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Roughing It by Mark Twain
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Amazing take on stagecoach, Mormons, Nevada mining, even Hawaii. ( )
  pheinrich | Aug 30, 2016 |
I enjoyed his descriptions of Hawaii of 1866. Very colorful tales of his trip and Hawaiian history.Some very funny lines that only Twain could write! ( )
1 vote LauGal | Aug 16, 2016 |
I remember this book more from where I bought it than for the writing. I bought it from a free standing used book store on the road to my brother's home in Sterling, Massachusetts. The store was built along Route 12 in a rural setting and you could see it, "USED BOOKS", from the highway, big letters, 5 feet high on the walls. This was back in the 70's and even then the book looked old. After purchasing it, the only purchase I ever made at that store, I had occasion to notice that one edition of this book was considered rare, but I never tried to verify if that was the case with this dusty thing. ( )
  joeydag | Jul 23, 2015 |
The works of Mark Twain are all published as classics, literature that finds new readers each generation. However, Roughing it is much thicker and detailed than many of Twain's popular, shorter works. Then, too, to the patient and attentive reader Roughing it will prove to be a highly entertaining and dazzling novel.

During the 1860s, the United States of America was still largely unformed, and pioneers had shown to path to the West. Their trail was followed by fortune hunters, and a colourful, adventurous and lawless medley of immigrants, who settled in the new territories, and tried to carve out a livelihood. Samuel Clemens and his brother Orion Clemens were among them, and Roughing it is a semi-autobiographical novel based on their adventures, under the sole authorship of Mark Twain.

Roughing it is the story of travelling and short-term jobs of a young man in the "Wild West". It is a kaleidoscopic work of fiction, which consists of numerous anecdotes, stories, true, perhaps, and fictional, experiences and descriptions of all youngman Clemens saw and experienced at that time. All is described with a remarkable degree of detail, which forces the reader to slow down in order to be able to take it all in.

In the early 1870s, Mark Twain looked back on this period of his life, just five to ten years earlier, and realized he could remember hardly anything about it. With trhe help of his brother's diaries, and invention, he was able to recover the spirit of the times, and Twain's superior penmanship shines through on every page. Besides that, Twain was an excellent story teller, a quality that accounted for much of his early success, as much of the income of novelists in the Nineteenth century came from public readings. In some parts of the story, the reader can imagine the impact of "telling" the story to an audience, carefully timing jokes. Some stories are funnier than other stories, and probably drew laughter from different kinds of people. Some are difficult to appreciate by modern audiences, either because modern readers are out of tune with what would provoke laughter at the time, or because the written consumption of the book leads to less hilarity. The narrative of Roughing it is enlivened with a number of "nuggets" short episodes embedded in the story that capture the audience more intensely and create memorable vignettes of heightened observation. One of these stories is for example the story of surveyors spending the night in a barrack in pitch dark, when one of them upset and breaks the glass terrarium that contains 16 tarantulas. The fear of sixteen large, black, hairy spiders at large in a bedroom in the black of the night creates a tension that is at once horrifying and humourous:

The surveyors brought back more tarantulas with them, and so we had quite a menagerie arranged along the shelves of the room. Some of these spiders could straddle over a common saucer with their hairy, muscular legs, and when their feelings were hurt, or their dignity offended, they were the wickedest-looking desperadoes the animal world can furnish. If their glass prison-houses were touched ever so lightly they were up and spoiling for a fight in a minute. Starchy?—proud? Indeed, they would take up a straw and pick their teeth like a member of Congress. There was as usual a furious "zephyr" blowing the first night of the brigade's return, and about midnight the roof of an adjoining stable blew off, and a corner of it came crashing through the side of our ranch. There was a simultaneous awakening, and a tumultuous muster of the brigade in the dark, and a general tumbling and sprawling over each other in the narrow aisle between the bedrows. In the midst of the turmoil, Bob H——sprung up out of a sound sleep, and knocked down a shelf with his head. Instantly he shouted:

"Turn out, boys—the tarantulas is loose!"

