Bailing On Mark Twain

I recently downloaded The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1 on audio. And then I sent it back to the library. Why?

The autobiography, ordered published by Twain 100 years after his death, is essentially a compilation of rambling essays and false starts along with a series of dictations the last five years of Twain’s life. There is a framework to it all, and I would have loved to listen to it straight through. The problem is that, after 100 years, not enough of Mark Twain’s estate remains to manage this into publication. So no Brilliance Audio rights bought from Random House. Instead, it’s an academic work, in this case done by the Mark Twain Project at Berkley University.

Which means the book is annotated with long introductions to various sections and a long preface. There’s enough here to write a book about the writing of the book (or the three volume book. There’s hints of what prompted this in the sections about Ulysses Grant’s memoirs.) It’s enough to make grad student in American Literature go squeeeeeee!!!!!

But it doesn’t work on audio. It took over an hour before I got to a line of Twain’s prose. And even then, the flow of the narrative was interrupted by the editor’s notes before various sections. In print, this is great for people wanting to find out more about Mark Twain. For someone who wanted to listen to about four or five hours of Twain riffing on whatever struck his fancy over the 40+ years he wrote this, not so much.

Fortunately, they also published this in print. Subsequently, they published this to Kindle. And, of course, you can get all the Twain you want at the project’s web site. I opted for Kindle. When the notes overwhelm the actual text, I just hit the table of contents and click on the next link.

As I said, there’s a wealth of information in this volume, and I have to assume the subsequent two volumes to be published will have similar amounts. However, I do have a suggestion for the publishers. How about an audio version of pure, unadulterated Twain? That would rock.

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2 thoughts on “Bailing On Mark Twain

  1. Interesting post — just came from a discussion of Twain himself and how, when in a time when the US was looking for its identity from the Continent such as supporting much of European literature, Twain was one of the American writers that was still highly patronized and well-read.

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