Brain Pickings

John Lithgow Reads Mark Twain, Live-Illustrated

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What a chronically sleepy man has to do with litmus tests of literary success.

LIVE from NYPL is a fantastic live event series from the New York Public Library, featuring readings and discussions by, with and about cultural icons and luminaries ranging from Jennifer Egan to Lemony Snicket to Jay Z. (A Brain Pickings favorite from a few years ago: The excellent panel on remix culture with Lawrence Lessig, Shepard Fairey and Steven Johnson.) In the spring of 2009, NYPL put on an event titled How to Live Dada: Andrei Codrescu, Henry Alford & Mark Twain Interview Each Other!, as a teaser for Codrescu’s then-new book, The Posthuman Dada Guide: Tzara and Lenin Play Chess. Part of the program featured never-before-published works by Mark Twain, read by John Lithgow and live-illustrated by NYPL artist in residence Flash Rosenberg, in a style reminiscent of the RSA‘s.

This segment is based on Chapter 2 of Twain’s Who Is Mark Twain, titled Whenever I am about to publish a book…. In it, Twain outlines the fourteen types of people, who he believes are archetypes representative of the general public in sum — including an intensely practical person, a sentimental person, a hypercritical person, and a man who inevitably falls asleep — and concludes:

But the man whom I most depend upon is the man who always goes to sleep. If he drops off within 15 minutes, I burn the book. If he keeps awake three quarters of an hour, I publish, and I publish with the greatest confidence, too. For the intent of my books is to entertain and by making this man confortable on a sofa and timing him, I can tell, within a shade or two, what degrees of success I’m going to achieve.” ~ Mark Twain

Who Is Mark Twain features 24 priceless pieces by the iconic author, culled by by Robert Hirst, General Editor of The Mark Twain Project at UC Berkeley.

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