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Life and Times of an itinerant slacker in Sacramento. Thrills, Spills Galore coming soon. Not to mention lots of opinions.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Mark Twain’s Roughing It

I have always wanted to read this book, so when I saw a paperback copy of “Roughing it” at the SPCA used book sale, I coughed up the $1.75 and jumped in. It was wellworth the money. I recommend this book, however, you might want to overlook the chapters about Hawaii, which suck. The rest of the book is great.

I enjoyed the mildly self-effacing humor that runs through most of the book. I recommend this book for anyone interested in the old west or in mark Twain.

The story is told in an autobiographical manner, although I am sure plenty of what’s written fantasy. The story starts with Twain’s leaving St Joseph to act, for three months, as secretary for his brother, the appointed Secretary of the Nevada Territory. He stayed in the west for seven years. The book includes over seventy chapters, but can be divided into a few sections; the stagecoach trip, Brigham Young’s Mormon Kingdom, Nevada territory, California, Hawaii, and a brief and funny description of the genesis of Twain’s speaking career.

The book starts with a detailed account of the provisions Twain and his brother gathered for the trip, most of which they jettisoned in St Joseph, due to the limited luggage allowance for the stagecoach. The trip out west is a series of stories of the rogues and ruffians who made their lives in and around the stations stretched every 20 miles or so from St Joseph to Sacramento. These chapters introduce the underlying theme of the story, which is Twain’s reluctance to exert effort except when absolutely necessary and the failures he experiences whenever he tries to do anything. His unapologetic manner in these issues is what makes the book engaging.

Twain was amazed by the Mormon kingdom Brigham Young had established in America, and he was uncomfortable with the Mormon ways especially polygamy. I suspect he never dared set foot anywhere Deseret after this book was published. In an appendix he provides a damning account of the Mountain Meadows Massacre,where militias under the control of Joseph Smith committed a dastardly crime.

Life in Nevada and California is described as an unending string of almost becoming a millionaire, and then losing everything. I wonder if, when Twain wrote this in 1871, he had any premonition that this personal cycle of almost boom and total bust would haunt him throughout the rest of his life. The Nevada chapters include a lot of almost technical descriptions of mining techniques, which helped me understand some of the strange leftovers from 19th century prospecting I have seen while hiking in the Sierra foothills.

I will not speak of the chapters set in Hawaii, beyond saying that they sucked totally, and Twains revulsion and fascination with the what he viewed as the often nude and libertine of the natives . It’s hard to believe the same author wrote “Letters from the Earth” later in his life.

Overall, I found this to be a good read, although it tends to drag in some places. There are anecdotes that are simply too good to miss.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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I must enjoy shouting into a vacuum, but I think about getting my act together one of these days. My mom says I am very handsome and intelligent.

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