Life on the Mississippi

Sometimes you find a book so old and beautiful that it demands to be read. That is how I feel about the beautiful set of 1920s Mark Twains I found recently. They were a steal at $8 a piece and while the leather spines are a bit roughened, it is obvious these have been tucked away on a shelf for a very long time.

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They have that perfect old book smell–wood, dust, and yellowed pages. And though I have to be very gentle not to crease or tear the stiff paper, I could not get as much joy out of reading these books on a Kindle. I considered it–to save the brittle book, but I’m glad I proceeded. It has been much more of a pleasure this way.

Life on the Mississippi is the memoir of Mark Twain’s time as a cub pilot on a Mississippi River Steamboat. He looks back (for the most part) fondly on all he had to learn and the adventures he found traipsing up and down the big brown river. Then, later, while making his career as a journalist, he returns under the name “Smith” to see how much has changed since the Civil War.

The only other book I’ve read by Mark Twain is Huckleberry Finn, and the dialect in that one is so hard to follow–which is why I haven’t yet read Tom Sawyer. This book is so much different than that. It’s heartfelt, and funny. You get a ton of different voices from all the different people young Samuel Clemens met in his travels. You’ll even find out exactly where his pen name was borne and what it means. This is a lovely, old-fashioned (though it was quite modern at the time–the first manuscript submitted to a publisher that was typewritten) memoir from one of our best American story-tellers. I’m glad I read it, as it will set the stage for his other books.

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