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Life on the Mississippi
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Archive 2018 Group Reads > 2018 September Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain

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message 1: by Lesle, Appalachain Bibliophile (last edited Aug 31, 2018 11:14AM) (new) - added it

Lesle | 6296 comments Mod
Life on the Mississippi (1883) is a memoir by Mark Twain of his days as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River before the American Civil War, and also a travel book, recounting his trip along the Mississippi River from St. Louis to New Orleans many years after the War.
The book begins with a brief history of the river as reported by Europeans and Americans, beginning with the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in 1542.[2] It continues with anecdotes of Twain's training as a steamboat pilot, as the 'cub' (apprentice) of an experienced pilot, Horace E. Bixby. He describes, with great affection, the science of navigating the ever-changing Mississippi River.
In the second half, Twain narrates his trip many years later on a steamboat from St. Louis to New Orleans. He describes the competition from railroads, and the new, large cities, and adds his observations on greed, gullibility, tragedy, and bad architecture. He also tells some stories that are most likely tall tales. 384 pages


Rachana | 41 comments Come September♪
And I am ready to read my kindle format of the book "Life on the Mississippi" by Mark Twain. I like reading the travel accounts and the ones related with the waterways are specially interesting. Happy reading to all.


message 3: by Sydney (new)

Sydney (slknutsen) A little river history: I live/grew up in Illinois about 15 minutes from the shores of the Mississippi near St. Louis. My home is located on top of river bluffs where the river once flowed, eons ago, before it changed course during one of its life stages--the old stage of meandering. During that time of transition to another stage, it changed course and left behind oxbow lakes in the area, which is also responsible for the rich black gumbo soil, making it some of the most highly valued farmland in the nation.

Twain's life as a riverboat pilot is fascinating. In their heyday, steamboats dominated this river and their remains can still be found here and there in the area. They were simply abandoned.
The confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers is nearby where Lewis and Clark once explored. All this to say, what a history this river has!


message 4: by Rosemarie, Northern Roaming Scholar (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rosemarie | 8955 comments Mod
My library copy is on the way. I hope it comes to our local branch soon.


message 5: by Samantha, Cajun Literary Belle (new) - rated it 4 stars

Samantha Matherne (cajunliterarybelle) | 2478 comments Mod
A bit more river history: The "Mighty Mississippi", as the river is often called, helped to build more land than modern people can imagine along its pathway to the Gulf of Mexico, and out of its soil deposits came the fertile soil that early settlers and farmers throughout history coveted, as Sydney mentioned. Much of Louisiana's coastline was created by the sediment from the Mississippi River. The levees and other control structures have actually kept the river from rebuilding Louisiana's coast; thus, our own efforts to save the people from floods help to contribute to coastal erosion. Most of my state's history revolves in one way or another around "the river, the river, the river", like one of my college professors always said. Although great for farming and trading, the river has also been an enemy of the people, most notably during the Great Flood of 1927.

https://www.knowlouisiana.org/entry/g...

The levees were not strong enough, and simply put, levees alone cannot control the "Mighty Mississippi". That flood was a natural disaster like the country had never seen before. We have had other floods of the Mississippi, even within the past decade, but I do not believe the loss of life nor economic effects have been as detrimental as that particular flood. (Correct me, if I am wrong.) The biggest mistake of 1927 was using dynamite to blow the levees south of New Orleans in an attempt to alleviate the pressure of the river and save the city... an action that later proved unnecessary but still cost the livelihoods of thousands.

Today in Louisiana we have more than just restructured levees. We also have the Morganza Spillway (about 50 miles northwest of Baton Rouge) in Pointe Coupee Parish and the Bonnet Carré Spillway in St. Charles Parish just a bit northwest of New Orleans. When flooding becomes imminent, one or both of those spillways are opened. The last opening of the Morganza - 2011. Bonnet Carré - 2011, 2016, and spring of 2018. When the northern USA worries about continuous snowstorms, those who live along the Mississippi worry about the snowmelt and definite rains coming downriver.

Hope that was a least a little interesting. I'll start my copy of the book tomorrow. I think I volunteered to at least partially lead this discussion, so here goes! I hope we all enjoy our journey down the Mississippi River with Twain!


message 6: by Sydney (new)

Sydney (slknutsen) FYI there's a nice documentary on the life of Samuel Clemens on PBS.


message 7: by Samantha, Cajun Literary Belle (new) - rated it 4 stars

Samantha Matherne (cajunliterarybelle) | 2478 comments Mod
Is this the documentary that you refer to, Sydney?

https://www.pbs.org/video/mark-twain-...


message 8: by Sydney (new)

Sydney (slknutsen) That's the one. Thanks for posting the link. I'm about an hour into it. Enjoying.


message 9: by Samantha, Cajun Literary Belle (new) - rated it 4 stars

Samantha Matherne (cajunliterarybelle) | 2478 comments Mod
I may wait til tomorrow to watch it, but PBS does great documentaries. Please tell us how you like it!


message 10: by Lesle, Appalachain Bibliophile (new) - added it

Lesle | 6296 comments Mod
Thank you Sydney and Samantha for the history, very interesting the way the River dominates that area.

