“The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” by Mark Twain and “Messy Room” by Shel Silverstein
“One can never speak enough of the virtues, the dangers, the power of shared laughter.” Francoise Sagan
“Messy Room” by Shel Silverstein
Sheldon “Shel” Silverstein was born in 1930 in Chicago and died in 99 in Key West Florida. In the interim, he made himself into a unique writer, cartoonist, songwriter, playwright. He’s best known for his children’s fiction, and poetry written for children, but is also appreciated for his playwriting chops and his black humor.
Silverstein had a reason to be dark – his first wife died before their daughter’s fifth birthday then his daughter died six years later. While Silverstein did remarry and have another child, the deaths of his first wife and child left an indelible mark on the author’s work.
Silverstein is singular because he was also a prolific illustrator – as a GI in the US Army (during the Korean War) he published cartoons in the Pacific Stars and Stripes. He was a lead cartoonist for Playboy in the 60s, during which time he developed a following as a “travel cartoonist,” documenting his visits to interesting and exotic locales. He also knew how to play the guitar and write songs, as evidenced by two Grammys – one for a musical rendition of poems from his anthology Where the Sidewalk Ends: Poems and Drawings
and one for writing A Boy Named Sue, a song made popular by Johnny Cash.
“Messy Room” was originally published in 1981 in A Light in the Attic Special Edition, an anthology of Silverstein’s children’s poetry.
For more by Shel Silverstein, start by reading Uncle Shelby’s ABZ Book: A Primer for Adults Only, Where the Sidewalk Ends, and The Missing Piece and start by listening to Johnny Cash’s classic performance of A Boy Named Sue.
“The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” by Mark Twain [text from AmericanLiterature.com.]
Mark Twain is a comedic writing genius and “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” was his breakthrough piece. Put simply, it’s a story about a man from the East who gets snagged listening to a story told by a man out West.
This story is meant to be read aloud, and with a ridiculous accent. Twain’s grammar and spelling through much of the story force the reader to read in a specific accent, one that highlights the quality of storytelling, even in an unlikely narrator.
Part of what makes the history of this story so interesting is that it was a harbinger of things to come for Twain. Readers of the modern era remember Twain as a writer of great humor, and mostly of very dry humor – his wit is both subtle (because of it’s dryness) and expansive.
“The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” was one of his very first works to make it into the popular culture of the time. We might call this story something of a trend-setting publication for Twain and writers like him because it proved that good stories can come from the simplest and most ridiculous of places.
I personally love this story because it flies in the face of the highbrow notion of “good writing.” This story is written well, is entertaining, and makes a point (although the theme of the story isn’t really the point). What I really get a kick out of is that Twain wrote “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” to entertain. This story isn’t about grand humanistic themes or the struggle of man or anything like that. Instead, the story is fun. It is simple fun, pure fun, and it is a fun that is well done, written by one of the masters of American Literature.
Most of Twain’s work is in the public domain and easily found. For more on Twain himself, check out his autobiography, written with Harriet Smith. If you’re interested in reading something beyond Twain’s well-known classics like Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, try the The Bible According to Mark Twain – an irreverent and entertaining take on some of the best known Bible stories. For something serious, read Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, Twain’s decades-long project and the book Twain himself considered to be his greatest work.