The Twain is neverending

Discovering Mark Twain’s nonfiction in the last month has been like meeting the sharp-witted, no-bullshit uncle I always dreamed of having. So I was pleased to see Roughing It, which I’ve yet to read, on a Guardian top ten list devoted to books about cults and religious extremists.

This is one of Mark Twain’s more neglected works, but it’s one of my favourites. It’s an invaluable firsthand account of gold rush-era America written with all the wit and perception you’d expect from such a great writer. His descriptions of the early Mormon church and his time in Salt Lake City are superb. Anyone thinking of joining the Church Of The Latter Day Saints should start here. Then stop. His assessment of the Book Of Mormon is a classic: “chloroform in print”.

Yesterday I started Twain’s Christian Science, which opens with a fall over a cliff in Vienna. Limbs are broken. Boulders are cracked. Our humble narrator is rescued and carried to a thatch-roofed farmhouse, where he awaits treatment.

There was a village a mile away, and a horse doctor lived there, but there was no surgeon. It seemed a bad outlook; mine was distinctly a surgery case. Then it was remembered that a lady from Boston was summering in that village, and she was a Christian Science doctor and could cure anything. So she was sent for. It was night by this time, and she could not conveniently come, but sent word that it was no matter, there was no hurry, she would give me “absent treatment” now, and come in the morning; meantime she begged me to make myself tranquil and comfortable and remember that there was nothing the matter with me.


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