Samantha happy to have you guide us through this read.


message 11: by Sydney (new)

Sydney (slknutsen) Samantha wrote: "A bit more river history: The "Mighty Mississippi", as the river is often called, helped to build more land than modern people can imagine along its pathway to the Gulf of Mexico, and out of its so..."

What a recovery process, down Louisiana way, that continues! The rest of the nation gets periodic updates, but there's nothing like an eyewitness account. Thank you, Samantha. The mighty Mississip exerts itself rountinely over time! (with a little help from hurricanes)


message 12: by Samantha, Cajun Literary Belle (new) - rated it 4 stars

Samantha Matherne (cajunliterarybelle) | 2478 comments Mod
The unspoken truth of the most effective way to rebuild Louisiana's coastline is to blow the levees at a certain point downriver and allow the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers to take their own courses to the Gulf of Mexico. Sediment would create land as it did for centuries before the Europeans settled here... but alas, that option is not viable due to the extreme loss of homes, businesses, etc. Over time, however, more of the Mississippi will flow into the Atchafalaya but with a controlled flow operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. I wonder what someone like Twain would think of our desperate attempts to control the river...


message 13: by Samantha, Cajun Literary Belle (new) - rated it 4 stars

Samantha Matherne (cajunliterarybelle) | 2478 comments Mod
For those readers who have a tough time pushing through books with long chapters, the chapters in this book a relatively short.


Trisha | 996 comments This background information is a good way to introduce the book - thank you. I have a copy already & aim to start reading it some day soon.


message 15: by Samantha, Cajun Literary Belle (new) - rated it 4 stars

Samantha Matherne (cajunliterarybelle) | 2478 comments Mod
Trisha, I’m still in chapter one, as I started late last night, but Twain discusses the river’s history within the first 3 chapters. He paints a picture to allow the reader to understand the importance of the river in shaping the country and its significance in history. I forget if it was in a review or the introduction in my edition, but someone wrote that his narrative makes you feel like you are right there in the muddy waters.


Kathy | 1374 comments I'll be joining in but am finishing up other books.


message 17: by Sydney (new)

Sydney (slknutsen) Samantha wrote: "The unspoken truth of the most effective way to rebuild Louisiana's coastline is to blow the levees at a certain point downriver and allow the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers to take their own c..."

He had a great respect and love for the Mississippi. Bet it would interest him greatly.


message 18: by Samantha, Cajun Literary Belle (new) - rated it 4 stars

Samantha Matherne (cajunliterarybelle) | 2478 comments Mod
Sydney wrote: "Samantha wrote: "The unspoken truth of the most effective way to rebuild Louisiana's coastline is to blow the levees at a certain point downriver and allow the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers to..."

Sydney, I wouldn’t be surprised if he would write a satire depicting our attempt at control of the river resulting in the downfall of all those who live along its banks.


message 19: by Sydney (last edited Sep 03, 2018 12:52PM) (new)

Sydney (slknutsen) Lol. Just finished that documentary on PBS. Really enjoyed it. Gave insight and literary comment into his books, essays, etc. I hadn't realized how Huck Finn was so groundbreaking for it's time and, apparently, according to this docu., put American literature on the map.

I had the unique experience of reading aloud parts of Huck Finn to a classroom of English eighth form-ers at my daughter's school in Aylesbury. I filled in historical events as I went along. Hard enough for American kids to read and relate to! Couldn't believe they were studying it in the UK.


message 20: by Samantha, Cajun Literary Belle (new) - rated it 4 stars

Samantha Matherne (cajunliterarybelle) | 2478 comments Mod
I read Huck Finn 3x for school. 11th grade junior year of high school. Early American lit in college, lower-level literature class. When I took a later American lit class at the upper level, that professor said I should not have studied Twain in early American lit, as the timing is not right. His class was the 3rd time I read it… or rather, by that point I just underlined the important bits that we discussed and skimmed through it. Sad part was I must’ve donated my first two copies, thinking I’d never have to deal with Huck Finn again. I ended up buying the book all 3 times. I kept the 3rd copy.

I should check out that documentary. It sounds really good to watch in conjunction with this book. Thanks for the input and idea, Sydney!


