Mark Twain’s Sketches Old and New, first published in 1882, is an anthology of his earlier works, sweepings and scrapings of his various observations and lampoonings from thirty years as an editor and writer. In that, it’s very interesting how similar it is to the collections other artists might offer today. Among them are observations of specific professions (watchmakers, barbers, doctors, chambermaids and newsroom hangers-on), races (Irish, Chinese, and those who bait them) as well as stand-alone bits. That Twain was anti-government is apparent in his many mockeries of its massive size and complexity (even for its day, particularly in The Facts in the Case of the Great Beef Contract, where generations of note-holders attempt to win back money owed to them for an ill-fated beef shipment). And there is the indignity towards his fellow man, seen by Twain (often) as shiftless, greedy and low (an opinion, I’ll note, I share).
Something for everyone.
Ben Franklin’s mottos and fables are mocked. Insanity pleas are belittled. Even Robert’s Rules of Order are lampooned (when a collection of starving passengers in a snowbound train vote on who gets eaten).
I enjoyed it, of course. It’s Mark Twain, the classic writer. That there are a lot of stories, some amusing, some dated, I’ll mention. In that, the iPad version I read this from (it’s available free off Project Gutenberg right here) makes for perhaps the best way to take sharp doses of Twain’s wit – in measured droughts. I read stories in small doses, which might be recommended. And in this, the kindle works well, allowing me to hop in and out of it like a grasshopper while pursuing other stories (Astounding Ones, read at the same time).
So if you have a reader and would like to add Twain short stories as a between the novel fall-back, this series will suit. It wasn’t an eye-peeler of a book, but it was fun.