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The Man in the Red Shoes v. The Man in the White Suit

Garrison Keillor, who is probably the greatest living American storyteller, reviewed the recently published autobiography of he greatest American storyteller of the 19th century. I’ve looked forward to reading Mark Twain’s autobiography, which was apparently going to be so scandalous that Twain insisted it that be embargoed for 100 years after his death. The book has received some good reviews, and it’s been sitting near the top the Powell’s best sellers list for weeks. But Keillor isn’t impressed. “Here is a powerful argument for writers’ burning their papers,” he writes in tomorrow’s NYT Sunday Book Review. And elsewhere in the review:

[Twain] speaks from the grave, he writes, so that he can speak freely — “as frank and free and unembarrassed as a love letter” — but there’s precious little frankness and freedom here and plenty of proof that Mark Twain, in the hands of academics, can be just as tedious as anybody else when he is under the burden of his own reputation.

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4 comments on “The Man in the Red Shoes v. The Man in the White Suit

  1. Kellior makes me feel less guilty for writing this review: http://burnsidewriters.com/2010/11/15/mark-twain-and-the-problem-of-self-disclosure/

    I gave up on the book 400 pages in…

  2. Oh man. This is at the top of my Christmas list and now I feel like sending out a retraction. I’ll still try to read it if I get it, but if my Christmas wishes are disregarded I’m not sure I’ll buy it for myself.

    • If you are a Twain/Clemmons fan you still might like it. I was hoping to discover Clemmons and then fall in love with his writing. I believe that Clemmons thought that people loved his alter ego more than himself, and he lost the ability to step away from his nom de plume and be himself.

  3. I like Mark Twain quite a lot, but this new autobiography seems like the kind of book I’d read if I wanted to be an expert in Mark Twain, which I don’t. What turned me off most in Garrison Keillor’s review was when he said the book has a 58-page introduction and something like 180 pages of footnotes. This makes the process of reading the book sound less like an exploration and more like an excavation. I’m always up for some heavy digging, but at this point in my reading life, I need to be enthusiastic about the project first. There are too many other books I want to read or re-read, including some really great books by Mark Twain.

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