Displaying articles for: July 2010

Death on the Mississippi

Mark Twain’s book-publishing career spans thirty years, 1867-97. Standing back-to-back at the midpoint of these three decades are the two books which anchor Twain’s literary legacy, Life on the Mississippi (1883) and Huckleberry Finn (1884), If only to meet the needs of the subscription-book market, Life on the Mississippi is a fat, mixed-genre composite — history, geography, travel, social commentary, tall tales, memoir, and Huckleberry Finn itself. Read more...

Old Men in Love

God bless visionary eccentrics, a type the British Isles are particularly good at producing. Without them, life would be merely a long dreary trudge through a bleak forest of duties and disappointments, ending in a featureless, futureless grave. But with celestially-besotted madmen and crazy oracular women on the scene—ah, it's all fireworks, amour fou, angels, and baggy pants!


The Literary Shipyard

Writing a friend during the push to finish The Prince and the Pauper in the spring of 1880, Mark Twain offered a glimpse of what writing meant to him. Read more...

Being Wrong

The enlightened Japanese Buddhist teacher known as Dogen (1200-1253) once said, "A zen master's life is one continuous mistake." In this exact spirit of ineluctable human error leading, at best, to transcendence, Kathryn Schulz's Being Wrong brilliantly and ingeniously affirms the glorious possibilities—and dramatic dangers—for individuals and for our culture inherent in flubbing it.


Tramping & Trampling

Mark Twain shaped his place in American Literature in the 1880s, a decade in which he published Huckleberry Finn and Life on the Mississippi. The decade began with the travel book A Tramp Abroad, this conceived as a money-maker aimed at the same readership which had made The Innocents Abroad a hit ten years earlier. Traveling by rail, raft, donkey cart and foot, the Tramp returns to some of the same places the Innocent visited in the first book. He also returns to Hannibal and the Mississippi, “The Author’s Memories” (caption for the illustration shown here) providing the text with a Midwest American counterpoint to the hallowed stops on the European Tour. If Twain found the Tour trying he found writing about it worse, no doubt because he couldn’t put his true feelings into it. Read more...

The Dash of Rip Kirby

I have never succumbed to the allure of a marathon of watching multiple seasons of a TV show on disc. No indulgent lost weekends spent with the Sopranos or Buffy or Deadwood. However, I now believe I better understand the pleasures of such an orgy of serialized narrative, having emerged, transfixed and overjoyed, from some six hundred pages—over five years' worth, across two volumes—of the great newspaper detective strip Rip Kirby. The river of story becomes a mesmerizing immersion in the lives and struggles and triumphs of figures who emerge nearly as real as family.


The Lion of St. Mark

In 1889 Mark Twain wrote William Dean Howells that he regretted completing A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court because of all the social opinions he had to leave out: “They burn in me; and they keep multiplying; but now they can't ever be said. And besides, they would require a library—and a pen warmed up in hell.”


The Barbara Stanwyck Collection

This handsome but minimalist package (a few contextual factoids, a couple of trailers as the only video extras) featuring six rarely seen Barbara Stanwyck films in crisp prints gives the lucky viewer a rich survey of the astonishing range of this masterful actress across three different decades. As well, the set provides a fascinating journey through several Golden Age Hollywood genres. Read more...

Eloisa James Announces a Giveaway

Fans of Eloisa James's Reading Romance column can visit her website to get news of a new giveaway.


Innocents & Guilt

One of the last in the gallery of Innocents drifting, stumbling and charging through Mark Twain’s books and talks is Joan of Arc, whom Twain regarded as “by far the most extraordinary person the human race has ever produced.” Although he declared Joan of Arc the best of his books, it became one of his worst sellers, his readers unable to enjoy his idealized heroine, unaided by even the hint of a joke, taking on “every advantage that learning has over ignorance, age over youth, experience over inexperience, chicane over artlessness, every trick and trap and gin devisable by malice and the cunning of sharp intellects practiced in setting snares for the unwary.”


April 19: "What you see first, after the starting gun's crack, is a column of bobbing runners, thousands of them, surging downhill..."

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.