Wednesday, April 2, 2014


The last few weeks of my free reading time has been spent reviewing Volumes I and II of the Autobiography of Mark Twain

I went to the local public library to renew my library card because of my discovery that my experience with popular fiction and non-fiction books was a few years behind the average person including high school students.   Usually, I read scientific journal and research articles. Occasionally I read a good mystery novel.   This discovery was made while substitute teaching in English classes and noting what the high school teachers have been assigning to their students.   

A few months ago, I attended a middle school book fair with a middle school English class and I brought a paper and pen to document the books which were at the book fair.  To my chagrin, I did not know any of these books existed, however, the middle school kids recited the number of these “popular” books  that they had read and seen at the movies.  Well,  I thought that day at the middle school book fair ‘ perhaps I had been living in a time warp.’  

My own childhood reading was occupied by Nancy Drew novels, Jules Verne books, sports books, fiction novels about animals, and lastly Mark Twain.   Based upon my time in adulthood as a substitute teacher, it became apparent that Mark Twain is not particularly popular reading at this time, although the high school students are still required to read Shakespeare. 
 I had a wonderful English teacher in 7th and 8th grade middle school, Mrs. Tripoli, at Blackham Middle School in Bridgeport, CT.  It was obvious that she loved literature and loved to teach.  She was the teacher that truly created an appreciation for literature.  In high school, I also had good English teachers, yet I could not personally, get into the Shakespeare thing.

In April of 1986, I  went canoeing and camping along the Rio Grande River in Big Bend National Park.  The river runs along the border of west Texas and Mexico (Roughing It). My women outdoors companions were from a mixed background, including our canoe trip leader,  Beverly Anataeus of Santa Fe, NM, who is an expert “canoeist”and Linda who was a writer for the National Enquirer.  Linda, from Georgia, also worked for the Santa Fe Oprea.  Beverly was originally from Maine.  Jean, from Maine, an old lady at that time drove the van with the canoes.  The most popular tune on the radio between Albuquerque and the Big Bend National Park was:  "You Were Always on My Mind" by Willie Nelson. 

That trip was one of  the most relaxing vacations that I have experienced.   We had 5 or 6 canoes and ran into no one along the river the entire 5 days/nights.  What spectacular desert scenery.  One of those nights I had javelinas oinking outside my tent.  I suppose this was not truly a new experience since I have run across plenty of people who qualify as javelina who are never welcome.  Therefore, I welcomed the animal javelinas on that camping trip.   I do not have original photos of this trip, because my old house in Albuquerque, NM was ransacked (completely) while traveling one summer and autumn, hence, all of these photos were lost.

On one night of the Big Bend canoe trip at 1:00 AM on that April of 1986 all of us campers awoke to view the tail-end of Halley’s Comet.  (see my previous blog post;postID=7572223762403124549;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=16;src=postname).    The comet was clearly visible on the horizon with binoculars.  What a treat to see the comet!   At that time (1986), I was well past my “youth”,   I was “too old” to read things like Mark Twain (my late 20’s).  

To return to my first paragraph of the blog, I went to the library to renew my library card.  The Autobiography of Mark Twain (Volume II) was sitting on the “new books” shelf near the entrance.  The library is also slightly behind the time since Volume I was published in 2010 and Volume II was published in 2011.  I am still waiting to determine whether the library will get Volume III?  

So, I have spent the last few weeks reviewing the first two volumes of Mark Twain’s Autobiography.  What a wealth of literary knowledge his autobiography truly is.    Mark Twain met, knew, interacted with, and was friends with so many people which is called “well-connected” in modern terminology. Reading his history and autobiographical details enhances every aspect of his novels. 

Importantly, Mark Twain had stipulated that his autobiography was not to be published for 100 years.  He died in 1910 in Redding, CT during Halley’s Comet.  The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, CA has done a great job of preserving his archives and abiding by Mr. Twain’s wish that his autobiography not be published for 100 years posthumously.

 In the year 2010 Volume I of the autobiography was published and in 2011 Volume II was published.  There is Volume III.  While reading these first two volumes, I am reminded of Halley’s Comet that night on the Rio Grande River in Big Bend National Park, i. e., the fading tail-light of a great American author.

In his autobiography Twain described his first attempts at writing his autobiography as “Scraps of My Autobiography” and “My Debut as a Literary Person”.  Ultimately, these writing starts were shelved.  I am not a specialist in the literary world, so my blog posts do not represent “My Debut as a Literary Person”.  Yet, my blog posts may represent the musings of a research scientist who aspires to be a “Literarian”.  

On Page 7 of Mark Twain’s novel:  A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, there is a passage as follows:  

“At the end of an hour we saw a faraway town sleeping in a valley. By a winding river; and beyond it on a hill, a vast grey fortress with towers and turrets, the first I have ever seen by a picture.  Bridgeport? Said I,  pointing”. 

“Camelot, said he!”  (Warwick Castle in the novel)

Here is one of my photos of a symbolic castle along the Pequonnock River in Bridgeport, CT  from the year 2010: