HANNIBAL, Missouri (Reuters Life!) - One hundred years after reports of his death were correct, not exaggerated, Mark Twain is a hot commodity again with an autobiography on the best-seller list and a new CD celebrating his legacy.
The best seller is the first of the three-volume “Autobiography of Mark Twain,” the iconoclastic author’s private thoughts dictated during his life with the stipulation they not be published until he was dead for 100 years. That anniversary is 2010 and the 500,000-word book is flying off shelves.
The CD, “Mark Twain: Words & Music,” is narrated by Garrison Keillor with Twain’s words spoken by Clint Eastwood. It also features songs by Emmylou Harris, Vince Gill, Brad Paisley, Ricky Skaggs and others and is produced by Grammy-winner Carl Jackson.
It will be played and performed in public for the first time on Nov 30 at the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum in Hannibal, the Mississippi river town where Twain grew up.
Born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in 1835, the young author took the pen name Mark Twain became one of America’s best known writers and humorists, celebrated for novels such as “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.”
The songs in the new CD tie together strands of Twain’s life and include several originals, including “Huck Finn Blues,” written by Jackson and sung by Brad Paisley, the 2010 Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year, whose son is named Huck and is, according to Jackson, “a true Twainiac.”
The album leads off with “Halley Came to Jackson,” a Mary Chapin Carpenter composition sung by Emmylou Harris about the bookend appearance of Halley’s Comet when Twain was born and when he died.
Other songs refer to the death of Twain’s daughter (“Love Is On Our Side” sung by Val Storey) and his wife’s death (Vince Gill on “I Know You by Heart.”) There’s also a look at Twain’s days in Nevada (Bradley Walker’s “Cowboy in his Soul”) and the day he met his wife (“I Wandered by a Brookside,” by the 14-year-old Church Sisters.)
Jackson, a Grammy winner in 1991 and 2003, said he was drawn into the project seven years ago by Cindy Lovell, the director of the museum.
“Nobody paints pictures with words better than Mark Twain. And that’s what I do as a song-writer, paint pictures with words,” Jackson said.
The autobiography released on Nov 12 was published by the University of California Press and at 726 pages, it weighs four pounds and contains 500,000 words. The publisher, which generally prints academic works, was not ready for the demand and has gone back to the printer six times with the total run up to 275,000 copies.
Reviews of the book have been generally positive, also helping boost sales. The prestigious history journal, American Heritage, for example, said, “Pure Twain at his typically discursive, rambling, and droll. The bard of Hannibal still has much to say.”
Twain calls U. S. soldiers then fighting in the Philippines “our uniformed assassins” and said of then president Theodore Roosevelt: “He flies from one thing to another with incredible dispatch.”
The Christian Science Monitor gave this advice to the reader: “Think of yourself as a miner in the Arizona Territory, panning for bits of gold, hoping for that nugget of unalloyed Twain. They’re here but you have to be patient.”
Reporting and writing by Bruce Olson, editing by Greg McCune