Day 807: Life on the Mississippi

Cover for Life on the MississippiLife on the Mississippi is Mark Twain’s nonfiction book about the Mississippi River. Sort of. Although part history, part memoir, part travel account, it also includes a chapter from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, some folk tales, and many tall tales. So, it’s not just nonfiction. And not the best of Twain.

Twain begins with a few chapters about the history of the river’s discovery and exploration by Europeans. These first chapters are followed by reminiscences of Twain’s life as a boy along the river (including the excerpt about Huck) and his career as a riverboat pilot, including a description of what is involved in learning to navigate the river. This section takes up about half the book, by far the best half.

From there, the book loses focus, and if the kitchen sink had anything to do with the Mississippi, it would be in there. The last half of the book is supposedly centered around a trip Twain takes down the river to New Orleans and all the way back up to Minnesota. It describes the people he encounters and the towns he visits during his journey, 20 years after his time as a pilot. But it also goes off an every manner of digression and tells many anecdotes, some of which are frankly corny and a few of which are offensive these days. I don’t want to make too much of this because it is judging a book unfairly by the standards of another time, but some of the pictures especially, reprints of those that appeared in the 1883 version, are insulting to African-Americans.

Finally, my edition, a replica by Dover, was loaded with typos, especially in the last half. I can only hope that the errors weren’t really in the originally published edition.

Related Posts

The Tilted World

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Once Upon a River

 

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4 thoughts on “Day 807: Life on the Mississippi

  1. Naomi November 18, 2015 / 12:56 pm

    I’ll stick to Huck Finn. I love that one!

    • whatmeread November 18, 2015 / 12:59 pm

      Yes, this one was disappointing. It’s no wonder you don’t hear about people reading it that often anymore.

  2. Amy Parmeter November 18, 2015 / 1:11 pm

    Was inspired though by the story of the joke played on him as a fledgling pilot – I don’t re-read much of the rest but I do enjoy that section very much!

    • whatmeread November 18, 2015 / 1:18 pm

      Yes, there are enjoyable parts, that’s for sure. The history sections and the parts about him training as a pilot are the most interesting.

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