Travel and Reads : Mark Twain and Hannibal, MO

 

So I’ve decided to devote a few posts each year to my geeky booknerd travel escapades. Normally I just review books and keep it simple, but lately my wanderlust has gotten a little out of control (blame it on my 30s creeping in) and I know I’m not the only nerd out there who thinks literary travel is the best idea ever.

Last summer my husband dragged me on a 20+ hour road trip to visit his grandparents, who live by Lake Michigan (we live in Colorado), and I was originally totally opposed to the idea (what is there to see in Nebraska, Iowa, Indiana on the route between? NOTHING.). But I decided to be a good sport and put my best foot forward. I logged onto Google Maps to look at the route and noticed some little gold stars only a little skip from the route. At one point I had saved the Mark Twain Boyhood Home, Riverboat, and Mark Twain Caves in hopes that one day I would visit them. With a little prodding, my husband agreed to stay the night in Hannibal, MO and hit a few geek-out spots before finishing our trip to Michigan. That little side trip turned out to be the highlight of 2015 for me!

Hannibal is a small town, everything is very green and the mighty Mississippi runs through it. Believe it or not, I was bummed that I couldn’t stay longer, apparently the city offers Ghost Tours at night, Riverboat rides, and there’s a lighthouse you can visit. I saw these places but my husband wanted to get on the road so our visit had to be limited to top picks.

So first off we visited the Mark Twain Boyhood Home. Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) came from a family that was pretty well-to-do and the house is near the river. Visitors can imagine Huckleberry Finn climbing aboard a raft, running from the law or heading out for adventure. The possibilities are endless and it’s easy to see where the author got his greatest ideas.

Next we walked down to the river, which was swollen and muddy thanks to serious rainfall recently, but somehow that made it even more “mighty” and amazing. Definitely the widest river I’ve ever seen in person. We could see the Mark Twain Riverboat docked on the shore.

FullSizeRender (4)

 

It began to rain, so we ran to the truck and headed to the Mark Twain Caves for a tour. Let me recommend to everyone that athletic shoes that can get dirty are probably best. I wore sandals and it wasn’t pretty. As you travel through the caves the guide gives detailed description of Tom Sawyer’s adventures and the  inspiration Clemens derived from playing in the never-ending caves as a boy.  The icing on the cake was a brief mention that the outlaw Jesse James and his crew hid out in the back of the caves after robbing a local bank, and they even signed the wall. All-in-all, we all loved the cave tour and I highly recommend it to all of you adventure-loving booknerds.

Before you visit, be sure to read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures Huckleberry Finn, if you can’t get your hands on even more Mark Twain literature! Look forward to more booknerd travel posts in the future and please feel free to comment if you have any awesome literary travel spots to share!

 

Twain and Stanley Enter Paradise: by Oscar Hijuelos

25067001

When I heard about Twain and Stanley Enter Paradise, by Oscar Hijuelos, I was intrigued by a novel that claimed to be about a decades-long friendship between Mark Twain and his friend, Sir Henry Morton Stanley (who was supposed to be a legendary explorer but admittedly, I had to look him up).

I adore reading about friendships between literary greats. I’ve thrown myself whole-heartedly into Hemingway and his expat literary and artist friends, I adored reading the amazing J.R.R. Tolkien and his friend C.S. Lewis…The very idea that two literary geniuses might sit and have a discussion together makes me wish I could have been a fly on a wall somewhere…Under a beach chair, in a seedy bar in Paris, in a Gatsby-like party wherein F. Scott Fitzgerald had too many drinks. The location doesn’t even matter because it would have been fascinating no matter what. So naturally I figured that Twain and Stanley must have been amazing together. A famous explorer of Welsh origins who wrote travel books about his exploits in Africa and the iconic American literary great, Mark Twain (also known as Samuel Clemens)…How could they have met? What did they have in common to extend the communication between them for more than 30 years?

I had the extremely good fortune to stay in the hometown of Mark Twain (Clemens), Hannibal, Missouri late last summer and I stood on the banks of the muddy and mighty Mississippi river and watched a riverboat at the dock, saw his home and the caves that inspired Tom Sawyer. I think Mark Twain is fascinating. He faced so much tragedy but he still had optimism that people could learn to do the right thing, it’s all over his writing and it’s evident in the way he lived his life. He had many children, he traveled the globe, he gave lectures in intellectual circles, and he stayed with his wife until she passed away and brought her with him on his travels whenever she was able. So a man he thought was a worthy friend must have been an amazing person…Right?

Twain and Stanley Enter Paradise, by Oscar Hijuelos, did not glorify Sir Henry Morton Stanley. He was as different from Twain as is possible. Which I struggled with the entire novel. I didn’t understand their friendship at all except that I believe that the author saw a sympathy for Stanley in Mark Twain, and that optimism deep within him had hope that Stanley was a good man. And maybe he was. What the novel did best was show that the two men were very human. Not just famous figures but real men with real troubles and human failings. I try to tell myself that’s a positive thing. Because honestly, I’m not sure I could have tolerated Stanley for a day, maybe not even an hour. Which probably makes it an extremely well-written book. I wish I could have enjoyed it more.

So I would love to hear from other readers about their own impressions after reading Twain and Stanley Enter Paradise. If you haven’t read it, and you want to give it a try, the audio version by Hachette Audio is impeccably narrated and very enjoyable to the ears.