Tag Archives: Mark Twain

The second leaflet

And then I found myself searching the floor plan of the Stephen A Schwarzman Building for the Mark Twain Room. When I didn’t find it, I looked again at the second library leaflet the Resident IT Consultant brought.

Ah, Mark Twain’s room would be in Buffalo. Obviously. I’m no Twain expert, but I gather he had important, if brief, ties to Buffalo.

He gave them half the manuscript of Huckleberry Finn, having lost the other half. The remaining pages were discovered in a trunk in California a hundred years later, the way things always are.

I’m neither interested nor not interested in lost manuscripts, or in Huck Finn, but it makes for fascinating reading anyway.

I began wondering what I’d think of Tom Sawyer or Huck if I were to reread them now. Are they still my kind of book, or was that mainly when I was very young, and had rather fewer books to read?

When I was eleven, I was given a prize at school, which was The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, in English. It was presumably because I was good at English, and it was this that was being rewarded. But I was never good enough to read Mark Twain in the original. I often thought I’d try, but never did. Besides, I’d already read the story in translation.

Which in itself helps determine at what age one used to read classics before Harry Potter. I’d not put Huckleberry Finn into the hands of a pre-eleven child today. Whether that’s wrong of me I have no idea.


The Nights Before Christmas

This gorgeous, large volume of collected Christmas classics, illustrated by Tony Ross, contains 24 stories, poems and extracts from wellknown books. As anyone can work out from that – apart from me, initially – you have one thing to read for every night through December. In other words; the best kind of advent calendar.

Tony Ross, The Nights Before Christmas

There’s material you will already know, and hopefully brand new reads as well. I used to read The Little Match-Seller over and over as a child. It’s so very sad. And then there are things I didn’t know at all, like the fact that Christina Rossetti wrote In the Bleak Midwinter. That was a revelation.

You get extracts from Little Women and A Christmas Carol, and there are many tales about Christmas trees in various forms, and shoemakers seem to be big, too. The Bible and the hymn book both feature, as do Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain.

I believe I always say this about anthologies and collections, but I do hope it will lead today’s children to investigate some of the classics. There is more to Christmas than farting santas. This is a beautiful book, suitably ‘modernised’ by Tony’s pictures.

Next year I will begin reading on December 1st and I will enjoy every step of the way.

Some travelling thoughts

It’s travel time again. A quick dash north, and an equally quick one back. Or I hope it will be. I suppose I have jinxed the trains by saying/thinking this.

My bag isn’t full of things this time, so much as simply being a bag. OK, there are a couple of new reads for Daughter; Eleanor Updale and Marie-Louise Jensen. But I am primarily bringing the bag that ‘someone’ was unable to take last time. I’m the bag lady.

But you know, back in my childhood, who’d have thought you’d be able to sit looking at a small machine on your desk or kitchen table, checking if your train is running to time? (Or running at all.) On the other hand, back then who’d have thought there would be a need to? Trains ran. Often on time.

And, isn’t it slightly weird that I can slip the complete works of Sir Walter Scott and Rudyard Kipling, as well as the King James Bible into my pocket? The trains might run late, or encounter the wrong kind of snow, but that’s a lot of reading in one pocket. Trollope, Twain, Wilde. And so much else. (Don’t worry; I won’t Kiple or Scott too much. I’ve got other books I need to read. Even one ‘real’ book.)

I was excited to see that Sophie Hannah is doing an event in Dundee this evening. I’ll be close, but not close enough. After her event I’ll be freezing on the platform at Dundee, while she is no doubt warm in a hotel somewhere.

Too far away for Barry Hutchison’s launch of The Book of Doom in Aberdeen. Also tonight. It feels funny to be closer than usual, but still too far away. Maybe I should move to Scotland? There are things going on here.

Train to Scotland

(Decided I was allowed to borrow this photo, on account of bag lady duties, and the fact that the bag contains Lent buns, even if they are late Lent buns.)

