A literary landscape where my answer is not Mark Twain is inconceivable. If I ever give an answer that’s not Mark Twain it will mean I had a stroke.
The next question is usually “Why? Why Mark Twain? Didn’t he die like a hundred years ago?”
Well yes, he died in 1910, but what does the time in which Twain wrote or lived have to do with his relevance today? And that’s it, my answer is there in the question: everything.
Twain’s humor is every bit as funny today as when he was writing. Interest in his books is still incredible. Think about that. Go watch a cherished comedy from the eighties that you have fond memories of. For me it was Planes, Trains, And Automobiles. I watched it about a year ago. Some of the humor has aged well. Some of it can’t even make me smile anymore.
So what does it take to write something that is still making people laugh a century or two into the future? Ponder that and tell me your answer in the comments.
In order to be a satirist, one has to care enough to understand the object which it satirizes. In Twain’s case, the object was almost always people and human nature, and he didn’t spare himself either. He cared about people. He cared about humanity. He mourned the worst that we can do to each other and tried to call attention to it through humor. (note: his writing wasn’t always funny. When he was truly disgusted by an atrocity he was a vicious fireball while remaining highly logical and meticulous in his indictments).
I’m going to leave off for there today, but here’s me answering my own question:
Why Twain? Because no matter what Twain I read, I feel like I am learning what it means to be a human. I gain a better understanding of how we treat each other, ourselves, and how we might do better. And I feel like I am being led by Twain to feel that way. If that’s what he planned on, that is mastery of the craft, no matter how far into the future his readers might be.
I also read for pleasure, and I learn best when I’m enjoying what I’m reading. That’s why Twain.
Here’s my favorite example of Twain the humorist. Please read Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses and rejoice that the man never frowned and furrowed his brow at your own writing.
Tomorrow I’ll start looking at specific pieces of Twain’s work.