Allison's Reviews > Letters from the Earth

Letters from the Earth by Mark Twain
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I have a feeling I may be on philosophical existential pondering overload, so this review will be disjointed at best. At that, the book in question is a marvelously cynical bit of philosophical existential pondering -- and I say that in fondness, for I loved this book dearly. But I think when you love things like Letters from the Earth, you're honest with the tone. This is the book that most likely helped Twain gain his posthumous reputation as a depressive in white into his later-most years; after all, it has your classic idol-bashing, despaired railings against the human race, and existential musings that seem in keeping with many dreary philosophers of the early twentieth century.

But I think what I find fascinating about this book is that, along with the Kafka I've recently read and what little I know about one Herr F. Nietzsche, Letters from the Earth could be seen and interpreted as yet another step into the beginnings of a thought process and attitude that I (perhaps naively and foolishly) perceive as contemporary. What I enjoyed about Twain prior to this point was that he wrote in such a way as to illuminate the past in such a way that I was able to contextualize historical events in a humorous -- and human -- manner. With Letters of the Earth, however, and (ugh, forgive the echoing of a previous review) Twain reads as if he'd stepped out of last week to tell me things that I was worried about or otherwise already thought. It's unfortunate that I've the tendency to attempt to describe this Twain with all those disgustingly trite soundbites about relevancy and edginess, least of which being that skepticism -- and not necessarily about the God-skepticism, but the human condition skepticism -- is our cultural climate's bread and butter for at least 50% of the United States at any given time. This is a man who's pushing the progressive nature that's peeking through Following the Equator into a place so wild that his surviving daughter didn't allow Letters of the Earth published until 1960. You know, in case you got the wrong idea about her daddy and stuff.

Although I would say the majority of this book is written with skeptics in mind, there's also a super-crazy (and super-awesome!) short story that concludes the book that very much has a fantasy dreamworld slant that Jules Verne and steampunks alike would envy. Come to think of it, the book is somewhat divided in two: one, the religious dissent; two, the bits and bobs of Twain's later works that never really made it to print beyond that of Letters. I'm not entirely sure where I'm going here with this paragraph on the subject so much as voila, this is the truth.

(And on this terrible, terrible note, I leave you to the end of this terrible, terrible review. TL;DR: READS GOOD, MAN.)
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Reading Progress

07/06/2011 page 57
18.0% "Ugh, I love Old Twain so much."
07/13/2011 page 117
37.0% "A) Still love Old Twain, but wonder if I shouldn't be disappointed in myself that I adore him so much due to his cynicism. B) I appreciate that Bernard DeVoto is a troll. I love editor!trolls."
07/13/2011 page 137
43.0% ""A Cat-Tale" is the cutest thing I have ever read. :( (As an aside: what is it with me always ending on pages in 7?)"
07/13/2011 page 149
47.0% "Perhaps cruel, but "Cooper's Prose Style" is so inspiration that I wish to apply such an exercise onto that of Mary Shelley."
07/13/2011 page 211
66.0% "I've never been so disappointed as to learn that Twain's faux etiquette book never made it beyond this excerpt."
07/13/2011 page 235
73.0% "Oh dear, I think I know why I'm so fond of this book and it was that very chapter."

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