Monday, January 24, 2011
On an Old Dead Writer
<--- See the picture of that fellow over there? That's who I'm going to write about today. No, I'm not going to rant about the controversy--you know, about that English professor who just published a version of Huck Finn free of all those nasty, demeaning words the original author believed were important enough to include in the story. I'm not going to address the question of whether "Native American Joe," "First Settler Joe" or "First Peoples Joe" are more appropriate than "Injun Joe." I'm not going to argue that folks used the term "half-breed" and not the term "half-blood" back in the day when the story took place. And I'm not going to argue that gutting the word "nigger" from the story and expecting it to read true makes about as much sense as castrating a bull and then telling it to go inseminate a cow. I'm not going to do or say any of that because, you know, this guy's a kolledge perfesser and I'm not.
What I am going to do is write about something that happened to me the other day.
Last Monday, I think it was, I took a book with me to lunch, as is my wont. Now, this book is a special book to me. It is the Autobiography of Mark Twain (volume 1) which was just published this year, one hundred years after Twain's death, as specified in his will. This is a big honker of a book, at about 800 pages, and weighing in at more than two or three Chihuahuas. I love Twain and I've been waiting for this book for some time. The young waitress who was assigned to my table asked me what I was reading, I closed the book and showed her the cover. The title of the book was plainly indicated there: Autobiography of Mark Twain (volume 1), and a large picture of him graced the front cover. She looked at it for a minute, glanced at me quizzically, then said, "Didn't he write books or something?"
I stared at her for a moment, unsure of what to say. Eventually I muttered, "A couple."
She went back to her other tables. I wept.
And I weep for the future. Please tell me your kids, grandkids or nieces and nephews would recognize a picture of Mark Twain and know who he was. And if they are yet too young, please tell me you'll read to them his stories AS WRITTEN, and promise me you'll use the uncomfortable parts as teachable moments. 'Cause that's why Sam Clemons put them there.