Thursday, July 7, 2011

"This morning I took out a comma, and this afternoon I put it back again." — Oscar Wilde

Autobiography of Mark Twain: Volume 1
By Mark Twain
Edited by Harriet Elinor Smith 
(University of California Press, 736 pp., $34.95)
Reviewed by Michael Lewis in The New Republic

"Great writers are not meant to care more about money than art. Twain cared so much about money that what little he writes about his art in his autobiography is almost entirely, and obsessively, about the business end of things: his paychecks, his promotional tours, his financial disputes with publishers, his venture capital investments in publishing and printing technology. He stops and starts Huckleberry Finn over and again to devote vast amounts of his time and energy to losing $190,000 (roughly $4 million today) in a doomed typesetting machine, and nearly bankrupts himself. [...]
     Writing with one eye on the audience is certainly a handicap; but the worry that the audience might rise and leave the auditorium at any moment pushes the writer to be clear, and brief, and obviously worth listening to. He is forced to pay special attention to the sound of his words. A distinctive literary voice is a bit like a talent for wiggling your ears, or for holding your breath underwater for two straight minutes. It’s not fair that some people simply sound particularly themselves and others do not, and it’s really not fair just how particularly himself Twain sounded, even when he lay in bed and rambled to a stenographer. But Twain’s voice is the reason people still read him. His voice is the reason you feel as if he is talking to you. And the crowds he played to in his lust for fame and fortune helped him to create that voice. [...]
     On the other hand, it takes a lot of effort to sustain a voice without becoming trapped by it. Not long before he committed suicide, I met Hunter S. Thompson at his home, late one night. He sat in a kitchen pulling on a half gallon of tequila straight from the bottle, surrounded by giant placards inscribed with various outrageous things that he had said or written. He had become less a writer than an actor trying not to forget the character he was meant to be playing."
Buy this book here...

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