This has been a wonderful Writer Working Year for reality books. Just check out this feast, topped by the legend of legends in American Literature:
He didn’t want this published till 100 years after his death. Would that he’d lived another 10 or 20, but happy days for us that 2010 finally arrived.
In a masterfully edited volume of 736 8-or-9-point font pages, there’s a lot of dross, but also passages like these one that are history and satire in amber:
Paige (the inventor of the typesetting machine which famously cost Twain a couple of hundred thousand in lost investment dollars) and I always meet on effusively affectionate terms; yet he knows perfectly well that if I had his nuts in a steel-trap I would shut out all human succor and watch that trap till he died.
You can see why Twain might want to wait a while before that saw print.
Or this on Thanksgiving:
Thanksgiving day is a function which originated in New England two or three centuries ago when those people recognized they really had something to be thankful for –annually, not oftener–if they had succeeded in exterminating their neighbors, the Indians, during the previous twelve months instead of getting exterminated by their neighbors, the Indians. Thanksgiving Day became a habit, for the reason that in the course of time, as all ll on the white man’s side, consequently on the lord’s side, consequently it was proper to thank the lord for it and extend the usual annual compliment.s The original reason for a Thanksgiving Day has long ago ceased to exits–The Indians have long ago been comprehensively and satisfactorily exterminated and the account closed with heaven with the thanks due.
Jedediah Smith–No Ordinary Mountain Man–Another favorite topic, person, and period. I corresponded with the author a little. He said the book had taken a beating from some critics and was glad to get my favorable comments. I was glad to give them and can’t understand where the negativity came from.
Devil’s Highway—Luis Urrea rides again, this time in crossover garb as a journalist investigating the deaths of 19 Mexicans trying to get into Arizona. He traces them all the way from their home towns to their deaths and paints a compelling picture of how they, the coyotes, and the border patrol are all caught in an an absurd universe where no one can win.
The Swerve–The last read of the year, and one of the most fascinating, as Stephen Greenblatt makes the case for how an ancient Latin poem bringing about the Declaration of Independence.
Cleopatra–Just when you think you know something. . . The world of ancient Egypt and its final clash with the (as it turns out, but I didn’t know) the relatively primitive and poor Roman Empire. Antony and Caesar as you never knew them before, and Cleopatra as one of the wiliest politicians and capable administrators of the ancient world. Not to mention all the woman that her name conjures up.