The Paris Review

Staff Picks: Detritus, Dreamin’, Dinos

From Paleoart.

First published in 1966, , by Justin Kaplan, is still the standard biography of our most enduringly funny writer—or, at least, the earliest writer who makes me actually laugh. I avoided it till now because I knew Twain’s life got pretty dark. He outlived his wife and all of his children; he lost a fortune through crazy investments; as a writer, he lost his sense of humor. But what he achieved is incredible. On Kaplan’s telling, it’s not so much the individual books as the tone of voice—almost a new way of writing based on the spoken word. Like David Sedaris today, Twain polished his essays by performing them onstage. He spent much of his life on tour and sold his books by subscription, direct to consumers, largely bypassing the critical establishment. In fact, it wasn’t until

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