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How to Tell a Story and Other Essays

3.62  ·  Rating details ·  1,730 ratings  ·  88 reviews
"Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offences," the best-known and best-loved essay in this collection, is Mark Twain's how-to guide for the would-be author. A hilarious and cutting critique of what not to do, this deliciously wicked essay also lays out what writers should and must do if they want their fiction to live and breathe--as Twain's own fiction always does. In "How to ...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published December 5th 1996 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 1897)
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May 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Above all, this was entertaining and fun to read out loud. Mark Twain really has a knack for knowing how to make a story aurally sound good.
Jay Stevens
Feb 05, 2012 rated it it was ok
Rather abrupt changes with little to no flow between them, although the anecdotes themselves are fine. It wasn't quite what I was expecting; I had assumed the "other essays" mentioned were essays about writing, when in reality they were just whatever Twain had thought of at the moment, including his views on ESP.
This makes sense, however: at the time this was published, Twain was going completely bankrupt. He was churning out piece after piece to make ends meet, these essays among them. The
Chad Quintero
Feb 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Nice short essays that convey Mark Twain's belief on how to tell a humorous story, the American way. A quick and enjoyable read.
Feb 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Twain explains how to tell long, humorous tales.
May 01, 2019 rated it it was ok
The stories are fun. The literary criticism shows why bad romantic novels and biographies are, well, bad.
Drew Van Gorder
Dec 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A short book, but possibly one of the funniest I've ever read! I laughed nearly the whole way through, particularly at the story which Twain wrote concerning the Limburger cheese incident towards the end of the book. I'd recommend this one to anybody!
Sep 15, 2018 rated it liked it
cute or whatever.
Oct 08, 2013 rated it did not like it
Not at all what I was expecting. I suppose I took the title a little too literally. But even that first essay wasn't so much of an essay as a story. These arent essays, they are stories. There is no exposition of Twain's ideas about writing. This is not his version of Orwell's Politics and the English Language, or even his Why I Write. If I was looking for some Of Twains short stories then this might have better fit the bill - especially if the book were so renamed.
As a whole, this made for a nice time filler. Nothing blew me away but it had its charm.

There were some pleasant and unpleasant stories, mostly filled with Mark Twain's signature wit. I found the Golden Arm highly unpleasant, but otherwise I have no major complaints

I would recommend it for anyone looking to read some Twain..
Nick Rogers
Aug 26, 2018 rated it it was ok
I love Twain's humorous narrative style, but these essays and short stories are much ado about nothing, and quite frankly, boring. Nowhere near his best work.
Dec 10, 2019 rated it liked it
“How to tell a story”, is an essay in which Mark Twain, reveals that the differences between the humorous story and the comic or witty story lie primarily in the techniques used by their tellers.
The humorous story is American, the comic story is English, the witty story is French.
He says it's how the person tells the story that counts. The English and the French stories are quick and have a point. But the humorous story by Americans may wander off and expand and the key is knowing how to use
Awo Darkoa
Well-written yet disappointing

It's certainly well written in terms of language and technique.

However the perspective is very narrow and Twain makes a lot of sweeping assumptions, as demonstrated by his rather pompous and unfounded categorization of the comic, witty, and humorous stories as English, French and American, respectively.

Also, it was very short. From such a celebrated author and with such a promising title, I was expecting a lot more from this book.
Dec 21, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The flow of this collection of Essays - better, short stories - is such that I couldn't tell if they were written as one story or several. For the most part they kept my interest. The final stories is the best of the lot, IMHO. Anyway, it is always good to read a little Mark Twain!
Jun 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays
Terrific collection of Twain shorts

Kindle formatting only ok but not bothersome and no excess of typographical errors in the transcription. More wonderful stories by our greatest author.
Chattery Teeth
May 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Any Twain is a good thing

Such the public speaker Twain does a nice job discussing the art of the story. It isn’t enough to write a thesis on but I enjoyed his observations on story and comedy. This collection was free or cheap it think on Amazon- a deal at twice the price
Amber Taylor
Dec 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Mark Twain really does know how to tell a story.
Cat aka Booksnblabbers
Jan 02, 2018 rated it did not like it
Unfortunately I was bored throughout this book and had to DNF it. I love Mark Twains stories and this made me even more sad to have to DNF this book.
Nicolas Pujol
Oct 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very short read consumed while on summer break in the Canadian mountains. Twain's writing by itself is the lesson. The "how to tell" part was less straightforward, but it was worth it.
Eugene G. Benson Jr.
Mark Twain at his finest!!!

