A Year in Reading: Walter Kirn

December 12, 2014 | 1 book mentioned 1

coverReading Mark Twain is like walking in the mountains. You can only hike one trail at a time, so you must choose the vista you want to favor. Letters from the Earth, a short anthology of essays first published in 1962, is Twain as mid-century liberals chose to see him, a blazingly indignant social critic concerned with the rise of American imperialism or what he termed in the column’s hallmark essay, “To The Person Sitting in Darkness,” “the blessings-of-civilization” game of dominion through development. Together with pieces about lynching, the Belgian Congo, the art of lying, and other abominations, the book helped reposition the folksy humorist as a baleful proto-radical, aligning him with the spirit of the age. There is a Twain for every mood and moment, and this is a Twain whose time has come again, wintry, stern, and sublimely disappointed.

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’s latest book is the New York Times bestseller Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, A Mystery, and a Masquerade. His other books include My Hard Bargain, She Needed Me, Thumbsucker, and Up in the Air. His work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, GQ, Vogue, New York, and Esquire. He lives in Livingston, Montana.

One comment:

  1. Thank you for this. I feel like “folksy humorist” is the worst part of Twain. The Twain that wrote those essays you mentioned, and “The Mysterious Stranger,” is my favorite, absolutely amazing. In American fiction I can’t think of a more hilarious misanthrope outside of Ambrose Bierce, but Twain was much more moving in his rage, which winds up kind of beautiful.

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