We have noticed before that literary talent seems to arrive in birthday batches. Today, for instance, is the birthday not only of Canada’s beloved children’s author Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874), author of the Anne of Green Gables series, but also of Mark Twain, who was born in a Missouri log cabin in 1835 and controversial playwright David Mamet (1947) who won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Glengarry Glen Ross in 1984.
Of these the big news this year goes to Twain who, when he died in April of 1910, left behind thousands of unpublished words along with a will that stipulated they could not be published in their original form. According to Time magazine:
Twain did not rule out the publishing of parts of his manuscript before the 100-year mark, so long as “all sound and sane expressions of opinion are left out.” In the decades after his death, three successive versions appeared that were variously sanitized, abridged and tidied up. But as the centenary approached, the Mark Twain Project, a scholarly effort housed at the University of California, Berkeley, got going on this definitive edition of the book. It will eventually run to three volumes, about half of whose material has never been published before.
The book, published earlier this month by the University of California Press, has been a huge seller, far surpassing anyone’s expectations. From the L.A. Times:
Original plans called for a printing of 7,500, which was upped to 50,000 by the time the book actually went to press. It’s since gone back again and again, bringing the total number of printed copies to 275,000. But still, it is hard to find — as the N.Y. Times reported Friday, the book is selling so fast that it’s selling out.
On Tuesday night, major L.A. independent bookstores Skylight and Book Soup were sold out of Twain’s memoir. Vroman’s had a few left in stock, but they warned that they wouldn’t last. “We’ve sold out twice already,” said bookseller John Oschrin. “It’s incredible.”