31 March 2011

The Desk Chair Review of Books

Mississippi Writings: Tom Sawyer/Life on the Mississippi/Huckleberry Finn/Pudd'nhead WilsonMississippi Writings: Tom Sawyer/Life on the Mississippi/Huckleberry Finn/Pudd'nhead Wilson 
by Mark Twain

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This review only covers the "Life on the Mississipi" portion of this edition.

A great book of memoirs of Twain's years as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi, before levees and dredging and electric lights to guide boat pilots on their frequent voyages up and down the river. After becoming a famous author, Twain returned to the Mississippi (incognito at first) to learn how much things had changed in the 20-odd years he'd spent since his tour of duty on the river. The pilots of his day had to memorize 1,200 miles of twisting, turning, ever-changing river so as never to put their vessel in danger of sinking or running aground, and they had to be able to do so in all weather, at all flood levels, and all times of day or night. Such expertise perished with the proliferation of railroads, having been rendered unnecessary, and so Twain's remembrances are bittersweet as he recounts the most memorable of the many thousands of hours spent behind the ship's wheel mastering the art of piloting. Along with his many stories of life on the river and the outrageous personalities encountered along the way, he recounts his memories of the many river towns and how changes in commerce and even in the riverbed itself influences the communities that were nourished by the steamboat.

An excellent bedtime read that managed to hold my interest throughout--even the appendix of a few Native American myths that he'd overheard among his fellow passengers. If you enjoyed Two Years Before the Mast: A Sailor's Life at Sea, this one's less polished, but of the same genre and style.

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