Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Book Review: The Short Stories of Mark Twain

This one I picked up somewhere--a used book store or thrift store, I think--because of Twain's fame. As a writer, I should read what was successful, even if long ago, and see if I can learn from it.

I put this one in the reading pile somewhat arbitrarily, after Foxes Book of Martyrs and before Coulson's How Now Shall We Live, trying to mix up new and old, fiction and non-fiction. This was a good place for it. Twain's humor comes through in every short story, and I needed some humor. Some of it cause me to laugh out loud.

But, being a little less than half way through, I am laying it aside. Why? It's just too much all at once. So far the forty stories I've read have all been humorous, none dramatic. Oh, the humor has its dramatic moments, such as encounters with thieves in "The McWilliamses and the Burglar Alarm", though the drama quickly turns to humor.

They have all been excellently written in the first person, which gets tiring. Even when Twain uses a third person narrator, the narrator talks to the reader and finds a reason to switch to the first person point of view of the one he is narrating about. Writing gurus caution against too much use of the first person. Twain does it well, but it's all too much and I'm laying it aside.

The stories vary in length, which is good. While more deal with western USA setting than other regions, Twain does situate some stories in other places, which is good. One tires of all western venues; it becomes too much.

Twain does not spoon feed his readers. He lets us think for ourselves and find the humor in his subtleties. And Twain is certainly subtle. His humor is that of the straight man in a comedy duo--Abbot rather than Costello, Laurel rather than Hardy, Rowen rather than Martin. Occasionally, however, Twain takes the voice of a vaudevillian story teller or a California tall tale teller. All this is good.

Tonight I finished "The Diary of Adam and Eve," its twenty-two pages a two-night read. I knew it would be a hoot when it started: "Monday. This new creature with the long hair is a good deal in the way." And it was a hoot.

But its all too much and I am laying it aside, placing it somewhere lower in my reading pile. I'll come back to it. Twain wrote these over fifty years, and designed each to be a complete read in itself, not to be read collectively. Perhaps that's why it's all too much. But come back to it I shall, at its next appointed time in the reading pile.

1 comment:

sincerelymsred said...

I've got a few books that are "too much" on my shelf. It's not a bad thing, gives us something to go back to now and then.