Rx for a dwindling supply of Twain’s nonfiction

I know exactly one person who has not yet had to repress the urge to punch me repeatedly about the head and shoulders until I stop quoting Mark Twain.

And that’s only because he’s a bigger Twain freak than I am. He’s the sort of fanboy who owns a bust of the author and is given to email pronouncements like:

I agree with you, he’s amazing. It does sort of feel like he came along at exactly the time that this country needed him and was completely built for the task that he was needed for. Like Lincoln. Does that sound weird and spiritual? I just feel like he created the mold against which all future American genius should be judged.

Last week I was lying in bed reading printouts of The Innocents Abroad — I’m broke, and so much of his work is available for free online — when I realized I’m going to run out of his nonfiction one of these days. I felt panic bolt through me. My face got hot. My eyes started to tear. Fortunately, my (undiagnosed) heart murmur kicked in and distracted me until I could get to the kitchen for another beer.

The next day I turned to my fellow Twain fan for advice.

TMFTML: Dunno how much Vonnegut you’ve read, but he’s a huge fan himself. And the older he’s gotten the more he’s started to look and rail like him. [Ed. note: in the same vein, see this and, well, this. And Peck and Schaub (for the remarks about Vonnegut, Twain and Lalami).]

Me: Maybe Vonnegut is the thing. I do like what I know of his work (Slaughterhouse Five, Cat’s Cradle, Breakfast of Champions, a handful of In These Times essays).

TMFTML: Try “Palm Sunday.” Like MT, his essays are better than his fiction.

A day passed. I sent TMFTML an interview in which Vonnegut talks about writing and art and writers he admires, including George Orwell.

TMFTML: Orwell’s another personal favorite. I knew there was a reason I liked KV.

Me: I do like Orwell, but, as with MT & KV, so far I’ve mostly read his fiction. I want to read the book Tom Piazza recommended about the miners (The Road to Wigan Pier, or something like that). Anything else I should particularly seek out?

TMFTML: Wigan Pier is great, but start with any basic collection of essays. You can probably find a couple online. I’d recommend “Politics and the English Language” and “The Lion and the Unicorn,” especially the subsection “England, Your England.” Also “Why I Write.” Just thrilling stuff. His style is incredible. Never a wasted word.

[Ed. note: later in the week, Amitava Kumar coincidentally extolled the virtues of Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language.”]


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