Sketches New and Old is a compilation of fictional stories written by Mark Twain. Among them is "A Ghost Story". In each story, one can catch a great sense of Twain's humor and creativity. These classic sketches from Twain are no longer than 10 minutes each, but all show his quick-witted humor in response to the events of the day.
A real storyteller can make a great story out of anything, even the most trivial occurrence. Composed between 1863 and 1875, the 63 often outrageous sketches in Sketches, New and Old contain, for instance, a piece about the difficulty of getting a pocket watch repaired properly; complaints about barbers and office bores; and satirical comments on bureaucrats, courts of law, the profession of journalism, the claims of science, and the workings of government. In Mark Twain's hands, all these potentially dry and dull topics bristle with vitality and interest.
"What fascinates Twain," Lee Smith writes in her introduction, is how people "react to the things that happen to them." Twain "lets them speak in their own voices by and large, in a chorus ranging from high-flown oratory to the plain speech of working people.... It seems generally true that the more elevated the speech, the likelier that person is to be an idiot; words of wisdom and common sense are invariably voiced by the common man" - or woman. "The most profound and moving sketch in this whole collection" Smith writes, is one "told by a freed slave." The candid, ironic, playful, and petulant sketches in this volume are indispensable to our understanding of a harried genius during 13 quite amazing years.
Robin Field is one of a handful of narrators (Grover Gardner, Norman Dietz, Richard Henzel, Patrick Fraley) who can almost always be trusted with Mark Twain. Here he presents a series of sketches, essays, newspaper satires, and stories that I believe Twain himself gathered together under the "New and Old" title. They demonstrate a broad range of Twain's talents - and include some of his choicest targets.
This is Twain in his pleasantest mode. Over the course of his life he wrote a number of bitter, pessimistic essays, but they aren't in this collection: most of the pieces in this volume are humorous and self-deprecating, if not downright silly.
There are brief banjo riffs between each piece, and one sketch that includes a drunken piano player/singer in full sail.
I enjoy Field as a narrator, but even a short and funny collection like this gives him scope for his worst habit. When it comes to quotations and footnotes, Field is extremely formal: nothing is quoted without its "Quote. Close Quote" tags; no footnotes are read without their "Note. End Note" tags. Not everyone will find fault with this - some will be grateful - but I prefer a looser approach. It doesn't happen often here, but when it happens, it interrupts the flow, and to my way of thinking it damages the pace.
But on the whole I enjoyed listening to it, and found myself wanting to hear more short prices by Twain. Robin Field and Richard Henzel seem to be working on this, and between them there may eventually be a number of such titles to choose from.
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