Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Life on the Mississippi - Mark Twain

I want to be a steamboat pilot. Or rather, I want to be a steamboat pilot every time I even look at the cover of this book. I want to stand inside the pilot room and grasp a wheel and be Lord (Lady??) of the river. I want to steer this grand, smelling of polished wood, gilt edged, all flags flying boat through the entire course of the river. And this river: I want to know it like Samuel Clemens a.k.a Mark Twain did.

That's what any good book, no, any spectacular book does to me: I immediately want to get into its pages and live it. And Life on the Mississippi was so spot on for me that after sixty chapters I was still sad that it had to end.

This is a loving memoir of the brilliant and jaw dropping relationship Mark Twain shared with the Mississippi river. Since it is non fiction, there isn't really anything to say in terms of a plot or a climax or characters.

All sixty chapters are reminiscent not just of his life on the river but of the river itself. With chapters that give you a small history lesson on the discovery of the Mississippi, its geopolitical importance, its influence on the people living along the thousands of miles of land through which it flows; life on a steamboat on the Mississippi, being a pilot and the enormous pressure, pleasure and responsibility that the job entails; the various experiences that go with it and to put it simply, the love affair one person has had with this river and his need to share it with the rest of the world - Mr.Twain just blows you away. And to think that this work preceded Huck Finn!

Among all the little nuggets of adventure, satire and insight there exists one precious extract from the then-in-progress Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Mark Twain tells you of this little store that he has been writing and that he thinks it should be done in a few years time; not knowing the place of importance this book would enjoy even after more than a century of his writing it.

Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi is long and delightfully so. With his trademark sarcasm and his disgust for anything ostentatious or pretentious, he gives you an honest account of exactly what the title says: his life on the Mississippi.

I can't recommend this book highly enough for anyone who loves the kind of refreshing writing Mark Twain provides. He leaves you pining for what he calls the "lost art of steamboat piloting" and almost hating (however foolishly) the advent of the railways.

6 comments:

Birdy said...

Wow this sounds like such a sweet book! I love sea adventures... I will look out for this :)

Suko said...

I never really thought of it that way, but you are right. When I read an exceptional book I also want to live in that book,to be there, to experience what the main character or characters are going through (and maybe change a few things). This book sounds magnificent.

Bikerguy said...

sounds like a nice read :)
and a lot of fun... well written review :)

Vaishnavi said...

Birdy - If you love sea adventures then you will love it, the book makes you long for a journey on that river.

Suka - Do read the book. It's special.

Avi - :)

Shelley (Book Clutter) said...

I love Mark Twain but I must admit I've never read his non-fiction. I love his style and commentary on life, so I think I would love this one.

Vaishnavi said...

Shelley - Hi and welcome here! If you love Mark Twain then you will definitely love this one. Thanks for commenting :)