No warning ever sounded so dreadful. Nobody tried, any longer, to leave the room, lest he might step on a tarantula. Every man groped for a trunk or a bed, and jumped on it. Then followed the strangest silence—a silence of grisly suspense it was, too—waiting, expectancy, fear. It was as dark as pitch, and one had to imagine the spectacle of those fourteen scant-clad men roosting gingerly on trunks and beds, for not a thing could be seen. (...) Presently you would hear a gasping voice say:

"Su—su—something's crawling up the back of my neck!"


Not one of those escaped tarantulas was ever seen again. There were ten or twelve of them. We took candles and hunted the place high and low for them, but with no success.

The story is littered with several such gems, each entirely pleasing when read and many memorable. There are stories about outlaws, Indians, bandits and bravados, told in a jumble as Twain saw it, in the real or in his inner eye.

The second part of the book, describing the narrator's travels to the Sandwich Islands, now better known as Hawaii, is a bit different in tone than the first part of the book. It is more descriptive, and less jocular, perhaps reflecting the more mature traveller.

It is very likely that upon completing the reading of Roughing it the reader will feel exactly the same way as the writer felt when he embarked on the adventure of writing it, namely the inability to recall and remember all of it, or maybe even any of, or at most those sparkingly intense mini stories. If so, the reading would mirror the real life experience: living through a dazzlingly rich experience, and looking back with wonder. ( )
1 vote edwinbcn | Jan 17, 2015 |

I primarily listened to the Librivox recording of this. The reader did display a need to imitate Hal Holbrook but it was an enjoyable listen anyway. It took a while to listen, I dipped into it in large chunks and then left it for a few weeks. It can take it. Partly factual travel stories of a trip across the country and into silver mining country and further onto Hawaii but also full of the great tall tales and humourous stories that Twain does so well. I thought I would not enjoy the silver mines but it was fascinating, both as a part of American History I knew very little about and just a great adventure story. Worth the long amount of time I managed to take over it.
1 vote amyem58 | Jul 16, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
Mark Twain helped to devise the personal style of American travel writing. Dry guidebook facts were not for him. He could not help turning everything he saw into literature when he trained his keen eye on foreign people and places. No matter what unusual customs he saw or monuments he climbed, he remained Mark Twain - a wised-up observer disguised as a wide-eyed innocent.

» Add other authors (26 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Twain, Markprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Branch, Edgar Marquessmain authorall editionsconfirmed
Browning, Robert Packmain authorall editionsconfirmed
Salamo, Linmain authorall editionsconfirmed
Smith, Harriet Elinormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Sickles, NoelIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sickles, NoelIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wagenknecht, EdwardIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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This book is merely a personal narrative, and not a pretentious history
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My brother had just been appointed Secretary of Nevada Territory - an office of such majesty that it concentrated in itself the duties and dignities of treasures, comptroller, secretary of state, and acting governor in the governor's absence.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0451524071, Mass Market Paperback)

There is no nicer surprise for a reader than to discover that an acknowledged classic really does deliver the goods. Mark Twain's Roughing It is just such a book. The adventure tale is a delight from start to finish and is just as engrossing today as it was 125 years ago when it first appeared.

Roughing It tells the true-ish escapades of Twain in the American West. Although he clearly "speaks with forked tongue," Roughing It is informative as well as humorous. From stagecoach travel to the etiquette of prospecting, the modern reader gains considerable insight into that much-fictionalized time and place. Do you know about sagebrush, for example?

Sage-brush is very fair fuel, but as a vegetable it is a distinguished failure. Nothing can abide the taste of it but the jackass and his illegitimate child, the mule. But their testimony to its nutritiousness is worth nothing, for they will eat pine knots, or anthracite coal, or brass filings, or lead pipe, or old bottles, or anything that comes handy, and then go off looking as grateful as if they had had oysters for dinner.
Roughing It is informally structured around the narrator's attempts to strike it rich. He meets a motley, colorful crew in the process; many mishaps occur, and it shouldn't surprise you that Twain does not emerge a man of means. But he withstands it all in such a relentless good humor that his misfortune inspires laughter. Roughing It is wonderful entertainment and reminds you how funny the world can be--even its grimmer districts--when you're traveling with the right writer.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:36 -0400)

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Mark Twain's account of his transformation into a Westerner after he went to join his brother, a newly appointed federal official, in Nevada.

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