Thursday, February 3, 2011

January R.E.A.D. Book Group

Etta McQuade shared a delightful presentation on Mark Twain with the R.E.A.D. Book Group at the Pleasant Grove Library on January 6, 2011. She pointed out that one of the best things about reading Mark Twain's writings is that he is still funny and she certainly proved that as she shared many fun excerpts with us.

We discussed the new rewritten edition of The Adventrues of Huckleberry Finn and were all in agreement that it is best left as Mark Twain originally wrote it. Even though some of the words are now considered offensive it speaks to an important time in American history. It's good to remember that the moral to this story is to not be racist.
Changing the words of this book could open doors to all kinds of changes and censorship in classics novels that may be "offensive" to certain groups. If we go back and rewrite these books we, in a sense, rewrite history by altering the language to what is better accepted in modern times. What will future generations be able to learn if this becomes a common practice?

Etta read excerpts from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and we also discussed The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. We talked about the comparisons and the contrasts of the two books and these two beloved characters of American literature.

Etta shared some excerpts from Life on the Mississippi. This book is Mark Twain's memoir of the steamboat era on the Mississippi River before the American Civil War.

Then she shared some writings from Roughing It. This book tells of the escapades of Mark Twain in the American West. Etta pointed out how much he had written about Mormons, Utah and Brigham Young. She shared some of those passages with us. Twain's continued good humor in the face of misfortune and mishap throughout the book makes inspires laughter and makes it a fun book to read.

Etta told us about the first story that Mark Twain ever wrote. It is titled The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County which you can read here. Then she introduced us to The Innocents Abroad which is the first book Mark Twain wrote. It was published in 1869 and is based on Twain's letters to newspapers about his 1867 steamship voyage to Europe, Egypt, and the Holy Land. The Innocents Abroad sharply satirized tourists who learn what they should see and feel by reading guidebooks. Assuming the role of a keen-eyed, shrewd Westerner, Twain was refreshingly honest and vivid in describing foreign scenes and his reactions to them.


We were also introduced to Letters From the Earth, a book that is a miscellany of fiction, essays, and notes by Mark Twain, published posthumously in 1962. Written over a period of 40 years, the pieces in the anthology are characterized by a sense of ironic pessimism. The title piece comprises letters written by Satan to his fellow angels about the shameless pride and foolishness of humans.        

One of our favorite picture books at the library was presented to the group. The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Susy) by Barbara Kerley is a cute story told through the eyes of Twain's beloved daughter. In pursuit of truth, Susy Clemens, age 13, vows to set the record straight about her beloved (and misunderstood) father and becomes his secret biographer. Kerley uses Susy's manuscript and snippets of wisdom and mirth from Twain as fodder for her story. The child's journal entries, reproduced in flowing handwritten, smaller folio inserts, add a dynamic and lovely pacing to the narrative, which includes little-known facts about Twain's work. The text flawlessly segues into Susy's carefully recorded, sometimes misspelled, details of his character, intimate life, and work routine during his most prolific years. 

A very favorite part of the presentation was when Howard Carpenter and Etta read excerpts from the Adam and Eve Diaries which can be found in The Bible According to Mark Twain.

Etta told us about Mark Twain Tonight which was edited, adapted and arranged by Hal Holbrook

Holbrook had been bringing Twain to life for twenty years when an estimated thirty million viewers tuned in to see Mark Twain Tonight! on March 6, 1967. The two had been regular traveling companions, taking many roads to arrive at this electrifying moment in television history. This book brings together some of Holbrooks best work into an easy to read collection. It is really like reading a Mark Twain Biography. You can also watch scenes from Mark Twain Tonight! on Youtube. Please enjoy an example below.

We finished up with more great conversation and Almond Roca candy.

Etta shared many fun Mark Twain quotations during her presentation. Here are some of our favorites:

"I was born modest, but it wore off."

"When you cannot get a compliment any other way pay yourself one."

"Never put off till tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow."

"If you tell the truth you don't have to remember anything."

"A person who won't read has no advantage over one who can't read."
"It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt."

"Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter."

"Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint."

You may like to checkout the new Autobiography of Mark Twain at the library. Mark Twain is his own greatest character in this brilliant self-portrait, the first of three volumes collected by the Mark Twain Project on the centenary of the author's death. It is published complete and unexpurgated for the first time. (Twain wanted his more scalding opinions suppressed until long after his death.) Eschewing chronology and organization, Twain simply meanders from observation to anecdote and between past and present. There are gorgeous reminiscences from his youth of landscapes, rural idylls, and Tom Sawyeresque japes; acid-etched profiles of friends and enemies, from his "fiendish" Florentine landlady to the fatuous and "grotesque" Rockefellers; a searing polemic on a 1906 American massacre of Filipino insurgents; a hilarious screed against a hapless editor who dared tweak his prose; and countless tales of the author's own bamboozlement, unto bankruptcy, by publishers, business partners, doctors, miscellaneous moochers; he was even outsmarted by a wild turkey. Laced with Twain's unique blend of humor and vitriol, the haphazard narrative is engrossing, hugely funny, and deeply revealing of its author's mind. His is a world where every piety conceals fraud and every arcadia a trace of violence; he relishes the human comedy and reveres true nobility, yet as he tolls the bell for friends and family--most tenderly in an elegy for his daughter Susy, who died in her early 20s of meningitis--he feels that life is a pointless charade. Twain's memoirs are a pointillist masterpiece from which his vision of America--half paradise, half swindle--emerges with indelible force. 

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