He is always a good read. It's just fun reading.
His way of phrasing things sets me to laughing hard.
Aug 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Has story about Limburg cheese
Feb 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was weird.

Several stories, unclear if true or not, in which Twain tries to teach the reader how to tell one. They're a bit strange, but entertaining.
Amy Estrada
Jan 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have never enjoyed a book so much! I laughed so hard I was crying!
Jan 25, 2019 rated it liked it
It had its moments.
Nathan Hersey
Nov 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Good, funny, and short.

I recommend this to anyone. Mark Twain has a gift of sounding smart, funny, and simple (because or the Missouri talk) all at the same time.
Jan 17, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: twain
short happy piece about writing, telling a story, and twain tells a few to finish it off. i enjoyed the expressions he used on the train. that was a hoot. short sweet and to the point.

thought of something...there's a few...sketches, that twain provides, to do w/...for lack of a better word, supernatural. i assume these are true...heh!....stories, as they have a ring of truth to them, those tings that happen, things that give you pause.

say, like he...whew...brain just crashed...send a damage
Mar 26, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: writing
How to Tell a Story and Other Essays by Mark Twain is a short, quirky, and informative book about the mechanics of comedy and humorous storytelling.

Twain was one of the masters at writing humorous stories, and in his book he expresses a view on differences between humor and comedy. On page one of the book, he states:

There are several kinds of stories, but only one difficult kind--the humorous. I will talk mainly about that one. The humorous story is American, the comic story is English, the
Steve Lovejoy
Oct 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
This little book from the Gutenberg Project has several fairly short, essays within an essay about how to properly tell a humorous story.
Mark Twain (AKA Samuel Clemens) became a popular writer with good reason. He writes well, handles dialects in a manner that is accurate and maintains the dignity of his characters.
There seem to be various editions of essays by Twain, all having the same title, the Gutenberg edition and the Oxford Edition are quite similar, approaching identity, with the
Jul 28, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle, storytelling
The essay that describes storytelling as an American art is spot on! I highlighted several passages in it.

Twain did an excellent job of describing the difference between American and European stories and the preference for the American.

"The humorous story is told gravely; the teller does his best to conceal the fact that he even dimly suspects that there is anything funny about it."

I love that! Indeed, that is storytelling to me.

Twain then illustrates the European comic story in "The Wounded
Dave Hanna
May 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
If you aren't a fan of Twain, you probably won't enjoy this small collection of essays, which run the gamut from instruction to metaphysics to very dry humor. But if you relish seeing how a good story develops, seemingly without effort and on its own, you will like this grouping. Language aficionados will appreciate the vocabulary and syntax employed by Twain, but readers who focus on modern writing may find it a bit taxing. (Also, many of the names Twain drops will send a good many scurrying to ...more
Apr 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An interesting collection of stories and essays by Mark Twain, totally unconnected these little vignettes tells of his adventures and travels. Most of all I enjoyed the story he told of The wounded soldier and the death of his friend when he accompanied his remains on a train.
Witty and enjoyable, its a refreshing and light hearted look at what Twain got upto, although short he packed a lot into this little volume of his experiences.
Well worth a read especially if you are a fan of the author in
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Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American author and humorist. He is noted for his novels Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), called "the Great American Novel", and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876).

Twain grew up in Hannibal, Missouri, which would later provide the setting for Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. He apprenticed with a printer. He also
“The humorous story is told gravely; the teller does his best to conceal the fact that he even dimly suspects that there is anything funny about it.” 11 likes
“Here the narrator bursts into explosion after explosion of thunderous horse-laughter, repeating that nub from time to time through his gaspings and shriekings and suffocatings.” 1 likes
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