Michael | 28 comments I first read my dad's copy of Life on the Mississippi during a two week summer road trip when I was around 12. I loved the book back then and I've just started my reread to see what I think of it almost 50 years later.


message 22: by Catherine (new)

Catherine Habbie Nothing like finding lost treasures again.


message 23: by Lesle, Appalachain Bibliophile (new) - added it

Lesle | 6296 comments Mod
Sydney I think I might check out the PBS doc too! Thank you


message 24: by Sydney (new)

Sydney (slknutsen) Samantha wrote: "I read Huck Finn 3x for school. 11th grade junior year of high school. Early American lit in college, lower-level literature class. When I took a later American lit class at the upper level, that p..."

I think you'd find it supportive.


message 25: by Sydney (new)

Sydney (slknutsen) Here's a kicker. When my husband retired, he and my daughter started at the headwaters of the Mississippi and kayaked all the way to the delta. That's where I picked them up! What an adventure they had!


message 26: by Catherine (new)

Catherine Habbie That is an amazing adventure indeed!


message 27: by Sydney (last edited Sep 03, 2018 01:10PM) (new)

Sydney (slknutsen) Indeed, it was. Perseverance required. Memories to last a lifetime.


message 28: by Samantha, Cajun Literary Belle (new) - rated it 4 stars

Samantha Matherne (cajunliterarybelle) | 2478 comments Mod
That sounds like a great time. I can only imagine the fun they and the things they saw. US Highway 61, locally known as Airline Highway, runs from southerners Louisiana up to Minnesota. Not the river, but I feel that’d be an interesting road trip. The highway follows the river in a sense.


message 29: by Sydney (new)

Sydney (slknutsen) Bet it would be an interesting journey! I didn't know about US 61.

They met a lot of kind and friendly people with generous spirits along the way who offered hospitality and assistance. There were a lot of locks to portage, I understand, too. Also there were a few others doing the same thing in various vessels. No wooden rafts, I'm happy to say, as it can also be a dangerous river.


message 30: by Samantha, Cajun Literary Belle (new) - rated it 4 stars

Samantha Matherne (cajunliterarybelle) | 2478 comments Mod
I did not realize that traveling down the waters of the Mississippi is still so popular. I’ve been on boats on nearby rivers, but I don’t think I’m cut out for the Mississippi.

Although route 66 is perhaps the most well-known US Highway to travel down for a road trip, US Highway 61 has a very interesting route. The place where Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul for the blues is found along 61 in Mississippi. Once upon a time the highway ran right up to Canada; technically, the path can still be taken but is on different names roads or interstates. It is called Airline Highway locally due to its proximity to and near connection of both the Baton Rouge airport and the New Orleans airport in Kenner.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/U.S._...

https://www.usends.com/61.html


message 31: by Samantha, Cajun Literary Belle (new) - rated it 4 stars

Samantha Matherne (cajunliterarybelle) | 2478 comments Mod
Within just the first two chapters is Twain’s signature satirical writing, likely familiar to any who have read some of his work. Watch for examples in his description of the river’s history.


Kathy | 1374 comments I've just started the book and am through Chapter 2. All the discussion above is very enlightening.

I caught the last episode of the PBS Twain documentary last evening. Twain had so much heartache in his last years.


message 33: by Samantha, Cajun Literary Belle (last edited Sep 05, 2018 05:35PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Samantha Matherne (cajunliterarybelle) | 2478 comments Mod
Heads-up for anyone who would like to check out that Mark Twain documentary Sydney clued us into on PBS. I'm not sure if the date would be different based on your location (local PBS access) or not, but when I just returned to the site to finish watching episode one, I noticed that online access to video of episode one expires on 11 Sept. That is next week on Tuesday. Episode two says it expires 19 Sept., the following Wednesday.

The link again, for those interested:
Episode one: https://www.pbs.org/video/mark-twain-...
Episode two: https://www.pbs.org/video/mark-twain-...


message 34: by Lesle, Appalachain Bibliophile (last edited Sep 07, 2018 04:57AM) (new) - added it

Lesle | 6296 comments Mod
I really learned a vast amount of information about Twain from the first episode.
Plan on watching the second soon.


message 35: by Samantha, Cajun Literary Belle (new) - rated it 4 stars

Samantha Matherne (cajunliterarybelle) | 2478 comments Mod
Lesle, I was quite surprised at all I learned surrounding his time on the Mississippi River and the inspiration he took from that for various works. Considering my 3x reading Huck Finn in school, I feel like someone should have taught me at least where he got the ideas for the title characters of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn from.


message 36: by Sydney (new)

Sydney (slknutsen) Nor have I watched episode 2 yet (which I will). Thanks for letting us know the expiry on that, Samantha. PBS does a pretty good job on these things.


