Orion Reads
a diary of books etc.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Mark Twain, Kung-Fu Hustle, Martin Gardner

I've been reading slowly lately, not sure why.

Saw the Kung-Fu Hustle, it's fun. Not as fun as Shaolin Soccer, but fun.

I've started reading one of Martin Gardner's collection of mathematical puzzles from Scientific America.

I recently almost finished The Mysterious Stranger and Other Stories by Mark Twain. It's no Huck Finn, but it's pretty good.
I didn't finish it only because i lost it.

The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County
I'm not sure why this is such a celebrated story. Yes, it's well-written and pretty funny, but it's only like ten pages long and not as funny as other stuff by twain.

The 1,000,000-Pound Bank Note
A story about a man who has literally nothing to his name except an uncashable 1,000,000-Pound bank note. I wonder if this was partial inspiration for Fitzgerald's Diamond As Big As The Ritz. Moderately entertaining.

The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg
Now this! This is good stuff! I confess it gets a bit messy towards the end, and i skipped probably the last quarter of the story, but i'll remember enjoying this over chips and salsa for the rest of my days.

The Mysterious Stranger
This is a strange one for Twain. Published only posthumously, it's a pretty hard-hitting allegory which rips open the rotten underbelly of humanity with much more directness than Twain's usual style. It's almost science-fiction or fantasy, i guess you could call it magical realism. Essentially he sets up several naked vignettes of human visciousness and pettiness and comments on them directly.

I'm also about halfway thru Twain's Roughing It. This apparently is the admittedly embellished but basically true story of Twain's youth in the American West. It's pretty good stuff, and deeply charming if you have any affection for the Western deserts. He also makes pretty free with his opinions, and says Mormonism is stupid, in pretty much so many words, and his racism towards Indians is pretty embarassingly displayed. When i read some of his passages describing Indians, i keep waiting for it to become clear that it's tongue-in-cheek or in some satirical mode, but it's not. Twain's racism seems to be adressed here: Mark Twain, Indian Hater.

Below are two quotes from the book, the first a pleasant Twainery, the second his description of the "Goshoot Indians"

Twain on the Humboldt river:
After leaving the Sink, we traveled along the Humboldt river a little way. People accustomed to the monster mile-wide Mississippi, grow accustomed to associating the term "river" with a high degree of watery grandeur. Consequently, such people feel rather disappointed when they stand on the shores of the Humboldt or the Carson and find that a "river" in Nevada is a sickly rivulet which is just the counterpart of the Erie canal in all respects save that the canal is twice as long and four times as deep. One of the pleasantest and most invigorating exercises one can contrive is to run and jump across the Humboldt river till he is overheated, and then drink it dry.

Twain on Indians:
On the morning of the sixteenth day out from St. Joseph we arrived at the entrance of Rocky Canyon, two hundred and fifty miles from Salt Lake. It was along in this wild country somewhere, and far from any habitation of white men, except the stage stations, that we came across the wretchedest type of mankind I have ever seen, up to this writing. I refer to the Goshoot Indians. From what we could see and all we could learn, they are very considerably inferior to even the despised Digger Indians of California; inferior to all races of savages on our continent; inferior to even the Tierra del Fuegans; inferior to the Hottentots, and actually inferior in some respects to the Kytches of Africa. Indeed, I have been obliged to look the bulky volumes of Wood's Uncivilized Races of Men clear through in order to find a savage tribe degraded enough to take rank with the Goshoots. I find but one people fairly open to that shameful verdict. It is the Bosjesmans (Bushmen) of South Africa. Such of the Goshoots as we saw, along the road and hanging about the stations, were small, lean, "scrawny" creatures; in complexion a dull black like the ordinary American negro; their faces and hands bearing dirt which they had been hoarding and accumulating for months, years, and even generations, according to the age of the proprietor; a silent, sneaking, treacherous looking race; taking note of everything, covertly, like all the other "Noble Red Men" that we (do not) read about, and betraying no sign in their countenances; indolent, everlastingly patient and tireless, like all other Indians; priceless beggars-for if the beggar instinct were left out of an Indian he would not "go," any more than a clock without a pendulum; hungry, always hungry, and yet never refusing anything that a hog would eat, though often eating what a hog would decline; hunters, but having no higher ambition than to kill and eat jackass rabbits, crickets and grasshoppers, and embezzle carrion from the buzzards and cayotes; savages who, when asked if they have the common Indian belief in a Great Spirit show a something which almost amounts to emotion, thinking whisky is referred to; a thin, scattering race of almost naked black children, these Goshoots are, who produce nothing at all, and have no villages, and no gatherings together into strictly defined tribal communities´┐Ża people whose only shelter is a rag cast on a bush to keep off a portion of the snow, and yet who inhabit one of the most rocky, wintry, repulsive wastes that our country or any other can exhibit.


  • I saw Kung Fu Hustle last night. I feel like I didn't always understand what the movie was about. Even in the constructs of its universe, much of the plot elements didn't seem very organic. I hoped for a lot more dancing and music. I thought Brother Sum had more of a disappearance than a death befitting of one of the grander characters. In a sentence: More Tap, less Kick.

    By Blogger Robert Tomoguchi, at 3:57 PM  

  • jennsee, you took the words out right out of my mouth. apparently the stars have aligned with Mark Twain today. Not that I mind.

    It's been a long time since i read his short stories, but I remember that I like The Mysteriuos Stranger a lot.

    By Blogger mysfit, at 10:19 AM  

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