Do pseudonyms have feelings?

Do they? Well, why wouldn’t they? They are most likely human beings like the rest of us, only using a name that isn’t the one they were born to. We know two names for a lot of writers, like Sam Clemens and Mark Twain. Sometimes a pseudonym is not a secret even at the time of writing, and sometimes ‘the truth’ becomes known later.

Some authors use different names for different ‘products.’ In fact, the book I am currently reading is by a pseudonym. I have difficulty remembering this name, because I once met the author under his real name, and that’s what he used to email me.

Michael Grant decided to use a pseudonym for his children’s books, because he had already done things under his real name, that he felt didn’t go well with young readers. But it’s no state secret that he is Michael Reynolds. (If he is. Maybe that one is another fake…)

Would you expect all pseudonyms to be kept off longlists and shortlists for book awards? Probably not. In fact, having someone you don’t know who they might be on your prize shortlist, could be quite exciting. What if he/she wins? Would they come to the ceremony?

They might. But it’s hard to come if you haven’t been invited. And you weren’t invited because you’re a pseudonym (and they practically don’t exist). It wasn’t that the organisers couldn’t find a way to contact you. (I presume publishers might have an inkling.) They just didn’t try.

It would have been possible, though. Because you only found out you’d been shortlisted when a young fan emailed you about it. Now, how did the fan manage that then? Even pseudonyms have websites and stuff, and ‘contact me’ forms, like ‘real’ people do.

So, it’s just like the birthday party when everyone in your class has been invited, except you. If you’re a novel-writing pseudonym you are most likely an adult and you could contact the organisers and inquire about the when and the where as regards the prize ceremony. Except they don’t have any contact details anywhere. (Not entirely true. I know they are on facebook. But not everyone is.)

I wasn’t able to go to the event either, but the one thing that would have made me really keen to go would have been to meet this pseudonym in the flesh.

The story could have ended there, but by strange coincidence this pseudonym knows someone I know, and discussed it with them. (Let’s call them X and Y.) Funnily enough, Y had also once missed out on this book award, even without being a psedonym. So as well as commiserating with X, Y contacted me, and I in turn emailed X to discuss this further.

X had contemplated travelling to the town where the prize was awarded, to hang out near the venue to see what might happen, but decided against it, sensing it would only hurt to stand outside, wishing you were in there with the others.

I’d say pseudonyms have feelings. And whereas I still don’t know X’s real name, I know X was willing to stand up in public and admit to being X. If only because of the fans who were looking forward to meeting the person who wrote the book they liked so much.

That’s a lot of disappointment for the sake of one measly misunderstanding over a name. Or two names.

The Case of the Good-Looking Corpse

I reckon Caroline Lawrence’s second Western Mystery may well be better even than her first P K Pinkerton case. I enjoyed myself tremendously from the start. It could simply be that I like returning to something I know, but it could also be that now Caroline has warmed up, there will be no stopping her murderous path through Virginia City.

The Case of the Good-Looking Corpse begins mere hours after the first case for Pinky ended, leaving at least the reader out of breath, and I suspect poor P K as well. Because getting out of that first very tight corner, has not prevented him/her from getting into another equally tight place. And as before, our private eye is writing down everything that has happened, in order to convince the law that the detective isn’t the bad guy.

Someone else is. And it turns out P K’s new hobby will help narrow down the suspects. And this time Pinky has friends to help, although Sam Clemens (aka the future Mark Twain) isn’t always as helpful as you’d want him to be. There is also the constant danger of Pinky getting kissed.

A former Soiled Dove has been murdered and her servant girl wants the killer found before he finds her as well. She gives Pinky a description of the murderer, but Virginia City appears to be full of men looking just like that. It takes all P K’s skills at reading people’s behaviour (mainly their feet) to work out who did it.

