MARK TWAIN FORUM BOOK REVIEWS: “Mark Twain’s Literary Resources, Vol. 2” by Alan Gribben

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Mark Twain’s Literary Resources: A Reconstruction of His Library and Reading. Volume 2. By Alan Gribben. Foreword by Thomas A. Tenney. NewSouth, 2022. Pp. xxxi, 1,089. $95.00. ISBN 978-1-58838-395-2 (hardback).

In my 2019 review of the first volume, I wrote that anyone familiar with Twain studies of the last four decades knows that the most eagerly anticipated work in the field is the revised and enlarged edition of Alan Gribben’s Mark Twain’s Library: A Reconstruction (1980). I also quoted Hamlin Hill’s famous 1974 must-read essay “Who Killed Mark Twain?” in which Hill predicted that “source and influence hunters will have a field-day tracking through its encyclopedic catalog of volumes the humorist owned and annotated.” In 2019 it was anticipated that the catalog itself would appear in two volumes by the end of 2020, and that Alan Gribben’s achievement would join the shelf of such reliable and essential reference works as the Mark Twain Project editions of Twain’s Letters and Autobiography, and R. Kent Rasmussen’s Mark Twain A to Z.

Well, three years, more than a million words, and five pounds later (I’m referring to the book), that day has arrived, and it exceeds all expectations. In a word, it is a stunner. This hefty volume is a page-turner, and with over 1,100 pages of double-columned text to turn, Twainians will be making discoveries of all kinds for years to come. Here is a perspective worth considering: The 1,000,000+ words of this volume exceed the combined texts of The Innocents AbroadRoughing ItThe Adventures of Tom SawyerThe Prince and the PauperAdventures of Huckleberry FinnA Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s CourtPudd’nhead Wilson, and Following the Equator, with enough room left over to toss in Is Shakespeare Dead? Those writings span forty-two years of Twain’s career (1867-1909) just as the present volume spans forty-two years of Gribben’s life (1980-2022).

The preliminary section contains a prescient foreword written by the late great Tom Tenney in 2004, followed by Gribben’s introduction, and concludes with a list of abbreviations. The book is next divided into two sections. The first section is the “Annotated Catalog of the Library and Reading of Samuel L. Clemens”–a catalog of the more than 3,000 books Twain owned himself, books owned by others that he read, and literary resources that Twain is known to have read based on solid evidence in his own literary works, letters, notebooks, and other writings–nearly 6,000 entries in all. The second section is “A Reader’s Guide to the Annotated Catalog”–a creative and brilliantly organized index (187,000 words) that includes the authors, titles, proper names, and cross-references any reader would expect, but also a broad and deep arrangement of topics, each encompassing an astonishing variety of Twain’s readings–10,000 entries in all.

Gribben’s introduction must be read before diving into the catalog itself. Depending on how much is known about a particular book in Twain’s library or literary source, each entry contains some or all of the following subheadings: An edition statement, a note on ownership inscriptions, a note on any marginalia found in the text, a “catalog” and/or “provenance” statement documenting the previous owners of the book, a citation for the present location of the book if known, a verification of the copy examined by Gribben, and a review of the influence that a book or source had on Twain’s writings, with citations of previous scholarship. Because of the complicated dispersal of Twain’s own library, and the variety of sources that give evidence of his readings, not every entry requires all of these subheadings. In the first part of his introduction Gribben briefly reviews the history of Twain’s library and readings (which he reviewed in more detail in volume I). In the second part of the introduction he explains the arrangement of subheadings and how to use the catalog. Eager readers will be sorely tempted to skip past the “Book Catalogs Listing Volumes from Clemens’s Library” and “Abbreviations” that follow the introduction, but pausing to read these is worth a moment or two…

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