“Mark Twain stripped bare”

“Mark Twain stripped bare” ….read the header on a review of Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume I, published in the Globe and Mail on November 13, 2010.  And what a review! The book sounds delish! I may have to buy this one for a Christmas gift for my husband, a Twain fan in the first place, so I can borrow it to read next! I love the whole idea of writing a book with no holds barred and then having it held back from publication for 100 years, as per Twain’s command.

Of equal interest is the great care taken by the editor, Harriet Elinor Smith, her associate editors and the general editor, Robert H. Hirst, to publish the exact book Twain wrote, in the exact way he wanted it published: uncut and unexpurgated.  (Raw and raging Twain, from the sounds of it.) This is noted with palpable gratitude and excitement by the reviewer, Shelley Fisher Fishkin, an expert on Twain herself, who further notes that Twain’s work has not always received such respectful care. Other editors have merrily tweaked or deleted passages of his writings, finding some bits “uninteresting,” and other bits apparently at risk of “tarnishing” his reputation.

Fishkin lists the adjectives Twain uses to describe Helen Kelller’s writing – “simple, direct, unadorned, unaffected, unpretensious… moving, beautiful and eloquent” – and says in her opinion, they describe Twain’s writing. She can’t wait for Volumes II and III.

News bulletin: there is not a single copy of Autobiography of Mark Twain in any bookstore in Halifax! I just phoned Chapters Bookstore and was informed that I could not even order the book, as another print run was currently being organized by the publisher, University of California Press. I am out of luck for now!

The Way of a Boy – A Memoir of Java

War-time memoirs are numerous and popular. I have a friend who for a long period, read little else, focusing particularly on WW II and the stories of Jewish Holocaust survivors. I recently read The Way of a Boy, A Memoir of Java, by Ernest Hillen, a 1993 memoir which chronicles Hillen’s experiences as a seven-year-old boy, when he and his family were interned by the Japanese, on their island home of Java. Hillen’s father was Dutch, his mother a Canadian. Hillen has one brother too and writes tenderly about him. The family are separated early on: Hillen and his mother are kept together, the father and older son are sent away to an all-male internment camp.

The story covers the war years of 1942-1945. I couldn’t believe how ecstatic I felt when I realized, nearing the end of the book, that not only would the whole family survive, they went onto immigrate to Canada, where Ernest eventually ends up as an editor at Saturday Night magazine. Talk about happy ending!

The writing in this book is lovely. I am convinced I am listening to a young boy relate a story. The reader is 100 per cent in the here and now, not the long-ago.

It is Hillen’s memories of his mother that touched me the most. What an extraordinary woman! Her courage and sanity resonate from the pages. You can’t help but think, Could I do as well? And answer, Not likely.

I highly recommend the book. It is fascinating and as Mordecai Richler said on the front of the dust jacket, “I was absolutely hooked by page three.”

Haven Kimmel; dry humour, fine writing

I am reading Haven Kimmel’s second memoir – a book of personal  essays – called She Got Up Off the Couch. I really enjoy this woman’s writing. In my view, she is quite unique in her ability to write so fluidly and well about happiness and ordinariness of all and every sort. When the writing does darken, you really pay attention. She also has a lovely dry sense of humour.  A friend recommended that I read, if nothing else in this book, the essay Haven wrote for her brother. It is a wondrous bit of love committed to paper – it is so tender and vibrant, it nearly shimmers above the paper. Great stuff.  Not surprisingly, I am reading the whole book. http://www.purityofheart.org/

Recommended memoir titles from the Literary Review of Canada

Three recommended memoir book titles, from the Literary Review of Canada: The Year of Finding Memory, by Judy Fong Bates, Random House; Alice Street, by Richard Valeriote, NcGill-Queen’s University Press; and The Geography of Arrival, by George Sipos, Gaspereau Press. These three memoirs chronicle immigrant life outside the big city, writes reviewer Joseph Kertes.

So many wonderful memoirs to read….