Friday, March 20, 2009

The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West by Sid Fleischman

A very lively and literate account of Mark Twain's roller-coaster life. The title comes from posters advertising Twain's first lecture tour. "Doors open at 7 o'clock. The trouble will begin at 8 o'clock." Later in his tour Twain modestly amended the posters to read "The wisdom will begin to flow at 8 o'clock."

Favourite previously unknown (to me) fact: the pen name Mark Twain comes from Samuel Clemens' early years as a riverboat pilot. "Mark Twain" is a riverboat term that refers to a depth of water 12 feet (or two fathoms), safe for the Mississippi pilots to navigate over.

Favourite anecdote:

"In New Orleans, Clemens passed a school promising to teach foreign languages, one for $25.00, three for $50.00. Who could ignore a nifty bargain like that?...He walked in and signed up at once for French, German and Italian. He was given phrase cards to study in each language. After a few weeks, he decided he could do without German gutterals and the operatic vowels of Italian. But he remained loyal to the French, and years later, on a visit to France, he was disappointed when he spoke French that he never succeeded "in making those idiots understand their own language".


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