I can't quite tell these days how much I love Mark Twain. A lot? I don't obsessively read his books over and over like I do Jasper Fforde's, but I have read most of them, and some several times. If you want to call Huckleberry Finn the greatest American novel ever written I can feel pretty good about that, which is no small feat seeing as the last 50 pages of it are nuts, and mostly not in a good way.
My point is that Mark Twain was one seriously great writer, one of the greatest. But that's just it. Tolstoy is great, Ursula K. LeGuin, Cervantes, Jane Austen, Kafka, Gogol, Pratchett, well, the list is long, and they are all mighty together. But there is one category of human endeavor, and no small one at that, in which Mark Twain astonishingly blows away the competition. He is not on the highest level with others. He is alone at his level of achievement.
He is the master of the quote. The god of the tweet. The be all and end all of the aphorism. He stands alone. One could put together a book of all the pithy, witty sayings of all time by everyone and set it next to a book of just the witty, pithy sayings of Mark Twain and they will be roughly equal in quality. Pull Emerson, Shakespeare, and Groucho out of the first book and Mark Twain even wins, handily!
Yesterday I ran into this quote:
I would rather have my ignorance than another man's knowledge, because I have got so much more of it.
"Total abstinence is so excellent a thing that it cannot be carried to too great an extent. In my passion for it I even carry it so far as to totally abstain from total abstinence itself."
And these are just a handful I scooped up. I don't think I've run across a single one of them before. And they just go on and on and on from there.
I guess what I'm trying to say here is that Mark Twain, with his magnificent wit, piercing and economical expressiveness, brilliant use of language, and slashing, vibrant interest in the world around him needn't have written fiction, or speeches, letters to prominent people, memoirs, or essays.
Mark Twain was so great that he could have been a blogger!