Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Book Spotlight #2: "The Innocents Abroad"

"The Innocents Abroad" 
by: Mark Twain

Quote Highlight: "This book is a record of a pleasure trip... to suggest to the reader how he would be likely to see Europe and the East if he looked at them with his own eyes instead of the eyes of those who traveled in those countries before him." - Mark Twain

Good ole' Mark Twain. Referred to as "The great American author" by the likes of greats such as Ernest Hemingway... even Kurt Vonnegut named his son Mark in honor of Twain. Everyone loves Mark Twain. This book of his may not be as well known as his more famous novels like, "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" or "Tom Sawyer", but it's also written within a different context. At this point in his life, Twain was still in journalist mode. It's earlier in his career and he writes this book while on a steam ship journey throughout Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. This reads more like your peering into Twain's own personal journal, gaining insight into his experiences abroad, though often through his satirical lens. Let me first give the back story on my own mindset while reading this book and how I came across it.

I purchased this book in one of the only English book shops in Florence, Italy, "The Paperback Exchange". Ideally located near the Duomo, it was a mere ten minute walk from where I was living at the time. So logically, this bookstore become a favorite spot of mine. I always enjoy having a book to read at night and so I came abroad with the latest Game of Thrones book in my arsenal. However, even that behemoth of a book only lasted me about a month. After concluding that, it was only about a week in the city before finding this shop to get my reading fix. While browsing, this book caught my eye for a number of reasons. First off, I read Mark Twain on the side and I always respect classic authors. I immediately picked it up to take a look. Also, at this point in my abroad expierence I was in the early stages of starting my own personal journal, and therefore I was subconsciously looking for advice and ideas on how to formulate my thoughts. So, here was a stellar author writing a journal styled novel about his expierence going abroad, and there I was abroad myself. The last hold up is always the sticker price, which turned out as not too bad and thus I headed to the checkout counter content with my choice.

Looking back at this a few months later, I will say reading this book has certainly aided my own journal writing  efforts. If I was able to craft my sentences with 1/1000 the skill of Twain, my journal might be something worth reading. That aside, it was quite pleasant to read about places that I was able to visit during my time in Europe that Twain also mentions and details in  this book. To see it through Twain's eyes 150 years before I did and then to compare that to the modern day was a cool experience and added to my perspective. This book also made me realize that travel really has some absurdity's about it, but the absurdity of traveling is part of what makes it worth your trouble. You're going to run into some crazy things, some crazy people, and some crazy foreign customs... but that's the idea. If travel wasn't foreign or crazy then what would be the point? Go about it with an open mind and enjoy it for what it is. Broaden your horizons, and broaden your views. At the end of the day you can always poke fun of any dumb things you do by writing about it later, just like Twain did.

This book begins with Twain outlining the advertisement for the voyage abroad that caught his eye. Starting off on the trip, as it departs from New York, he outlines daily life on the steam ship as they steam across the Atlantic. Twain does not hesitant to poke fun at and ridicule people he is accompanied by and people he meets along the way. In one sense, you begin to think Twain feels himself superior to almost all he encounters, but in another sense, you begin to see the reasoning behind his contempt. One instance, when the ship stops in Gibraltar and he explains that almost every person he runs into there feels the need to tell him about the myth of the rock of Gibraltar and this irks him to no end. If he could just look with his own eyes and not be told what he was looking at for a split second he might be able to enjoy the sight. You feel a sense of exasperation and Twain is ever so good at going into details of everything he is able to see and partake in. Satirical at plenty of points, I even found myself laughing here and there at the way Twain is able to paint certain circumstances as sheer absurdity.

Overall, I recommend this book to those who enjoy Twain as an author and are heading abroad. It's a good way to get additional context on what traveling was like two centuries ago. It worked for me and it might work for you.

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