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Editor's Choice

Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1: Reader's Edition; University of California Press, 415 pages ($26.95 paperback). Bless the scholars and little children. They care not what they do, as long as they're affirmed.

When this best-selling delight was first issued in 2010 -- attendant to many requisite stories about Twain prohibiting release of some of it until a century had passed -- it came in a much thicker edition so choked with notes that even as you read it, you could almost hear Twain's rude tuba blasts from the grave in your ear at all those busy, busy, busy academic workers in "The Mark Twain Project" swarmed all over his eminently readerly text, after its enforced 100 years' rest.

And now, common sense, at last. We have, emblazoned big as life on the paperback cover underneath Twain's photo (he was as photographed as anyone of his era) and the words "Reader's Edition."

The very idea of it is a winner. The notes and index have been jettisoned -- along with some Twain it might have been nice to keep. It is less academically punctilious but indeed more reader-friendly (as the saying goes). Even though Twain himself still takes 21 pages to show up, that's a long way from the hardcover's 201 pages.

Bless all the ardors and good deeds of the splendid people of "The Mark Twain Project" who made it all possible. But now we have one of our greatest writers narrating his own autobiographical miscellany full of sorcery both previously familiar and new.

In other words, they're telling readers this time that they have pride of place rather than the admittedly essential scholars who made the publication not only possible but rather wonderful.

This edition, rather splendidly, ends with a coming attraction of Vol. 2 -- Twain having his way with the Bible and religion, joyously paying special attention to the Great Deluge and Immaculate Conception. ("The flood is a favorite of bible makers. If there is a bible or even a tribe of Savages that lacks a general deluge, it's only because the religious scheme it lacks it hadn't any handy source to borrow it from.")

-- Jeff Simon