This week, I must profess my love for Mark Twain. I intended to write about the shame I feel at not having participated in several quintessentially Chattanooga musical activities, but I’ll save that for next week.
Instead, while seeking inspiration for that initial idea, I became thoroughly sidetracked after reading a quote of Twain’s:
“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
I couldn’t stop there, so I read more — pages worth — laughing and nodding my head to the cadence of his sage humor.
Like many boys, I was introduced to Twain through “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” which I enjoyed largely as an engrossing adventure, only later appreciating the ways it challenged firmly implanted social conventions. As an adult, I fell in love with travelogues such as “Roughing It” and “The Innocents Abroad,” which made me want to be a globetrotter in the worst way.
Ultimately, however, it was his flair for sarcasm that won my writer’s heart. Twain had the ability to express truisms in a way that was as bitingly humorous as it was thought-provoking. For example:
■ “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time and your government when it deserves it.”
■ “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
I’m the latest in a long line of people who have queued up to worship at Twain’s altar.
William Faulkner once described him as “the first truly American writer” and declared “All of us since are his heirs.”
In 2011, the U.S. Postal Service immortalized Twain with a commemorative stamp. The next year, President Barack Obama approved a commemorative coin that will be released in 2016. There’s even an asteroid named for him: Asteroid 2362 Mark Twain.
Were Twain alive, his moustache would probably bristle at all the hoopla. He’d undoubtedly be more concerned that Americans heed his call to be pragmatic and to question things rather than accept them blindly.
Above all, he’d probably shudder that anyone referred to his works as American “classics,” which he famously described as “book[s] which people praise and don’t read.”
So, a toast to you, Mr. Twain. May your writing remain forever ensconced in the mainstream, where it can do the most good.
Contact Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.
Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...