Book Report: The Celebrated Jumping Frog and Other Stories by Mark Twain (1992)

Book coverI have this collection in the Reader’s Digest World’s Best Reading edition, which is a series I pick up when I can find them cheap. They’re nicely put together, they often come with a little biographical pamphlet about the author, and they put the academic material where it belongs–at the end of the book, not ahead of the primary material.

This volume collects a number of Twain’s short stories, including:

  • “The Celebrated Jumping Frog”
  • “The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg”
  • “A Fable”
  • “The Story of the Good Little Boy”
  • “The Story of the Bad Little Boy”
  • “The £1,000,000 Bank Note”
  • “Jim Baker’s Bluejay Yarn”
  • “A Medieval Romance”
  • “The $30,000 Bequest”
  • “The McWilliamses and the Burglar Alarm”
  • “Was It Heaven? Or Hell?”
  • “Extract from Captain Stormfield’s Visit To Heaven”
  • “A Dog’s Tale”

Of the stories, I especially enjoyed “The £1,000,000 Bank Note” wherein a San Francisco trader is lost at sea, rescued, and delivered to London with nothing; there, two rich men give him a very large, uncashable bank check to see if he can make it a month with them to settle a bet between themselves. The trader does with elan. I thought the story was going to lead to a situation akin to the film Trading Places, but it was different. I thought “Extract from Captain Stormfield’s Visit To Heaven” was clever as it grappled with some questions about what Heaven, God, and the Bible might mean galactically. I was startled by non-Disney endings to “Was It Heaven? Or Hell?” and “A Dog’s Tale”. And I might remember the stories, which is about the best that one can expect over the years.

I noted with interest that the bear in “A Fable” is named Baloo, but I cannot determine if it preceded or followed Kipling’s bear from The Jungle Books. I haven’t found a date on this story easily on the Internet, so I don’t know which came first, but it’s likely a bit of tribute between the writers one way or the other.

I’ve read the longer works of Twain’s (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and The Prince and the Pauper), and I think I like them more than short stories. Of course, I like novels more than short stories anyway, as one does not have to shift gears as often with them, which is why it takes me longer to read short stories in a book than it does a novel of the same length.

At any rate, good stuff, a bit of fun, and it counts as a classic in my internal virtuous reading signaling.