P K’s Thorn (Asperger Syndrome) keeps getting in the way, but as with many great detectives it will ultimately be of help to him/her. (I know I keep writing him/her. I feel we are getting much closer to knowing whether or not P K is a boy or a girl.)

I love the Western feel to these stories! And I love the fact that 45 years after I saw myself as a Western character, I now have a child character in the Wild West to read about. (I always fancied being an Indian, too.)

Besides, who wouldn’t want to live on their own and decide where and when to eat breakfast, even when you’re just twelve? Especially when you are twelve, I meant.

How old is old?

One correspondent I’ve found through this blog told me just the other day that her 14-year-old doesn’t read old books. The old/new boundary is currently set at 2005, so ‘not old’ means that fairly recent books will fail the age test.

And here I thought I was a failure for not persuading Offspring to read old-ish stuff more than once in a blue lagoon. Being old-ish (very -ish in fact) myself I find there is nothing strange about books not written yesterday or not featuring mobile phones. Or even relatively vampire free.

As we oldies keep saying; back in the olden days we had fairly few new books and it was natural to read old ones. In fact, I’d take that a step further and say that I actively preferred historical books, and in those days historical seemed to mean they were written in historical times, rather than just set a few hundred years ago.

OK, Dumas wrote about his musketeers long after the period when the story was set, but they were still pretty ancient. Ivanhoe and Oliver Twist and Tom Sawyer (to pick some childhood classics that come to mind) were all written long ago, even then.

I think I felt them to be more real. I know I did crave a book that would mention modern things occasionally, and was really happy when a Danish ‘current’ novel mentioned the Hep Stars. But with hindsight I see that it can’t have been a very valuable read since I don’t recall either the title or the author. Or what it was about.

Other than the Hep Stars book, ‘modern’ seemed to mean set in the 1950s. Perhaps that’s why the musketeers made more sense? Would Offspring’s lives be richer for more Dumas or Dickens, Austen or Alcott? All excellent, but because they are old doesn’t mean better.

Anyone who won’t consider a pre-2005 book will miss a lot. On the other hand, there are a tremendous number of truly great books that do qualify. And since you can’t possibly read everything, age is probably as good a selection tool as any other.

Reading only books with blue covers, or just books by authors whose name begins with an M? Or only novels about vampires? No, the latter doesn’t narrow it down very much, does it?

Bookwitch bites #38

January brings not just bad weather and the opportunity to send Offsprings everywhere back to school, but paperbacks galore. Or it seems that way. Candy Gourlay’s Tall Story is out in soft version, with the same cover except for the changes. Jon Mayhew’s Mortlock is also out there somewhere, but I’ve just heard the rumours. Not actually seen it. Marcus Sedgwick’s Ghosts and Gadgets have likewise been paperbacked. Hair raising cover.

If you don’t like paperbacks there is always the Kindle. Philip Ardagh was back on morning television this week again, to talk about Kindling. It was very early, and all he did after travelling across Kent (or whoever it was he crossed well before dawn – who is she?) was sit there on the sofa and say that he doesn’t want a Kindle. Luckily they had a JKR lookalike to tell people all the techy details about bookless reading.

There are new books out there, too. Marie-Louise Jensen’s Sigrun’s Secret has arrived, and I’m in the midst of reading. A more contentious ‘new’ book is Huckleberry Finn without the n-word. A pc world is a much better world, or so some people believe.

You can clean up too much. At university I read Under Milk Wood. An English friend made a joke about reading the placename backwards and how I’d see an interesting word. I read and I read and saw nothing terribly fun at all. You try backwardsing on Llaregyb. I had been sold a sanitised version! B*gger.

How I Live Now is about to become a film, at long last. Possibly. Probably.

And finally, Anne Cassidy, Keren David, Linda Strachan and Gillian Philip have clubbed together to become Crime Central. I will return to them soon, but have to reflect a little on what is meant by crime. Books for oldies still seem to be more about solving the crime. These ladies are more into committing the crime, which is an admirable way to go about things. True role models. ; )