message 37: by Samantha, Cajun Literary Belle (new) - rated it 4 stars

Samantha Matherne (cajunliterarybelle) | 2478 comments Mod
I’m beginning chapter 15, “The Pilot’s Monopoly”. I knew the river changes a lot as trees fall, water rises and falls, etc., but I never imagined the river changing as often and in so many ways as Twain describes. Today we have many more lights and landmarks along the river for those who travel it to know the way, and still I cannot imagine the uncertainties in piloting it. I have not been on the Mississippi in my life, but one day I would love to take a riverboat cruise down part of it. For those interested:

https://www.americancruiselines.com/c...


message 38: by Samantha, Cajun Literary Belle (new) - rated it 4 stars

Samantha Matherne (cajunliterarybelle) | 2478 comments Mod
The classic steamboat “The Delta Queen” is pictured on the cover of the 2009 edition by Signet Classics. “America’s last authentic overnight steamboat”… this particular steamboat was not traveling the Mississippi River simultaneously with Mark Twain’s adventures on the river but has been around since 1927. Currently, from my understanding and very brief research, it is not traveling the river but docked in Chattanooga, TN. To learn more of its history, accommodations, and take a virtual tour(!), go here:

http://deltaqueen.com/


message 39: by Rosemarie, Northern Roaming Scholar (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rosemarie | 8955 comments Mod
I have read 8 chapters so far and have come to realize that a river pilot had to have a fantastic memory.


message 40: by Samantha, Cajun Literary Belle (new) - rated it 4 stars

Samantha Matherne (cajunliterarybelle) | 2478 comments Mod
Rosemarie, I do not know how those pilots did it. I’ve lived in mostly the same place my whole life, and I still get hazy on where some businesses are on the main highways. Businesses that have been there for years, some for decades. The steamboat pilots of yore had amazing cognitive skills. I wonder what sort of jobs they would have in modern times.


Kathy | 1374 comments It is amazing the memory the river pilots must have had. I'm through chapter 14 and have enjoyed Twain's picture of the river pilot as the only truly independent man.


message 42: by Rosemarie, Northern Roaming Scholar (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rosemarie | 8955 comments Mod
As I am reading this, I get a much better understanding of Huck and Jim's adventures on the raft.


Trisha | 996 comments I started reading this today. I loved the way it introduced the area by comparing the size with parts of Europe - it’s amazing that the Mississippi is so huge.


message 44: by Samantha, Cajun Literary Belle (new) - rated it 4 stars

Samantha Matherne (cajunliterarybelle) | 2478 comments Mod
Trisha, until/unless you see the Mississippi River in person, its vastness is simply unimaginable. I’ve seen it plenty of times, having ridden over various bridges, watching Baton Rouge’s fireworks over the Mississippi, and visiting different places such as museums, the USS Kidd, New Orleans Riverwalk, etc. along its banks. Even passing over it or visiting sites alongside it still does not give most of us a good idea of how wide and deep it flows. I would venture to say that the “mighty Mississippi” is one of America’s natural marvels.


message 45: by Samantha, Cajun Literary Belle (new) - rated it 4 stars

Samantha Matherne (cajunliterarybelle) | 2478 comments Mod
The bureaucracy that the pilots and captains created by the time the Civil War started was intricate, insane, and I have to wonder about corruption being involved. I’ve studied the Industrial Revolution and the beginnings of unions, but Twain really explains how these particular factions of unions affected so many people who depended on steamboats.


Trisha | 996 comments Samantha wrote: "Trisha, until/unless you see the Mississippi River in person, its vastness is simply unimaginable. I’ve seen it plenty of times, having ridden over various bridges, watching Baton Rouge’s fireworks..."

It must be wonderful! I’m enjoying reading the discussions here, with the local knowledge being shared. The book is clever & very descriptive, though I’m finding parts of it repetitive & less interesting than I’d hoped.


message 47: by Samantha, Cajun Literary Belle (new) - rated it 4 stars

Samantha Matherne (cajunliterarybelle) | 2478 comments Mod
I, too, have found some parts to be a little redundant, but once I get past those, the narrative and intricacies of steamboat piloting and working on the river get very interesting again. Twain was very passionate about the river, and I believe that’s why he ventured to leave nothing out.


Trisha | 996 comments Samantha wrote: "I, too, have found some parts to be a little redundant, but once I get past those, the narrative and intricacies of steamboat piloting and working on the river get very interesting again. Twain was..."

I agree, he was very enthusiastic. It was a pity that his passion for the area didn’t allow him to be more selective while writing about a fascinating place. I finished reading it today.


message 49: by Samantha, Cajun Literary Belle (new) - rated it 4 stars

Samantha Matherne (cajunliterarybelle) | 2478 comments Mod
Wow, you read it very quickly. Congrats on finishing already!!


message 50: by Rosemarie, Northern Roaming Scholar (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rosemarie | 8955 comments Mod
I have just finished chapter 21, which deals with his new careers following his time as a pilot. He was a busy man.


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