Oct 21, 09
Read in October, 2009
I read Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of, when I was a boy; more accurately, my dad read them to me and my sister Jessie in nightly installments. My dad read these from a giant book, the illustrated works of Twain, while Jessie and I sat at his feet. I would later peruse the book, reading a chapter here and there, but mostly enjoying the old-timey illustrations. My best childhood friend was somehow related to Samuel Clemens and looked up to him as an idol (he still does). On a trip to St. Louis, my family stopped in Hannibal to see Clemens' boyhood home.
I bring this all up because reading Twain again after 20 years was an exercise in nostalgia, and nostalgia is infused in every page of Life on the Mississippi. The book is roughly divided into two parts--the first is a colorful description of Twain's time training to be a steamboat pilot, while the second half is a sort of travelogue of Twain's return to the river, many years later, in which he rides a steamboat from St. Louis to New Orleans and back up the river to Minneapolis. The amount of detail is impressive, and all warmly rendered. At times it feels as though he is describing every twig in the river, but that is his point--he knows the river that well. The man clearly loves the Mississippi, and I gained a much better sense of its natural and human history through this quirky book.