Roughing It by Mark Twain fulfilled the
category “Book by or
about a Journalist” for the PopSugar 2020 Reading Challenge. The book is a
chronicle of Mark Twain’s adventures in the new West in the 1860s. I’m not sure
how much is autobiographical, just plain fiction, or something in-between. It’s
Twain, after all.
The book begins with a lengthy trip by coach to Nevada,
where Twain’s brother will become an assistant to the Secretary of the Territory.
Along this leg of the journey, Twain discusses the coach system of travel,
lamenting the current use of trains. It’s amusing to hear him gripe about how trains are taking all
the fun and adventure out of long journeys. Good thing he wasn’t much around
for plane travel. During this part of the trip, he talks about the Pony
Express, the transportation of regular mail, and travel in general. It was
funny and interesting, but I couldn’t tell you one of his anecdotes. (And I
read this pretty recently, in September.) Not necessarily forgettable, but not
so memorable, but fun.
Throughout the narrative (if I can use that term for
autobiographical story), Twain tries on many hats, including Journalist. He
wrote for various papers in the Nevada Territory and California during his eight
years there. Thankfully, it earned him some money because silver mining didn’t
seem to work out too well. His stories of trying to get rich quick with both
silver and timber are hilarious.
title reflects more of the beginning and middle of the story when he’s headed
to Carson City. He talks about living in the woods (the timber attempt) and
sharing space with other men until they achieved silver mine dreams. Most of
the time, he was flat broke, in debt, surviving on the basics. It was
interesting to see how life was in the Old West, where one had to live by his
wits and little else. Of course, it is Twain, so take it all with a grain of
He includes some travels in the book beyond Nevada
and California. He describes a trip through Salt Lake City where Brigham Young
still reigned supreme. Twain’s
account sounded much like A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
I wonder if Conan Doyle read Roughing it when he wrote his tale. I found Twain’s
description of the Mormon city a little disturbing. But again, Twain—so how
real was it? Later, Twain goes to Hawaii—a neat trip with some great details.
I feel like I’m not doing Roughing It justice.
But it’s Twain. His
humor, his sarcasm, his interesting take on the world is as evident here as it
is in Huckleberry Finn. The man is a master storyteller. You feel you
are sitting down with your eccentric uncle, and he always has a great story for
you. The book was very long, but I listened on audio. The reader wasn’t great.
I wanted him to have a bit of a Missouri twang, but alas, no. Like Innocents
Abroad, it’s quintessential Twain and a must-read for an American lit
junkie like me.
I give Roughing It
by Mark Twain Four Silver Strikes.