Friday, April 30, 2010
Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society. - Mark Twain Of all the incredibly funny things he said, that is my single favorite Mark Twain quote. I smile every time I see it. April has been Mark Twain month. I've seen articles about his death 100 years ago this month. His love of baseball. He was an investor in the Hartford Dark Blues, a team that folded after one season. The local newspaper said his investment in the shaky enterprise had firmly established his reputation as a humorist. Ouch. There are an embarrassment of new books about Twain. Stories about the fabulous house, now a museum, he built in Hartford. Controversy over naming a cove on Lake Tahoe after him. And always the quotes. "I am only human," he said, "although I regret it." No less a writer than Ernest Hemingway said, "All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn..." One of the best new books is Mark Twain: Man in White by Michael Shelden. Shelden tells the story of Twain's last years as a celebrity and how he came to wear the snow white suits we now identify as part of his "brand." I have been reading the book and completely enjoying the story of a man of immense talent, big ego, huge humor and breathtaking originality. Shelden makes the case that Twain managed his own image as carefully as his prose. My friends at the Idaho Humanities Council are devoting their summer institute for Idaho teachers to Why Mark Twain Still Matters. Watch for more information on public events during the week-long event in July. Before Mark Twain there never was anything like him and there hasn't been since. He may have been the ultimate American original. Go read him again and read about him. You'll be better for it and, as Mom would say, "it will be good for you," but most of all it will be great fun. Much of what Mark Twain said more than a hundred years ago still seems relevant, like this which wasn't said, but might have been, about Washington, D.C. and Goldman Sachs. "The political and commercial morals of the United States are not merely food for laughter, they are an entire banquet." Oh, yes, Twain coined the term "Gilded Age" when talking about the economic excesses of the late 1800's. The guy has been dead for a century, but he's as fresh as this morning's headlines.