Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Happy Birthday, Mark Twain, King Daddy of American lit

Posted By on Wed, Nov 30, 2011 at 11:53 AM

Today is my wife’s birthday. In my house, that’s significant, in yours not so much. Luckily, it’s also the birthday of Mark Twain, the Missouri-born author who, despite a slump in his critical reputation in the years immediately following his death, is now generally regarded as the King Daddy of American literature. Funny how time changes perspective, huh?

To celebrate Twain’s birth (he would have been 176 years old today, and probably even grouchier than he was in his actual “golden years”), we’re reprinting excerpts from a column I wrote three years ago about lessons learned from reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Enjoy the day, and in case you’re wondering what to read by Twain that’s not Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn, try Roughing It, The Innocents Abroad, Pudd'nhead Wilson, or the "War Prayer," written in response to the Philippine-American War of 1899-1902, which Twain bitterly opposed. OK, here’s the excerpt:

There's a book I've read and re-read probably six or seven times, and it never fails to entertain, delight and inspire. What follows are quotes from the book, along with lessons that can be taken from them. Thank God for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

"We catched fish and talked, and we took a swim now and then to keep off sleepiness. It was kind of solemn, drifting down the big, still river, laying on our backs looking up at the stars, and we didn't ever feel like talking loud, and it warn't often that we laughed — only a little kind of a low chuckle." (Chapter 12)
Some of life's finest moments are the simplest and are to be enjoyed, going with the flow without over-analyzing everything.

"All I say is, kings is kings, and you got to make allowances. Take them all around, they're a mighty ornery lot. It's the way they're raised. All kings is mostly rapscallions." (Chapter 23)
Rulers and politicians may be necessary, but don't ever think they're all honest, or even always mean well.

"H'aint we got all the fools in town on our side? And ain't that a big enough majority in any town?" (Chapter 26)
The idea of "communal wisdom" is too often an exercise in delusion.

"Miss Watson she took me in the closet and prayed, but nothing come of it. She told me to pray every day, and whatever I asked for I would get it. But it warn't so. I tried it. Once I got a fish-line, but no hooks. It warn't any good to me without hooks." (Chapter 3)
What passes for mainstream religious truth is often a lie, or at least very disappointing.

"Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot." (Chapter 1)
Get all you can out of a great book, but don't think you're going to find everything you need in it.

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