Mark Twain Unfinished – The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine

61q+5s8-QzL._AC_US218_In the spirit of great unfinished work – Schubert’s unfinished symphony, Charles Dickens’ unfinished novel (The Mystery of Edwin Drood), Gaudi’s unfinished Sagrada Familia – an unfinished children’s story by Mark Twain, now titled The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine, was discovered among Twain’s papers in 2011.  Like other unfinished art, contemporary masters often take up the task to finish; in this case, the Newbery Medal winners Philip and Erin Stead provided the art and supplemental text to Twain’s scribbled notes and skeletal outline of a bedtime story he had created for his young daughters over several days.

The story has a little boy on a quest with a chicken and a skunk named Sally. A magic flower when eaten has him able to communicate with animals. The King with a short man complex has banned anyone taller than he is, the willowy Queen sits knitting below his high throne, and someone had kidnapped the Prince. Conversations between Philip Stead and Mark Twain interrupt the action periodically, and Twain’s story ends with the Prince in a cave guarded by dragons.  

Erin Stead draws a beautiful assortment of animals in muted watercolors with the chicken and skunk taking on special roles.  Her moving portraits of the queen and the boy will remind you of someone you care about.

Recently watching the Mark Twain Prize presented to David Letterman, I thought about Twain’s role in American humor.  Twain was well known for mixing his humor with truth; reading Twain can be fun for children and philosophical for adults.  Although the action seems a little slow, the Steads completion of this unfinished story adds another piece to Twain’s impressive canon.

The satisfying ending the Steads provide is timely and poignant.

“…the words that could save mankind from all its silly, ceaseless violence, if only mankind could say them once in a while and make them truly meant…

I am glad to know you.”

If only…

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On the Road with Mark Twain and Others

9780385536448_p0_v2_s192x300  If real travel is not possible, vicariously circling the globe with Mark Twain might be the next best thing.  In Richard Zacks’ Chasing the Last Laugh: Mark Twain’s Raucous and Redemptive Round-the World Comedy Tour, I found a way to improve my humor and satisfy my yearning to visit new places.

At fifty-nine years old, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) had a magnificent mansion in Connecticut he could not afford to live in, was renowned as a humorist and author, and had made so many bad investments in quick rich schemes he had lost his heiress wife’s fortune and was seriously in debt.  The typesetting machine he had hoped would revolutionize publishing and secure his fortune was having problems, so he decided to go on tour to recoup his losses.

Through letters, diaries, journals, newspaper articles, and quotes from Twain himself,  Zacks captures the three year tour of the soft-spoken white-haired author in an evening suit, who travelled in luxury at the expense of his sponsors and never cracked a smile as he entertained the world.  Fans of Mark Twain will appreciate learning more about the author and enjoy his perspective on the world and life.  Samuel Clemens lived life large.

I am reading the book slowly and savoring… 

Also Reading:  The Life of the World to Come

9781511371186_p0_v2_s192x300   When someone you’ve known for a while dies unexpectedly, the tendency may be to ponder your own mortality or perhaps broaden your thinking into the universe at large. Dan Cluchey’s The Life of the World to Come is feeding my mind’s meanderings as I think about a friend who died recently. Sometimes a book comes to you – a love story mingled with thoughts about the afterlife

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Delay Tactic 247

Unknown    I have a stack of books from the library I should read – award winning, thoughtful, well-written books – The Year of the Runaways (Man Booker), Fortune Smiles (National Book Award) among them.  I’ve renewed them, and they sit accusingly on my coffee table.

But I need something else – something light, distracting…

What I Am Reading:

P. G. Wodehouse’s Something Fresh on audible

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson on iPhone

Cruel Shoes by Steve Martin on iPad

Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain – battered old paperback

One of them should work to improve my mood.

Do you have any suggestions?

Travels With …

Books can vicariously take you many places, but the Smithsonian has a list of  books to inspire real travel – The Top Ten Most Influential Travel Books.   From Homer’s Odyssey to Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad, the list also includes Peter Mayle (Provence).

One of my favorite travel writers is Paul Theroux; I discovered him as I was flying across the ocean to a new life in Hawaii; his fictional Hotel Honolulu proved to be an irreverent perspective that was easy to adopt.  Since then, I’ve discovered his nonfiction – The Tao of Travel.

More recently I’ve turned to Rick Steves as my nonfiction source for all travel to Europe, but for a humorous outlook on travel, I always return to Calvin Trillin’s Travels with Alice.9780374526009_p0_v1_s260x420

“So far, no scholar of Franco-American relations has attempted to refute the theory I once offered that some of the problems American visitors have with the French can be traced to the Hollywood movies of Maurice Chevalier.  According to the theory, meeting a surly bureaucrat or a rude taxi driver is bound to be particularly disappointing if you’ve arrived with the expectation that every Frenchman you encounter will be a charming, debonair old gent who at any moment might start singing, ‘Sank Evan for leetle gerls.’”

Do you have a favorite travel book?

The Subconscious Shelf

My old hometown had a restaurant with real books displayed on wall shelves around the small dining areas; the restaurant was appropriately named “The Library.”  I don’t remember the menu, but I remember the books – I dined with Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson looking over my shoulder.  When the new owner replaced the real books with a painted facade of books, I stopped going.  I could find better crab cakes somewhere else where the decor may not have books, but at least was real.

color-coded books

In her essay for the New York Times Book Review section – The Subconscious Shelf – Leah Price discusses the value of book displays and the deception of fakes.  Books can “serve as a utilitarian tool or a theatrical prop…”  – the interior designer’s selection of tomes that will enhance the decor, not necessarily the brain; the coffee table book that balances the artful display of ceramics.

Don’t be fooled by those worn and battered covers that seem to carry historic weight. Did you know the famous Strand bookstore in New York City will sell or rent leather-bound multivolume sets “to connote old money”?  And a company offers “book handling” for customers – selling books that has each volume “thoroughly handled”…

{Volumes will include} a suitable passage…to be underlined in red pencil, and a leaflet…to be inserted as a forgotten book-mark in each…the smaller volumes to be damaged in a manner that will give the impression that they have been carried around in pockets…volumes to be treated with old coffee, tea, porter, or whiskey stains…

I have a few of those I can surrender – but I’ve actually read the books, which may reduce their value to buyers.   Avid readers who don’t have room for bookshelves are constantly gleaning their frugal space; others count on borrowing their books; and finally, the e-book precludes displays of content.

Price suggests that the books on display won’t tell as much about the reader as the reader’s references to the books…

“Shortly after the 2008 election, a bookstore in New York set out 50-odd books to which Barack Obama had alluded in memoirs, speeches, and interviews.  The resulting collection revealed more about {him} than did any number of other displays of books by and about him.”

It may be the books that are read but are not on the shelves that really expose the reader.  Are you among the many who are well-read – but with empty or sparse bookshelves?

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Snooping in the Age of eBook