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Grover Gardner is one of the two or three best narrators of Twain, and he does an outstanding job on this (sometimes) difficult material. The difficulty isn't because of Twain's writing, or in this case speaking -- he dictated most of this material, and you can "hear" him sometimes backing up and correcting himself. Twain's writing is one of the wonders of the natural world, and he's the only writer who can make me laugh out loud on the subway.
The difficulty in this case is the background of the project and Twain's design for an autobiography. The audiobook is basically everything in the printed volume except the footnotes. It includes the extensive introduction (how the editors identified the order of the various typescripts), several hours of "false starts" (autobiographical material Twain published elsewhere before settling on this plan), and extensive captions for each section. Gardner's clear and resonant voice keeps everything in perspective, but there's a lot to digest. If you're a Twain fan, you'll be grateful. If you're not, this book wouldn't be your best introduction. It probably helps to have a good grasp of the essentials of Twain's life before going into this one.
It's chronological -- not according to Twain's life, but according to the order of dictation. Twain wanted to combine aspects of diary and autobiography into a single scheme, one that left him the ability to jump from one subject to another as the spirit moved him. And it moved him quite a bit. A given day's dictation could cover six or seven different topics, each with Twain's eye for the illuminating detail and the perfect self-deprecating turn of phrase.
For diehards like me, it's a feast, a cornucopia, an incredible act of generosity on the part of editors, publishers, and reader. But it does require careful listening.
55 of 58 people found this review helpful
At the time I purchased this edition there was only one review on this site and it criticized the book for "endless dribble on the making of autobiography...very boring." Needless to say I was a bit concerned, but I have waited so long for this work to be released I went ahead and ordered.
This autobiography is thrilling for people, like me, who are devoted to the works of Samuel Clemens. This is the first volume of his autobiography which Clemens instructed not be published until one hundred years after his death.
Yes -- there are long passages of scholarly notes, what the previous reviewer called "endless dribble." This is an important work of history, requiring diverse sets of notes, letters and dictations made by Clemens over many years to be collected and woven together into one work. Clemens undertook to write an autobiography and then had several changes of mind and heart over the years, leaving for posterity an unfinished autobiography and diverse manuscripts needing to be pieced together. This volume has detailed notes on context, primary references and other information important to understanding how the various manuscripts are pieced together. That is why I think the contents ("List of Manuscripts and Dictations") is especially useful for following the audio version, as it allows listeners to have a sense of format, and to skip ahead as needed without being lost in citiations.
The chapters that contain Clemen's writing are pure Mark Twain. Here are candid notes about his life, his successes, his failures; candid observations of people he knew -- such as Ulysses S. Grant. I am listening with awe, and with goosebumps. Here is the autobiography that we had to wait a hundred years to read. I'm looking forward to the next volume (understatement).
The narrator is a good match for this work.
74 of 79 people found this review helpful
Sadly I think that audio is the wrong medium for this book. I found it incredibly frustrating that a large portion of the first part was spent describing how the autobiography was put together and how many times he started it and how it was done ie dictated. There was such minutiae that I was thoroughly bored and just wanted to get on and listen to the book. In fact I think it said somewhere that the introduction was something like 200 pages long. If I had had the book in my hands I could have skipped those pages and gone straight to the autobiography itself. It would have been better to have the academic analysis as a separate item at the end. Similarly there are interjections by the editor that interrupt the flow of the book. I really wasn't interested in the fact that a certain date was considered to be wrong and the incident described was thought to have taken place six months earlier than the author indicated. It would have been better to have a different voice reading those to differentiate between them and the author's words. Having said that the actual autobiography is very entertaining but I think I will buy the book if I want to 'read' it again.
13 of 13 people found this review helpful
It has 2h 15 of talk about writing the book at the start, Frustrating in audio book form as it is hard to know where to skip to.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful