experience poor vision and twelve or even fourteen point would make for more pleasurable reading. Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad, Following the Equator, and Other Travels is a handsome volume of 1149 pages bound with beautiful blue cloth from Holland. It will enhance any bookshelf.