A friend over at Things I Love and Hate wrote a great post on overlooked works and in it mentioned how people read Tom Sawyer and think they know Mark Twain. Most people are at least familiar with his “major” works (e.g. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court), but there is so much that he wrote that goes unnoticed. Twain is one of my favorite authors, and I can’t believe people don’t read more of his works
And so, here is a list for the philistines among us: Mark Twain You Need to Read.
– The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson
This is the story of a young lawyer named Wilson that comes into a small town. On his arrival, he is waiting at the train station and he is annoyed by a dog that will not stop barking. He comments jokingly to a man nearby “I wish I owned half of that dog.” When asked why he responded, “Because I would kill my half.” The man took him as being serious, and decided that Wilson was a pudd’nhead. The name stuck.
Twain uses the novel to explore the issue of slavery, a well as stereotypes and small town politics.
– Mark Twain’s West
This book is classified as non-fiction, but for Twain, that is a fairly loose category. It would be hard to read this book and boil it down to the real events in Twain’s life. I don’t know why anyone would want to. It is a chance to see the West through his eyes, through the filter of his memory. Twain was a great storyteller, and with this book, he turns his creative talents on his own life. I won’t fault him if the truth is a bit “expanded.”
– Fenimoore Cooper’s Literary Offenses
This is actually an one essay in a collection, but it is good enough to stand on its own. Twain dissects Cooper’s classic The Last of the Mohicans and blasts the author in a distinctly Twainian (new word) way. This is incredibly funny, even for those not familiar with Cooper’s novel.
– The Diaries of Adam and Eve
With this, Twain puts his spin on the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden. It’s one of the few things written about the differences between men and women that doesn’t completely annoy me. This was not, according to Twain, a story he had written, but instead, a translation of the couple’s lost diaries. Here’s his note at the beginning of the text:
I translated a portion of this diary some years ago, and a friend of mine printed a few copies in an incomplete form, but the public never got them. Since then I have deciphered some more of Adam’s hieroglyphics, and think he has now become sufficiently important as a public character to justify this publication.
I’m sure he even wrote that with a straight face.
– Alonzo Fitz and other Stories
In my opinion, this collection features some of his best short stories. The Great Revolution in Pitcairn and Punch, Brothers, Punch are two of the funniest stories ever written. All throughout his stories, Twain’s narrator presents everything in a completely deadpan voice, making it all the funnier.
There’s a lot more, but that will do for now. Check out at least one of these; I know you won’t be disappointed.