Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Twain Autobiography

Mark Twain has a new biography out. He stipulated in his will that his complete memoir be published 100 years after his death. The time has come and a California University is printing the full work as compared to the past where previous memoirs were heavily edited. Much has been mentioned of Ernest Hemingway’s famous quote that all American literature starts with Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain’s famous work. It’s inspiring that this famous writer was a late bloomer – becoming a writer in his late 40’s and early 50’s. A self taught writer who is considered America’ greatest author, Mark Twain also has a warm spot among Filipinos after his opposing the occupation of the Philippines in the early 1900’s. He is one of those who write without fear, listening to only his conscience. It is conceivable that he would oppose the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions if he were alive today.

A short article in Newsweek featured the Twain autobiography. The magazine also included articles on the rise of self-publishing and electronic readers. It’s fitting that a famous self-taught writer who I believe self-published his first works to appear in a magazine talking about the latest trends in publishing. Mark Twain is all about the American spirit – self taught, independent, hard-working, humorous and wise with experience. The problem in the publishing world today, in fact with ‘old media’ is a poignant backdrop to the recent biography. But maybe all that is needed is the same pioneering spirit that Twain has shown. I had just finished reading Ken Auletta’s  book ‘Googled’ about the software giant Google. It’s a brilliant analysis of the changes sweeping the media landscape. Mark Twain would have had fun writing about the turmoil affecting the industry.

Last night I also watched the movie ‘Social Network’ about the new Internet phenomenon ‘Facebook’. It’s a good film that wonderfully depicts the rise of Internet companies and makes billionaires of its young founders. It’s a contrast to Mark Twain who had other jobs in life before settling as a writer and speaker near his middle age. But his work is just as revolutionary as any of the Internet pioneers. The common thread perhaps is striving towards a truth that is universal – whether it is written in a novel with a humor that is authentic and American or striving towards a new reality in technology. Both breakthroughs require a discipline and solitude that results in an insight that helps liberate people. Be it a novel that celebrates life or a new technology that enables change. Both result in transformation as one sees the world with new eyes.

From the Newsweek article, Mark Twain was always writing even when he was boy. He would write in small notebooks about anything that interested him. There was a passage about the death of his beloved daughter and he wrote about his grief in an attempt to rise above sadness. One sees that he was using writing as a sort of psychological release; similar to journal writing or blogging. So there is hope for writers like me who started journalizing as a way to keep sane and understand life. It is a lonely solitary life similar to the Facebook creator in the movie who tirelessly punched his keyboard long into the night - creating a new program that would revolutionize social networking. He was also a blogger who wrote down his thoughts whenever he faced personal problems like being dumped by his girlfriend.

I guess the point is that ‘new media’ has made the life of a writer easier. One could make his own platform or soapbox to write and proclaim his views. There is an immediate audience out there if one is lucky but altogether much easier than in Mark Twain’s time. The technology has provided tools that everyman can use including self-publishing to electronic readers and higher royalties for the writers. Companies like Google have even made their services free and empowered bloggers with a chance to earn money via AdSense. Unfortunately, there is no modern Mark Twain who has arisen in the new media landscape. Perhaps he is writing now in the blogosphere utilizing the latest media tools that companies like Google have provided. One cannot help but be amazed what a truly great company Google is with all the tools that are provided free and help people actualize their dreams.

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