The Bedside, Bathtub & Armchair Companion to Mark Twain
Of the growing number of literary "companions" to Mark Twain, this lively labor of love by Pam McAllister must surely be the most companionable... McAllister not only has an unerring sense of what needs to be said, she never fails to make her points engaging; even her plot summaries are compelling. The fresh personal perspectives that she brings to Mark Twain’s life and works guarantee that this particular "companion" is one that students, scholars, and even casual fans of Mark Twain will want to keep near at hand.~ R. Kent Rasmussen, author of Mark Twain A to Z, Critical Companion to Mark Twain, and other works about Mark Twain
Anyone can summarize the plot elements of Twain’s major stories, novels and traveler’s tales, but only a devoted gourmet like McAllister has the broad palate and diverse tasting background to serve up these flavorful side dishes... Most interesting among the various glimpses of the author’s personal life is the long and thoughtful chapter on Twain and religion.~ Robert Morton, president of the academic journal The Mark Twain Forum
Pam McAllister's Companion to Mark Twain answers such questions as:
– Why did Mark Twain stop going to school when he was only twelve?
– What national catastrophe ended his stint as a riverboat pilot?
– What public humiliation inspired him to move his family to Europe for ten years?
– What book did he think was his best? (Hint: the main character is a girl!)
– Where is there a toilet seat with the sign "Mark Twain sat here?"
You know that Mark Twain’s real name was Sam Clemens, but did you know that he:
– is believed to be the first author to submit a typewritten manuscript?
– had red hair, a funny talk, and an odd (Chaplainesque) waddle-walk?
– started smoking at age 7 and sometimes smoked 40 cigars a day?
– was born under Halley’s Comet and died at the comet’s next return?
Did you know that Mark Twain:
– died in 1910, but had a newly-published bestseller in 1962?
– wrote science fiction stories, (including several gender-benders) as well as an antiwar book, several animal-rights stories, and a number of anti-imperialist rants?
– once sardonically suggested that the U.S. change its flag from the stars and stripes to the skull and crossbones?
– wrote about television and long-distance telephoning before these were invented?
– was initially best known for his travel books?
Excerpt from the “Preface”
I love Mark Twain for never allowing himself to be boxed in. Not for him the neat and tidy résumé: the shape of his life was as full of twists and turns as the river he loved. All my maternal instincts rise up to warn him: Watch out! But he slips out of my reach just as neatly as Tom slips away from Aunt Polly, living ten lifetimes to my one safe one.
Mark Twain understood that humor is rooted in sorrow. Though he repeatedly sank into a funk of loneliness, guilt, and despair, he could always crack up a room with his deadpan drawl. People waited patiently for his punch lines, which often had an aftertaste, a profound point that wormed its way into awareness hours later. He could have remained on safe ground as “the humorist,” but when he had the ear of the whole world, he spoke out against mindless patriotism and insincere religiosity. He wrote daily for long hours, through the severe pain of rheumatism and, often, through the even more debilitating pain of an aching spirit. Reading Mark Twain is like watching television with a friend who has Attention Deficit Disorder and is holding the remote control. Twain boldly free-associated. “Formlessness” is a hallmark of his writing; he let his mind and heart run wild, unfettered and uncensored across time and space.
Twain wrote, “Life: we laugh and laugh, then cry and cry, then feebler laugh, then die,” and it was true. His life was no more tragic than most, with its series of losses and failures, recoveries and triumphs; it is only that, as the world’s first celebrity, his was more public. Contrary to the popular imagination, he lived fully to the end. Even in the months before he died, he was not shut off from the world, staring at the wall in stony depression: instead, he was laughing, albeit feebly, in sunny Bermuda and playing golf with Woodrow Wilson.