You Know a Book is Great in the First Paragraph

You Know a Book is Great in the First Paragraph

Take Huckleberry Finn, for instance:

You don’t know about me, without you have read a book by the
name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. That
book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly.
There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth.
That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another,
without it was Aunt Polly, or the widow, or maybe Mary. Aunt
Polly—Tom’s Aunt Polly, she is—and Mary, and the Widow Douglas
is all told about in that book, which is mostly a true book, with some
stretchers, as I said before.

Just wonderful.

Right out of the gate, Twain makes a colloquial connection: i.e. “You don’t know about me.” Of course, we know him…why else are we reading the book? And yet, we don’t know about him! A famous person is both known and unknown.

Then, he refers to himself in the third person (Mr. Mark Twain), and he questions his own own honesty (“there were things which he stretched”). He’s given us the “unreliable narrator” by the second sentence.

And finally, he talks about the characters like we know them: i.e. Aunt Polly, Mary, etc. In short, he’s cleverly hooked us into the tale. It’s like we’re talking an old friend. We’re on a porch in the Mississippi Valley, sharing a tea with Samuel Clemens.

A great piece of literature is not accidental. It’s the result of artist who, after years of chiseling, has developed a fluidity. He’s a skater, gliding upon on the ice. He’s the wily and crafty veteran, using a time-honored technique that he learned over years of practice.

See Related Article: Short Story Review: “The Lake” by Ray Bradbury

Essay Review: “The Turning Point of My Life” by Mark Twain

Essay Review: “The Turning Point of My Life” by Mark Twain

What is Man? is the last book that Mark Twain wrote. In my opinion, it’s the best thing he ever composed. It’s a collection of short stories and essays. The topics are broad, covering everything from the death of his wife Jean to the virtues of tobacco. On some level, it’s a Mark Twain blog – the man in all his greatness, touching on a variety of topics.

My favorite essay from the book is “The Turning-Point of My Life.” Twain recalls his early days, reflecting on the defining moments of his childhood. He describes the “turning point” as a moment when a measles epidemic was ravaging his hometown. Everybody was living in fear, everybody petrified. The children were dying. People were locked inside their homes, frightened. The fear was palatable.

Twain stayed in the house for months. Eventually, he couldn’t take it anymore and decided to leave the house, risking death.

In short, he decided that is was better to live with bravery than die with fear.

Life on these miserable terms was not worth living…This was a turning-point of my life.

Twain catches the measles and becomes ill…but he survives. From that point forth, he learns a valuable lesson. You can’t live in fear. You can’t always worry about what might happen. You can’t go through life petrified. You need to live…and live with courage. You need to stand up to danger.

The greatest rewards come when you take chances. When you decide to chase your unconventional dreams. When you decide to go against the grain, doing something that nobody else has the courage to do. When you realize that your own path is different and that you must go against the common plan. When you decide to be you.

You can find a link to the book here. I highly recommend adding it to your reading list – you won’t regret it: