Thursday, April 15, 2010

On "Roughing It" by Mark Twain ****

This nineteenth-century travel book has much to offer, even at over one hundred years old. Twain's wit is at full strength in many of these passages, and from them, you get a feel for the humor of the old southwest. Also here are long descriptions of life as it was lived in the 1860s west.

The book is Twain's account of going to work with his brother in Nevada, back when it was still a territory. The two of them got government jobs of some sort, but little time is spent describing those. Instead, one gets accounts of stage travel before the days of railroad (a grueling and long trip it must have been), of silver mining and claiming, and of newspaper writing. Midway through the book, Twain opts to visit California and live there for awhile, and then he moves on to Hawaii. Admittedly, by these later portions of the long text, I was becoming restless. Sans a strong plot, the episodic nature of the writing eventually begins to wear one down, even when well written and at times funny.

Some of the historical information, as well as some of the tall tales and myths, is interesting as well. Twain goes on at length about the relatively recent faith of Mormonism, which was at its polygamous stage with regards to marriage rights. He tells the story of John Slade, a rascally gunshooter who manages to threaten his way into government--and eventual death (I could see those chapters becoming a movie, though a very violent one). He tells tales such as one about a buffalo who chases a man up a tree and then follows him right into it (clearly a "true" story since the man lost his hat and the buffalo staggered off--and neither of those items are present any longer).

The text is in the public domain and can be read or downloaded here.

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