Friday, March 12, 2010
Listening to Mark Twain travelogues while travelling
When my husband and I travel we enjoy listening to books on tape. Two of my favorites have been travelogues by an author I love, Mark Twain. Two years ago on a trip to Texas we listened to Life on the Mississippi. Passing through Memphis, we decided to stop at Mud Island which has a model of the mighty Mississip. Only one problem. It was January and the park didn't open until Spring. We passed through Memphis again today on our way home from Texas and tried again -- two weeks too early. The island doesn't open until April 12. A big sigh of disappointment again. But perhaps we'll plan a visit sometime when it's sure to be open and refresh our memories by listening again to Twain's adventure as a riverboat pilot with all the colorful descriptions of the river and the many interesting characters who populated his river world.
We are coming to the final leg of another Texas trip (we make them once or twice a year because we have two children in Texas, in Houston and Austin). On this visit we've been listening to Roughing It, Twain's description of his seven years in the wild west. He started out as an unpaid secretary to his brother who was secretary to the Governor of the Nevada territory, but his further adventures took him to the silver mines and a series of disappointing excavations along with some near-death adventures. Then he was offered a job as a reporter which probably began his literary career. The book begins with the journey form St. Louis, MO up river to St. Joseph and from their by stagecoach on the nearly three-week trip to Nevada. The stage changed teams every ten miles at stations along the way and took 19 days to make the trip. We cover in a few hours what took those travellers days. But, oh how much we miss as we hurry through the world.
To hear Twain describe the jackass rabbit, the coyote, the sage grass, the coach driver and his assistant (called the conductor), Lake Tahoe, Virginia City, etc. is entertaining and fascinating. I think Mark Twain could make ai riveting story out of buttoning up his coat. He did at one point describe a desperado who had it in for a man and bragged that he could take out the third button on his jacket from a distance. He did and dispatched his victim at the same time. Twain shares many stories of the rough life of the 19th century west. And the only boring part of the tale is his several chapters reading excerpts from the Book of Mormon which he debunks as a shameless theft from the Bible with many repetitions of "It came to pass" and other phrases added to make it sound archaic. His imaginative conversation with Brigham Young complaining about his large family with wives (identified by number) who all want a stick pin because he gave one to number six, is hilarious.
So if you are off on a trip and looking for an enjoyable companion take along Mark Twain. I guarantee the miles go faster with such a passenger.