Still on the Shelf: Mark Twain Translating the Diaries of Adam and Eve

This is the first of my Still on the Shelf series, where I’ll tell you, book by blessed book, why I periodically run a dust rag across them, pull them off the shelf, and open them up to read.

A lifetime of reading has left me with a sizable number of books. Throughout the years I have donated them for tax deductions and traded them for credit by the carload. But for all the trimming and weeding my collection has undergone these past decades, the ones remaining on the shelves are there for a reason: they’ve withstood the tests of time. Although I’m more inclined to pick up my Kindle these days, there are still plenty of books on my shelves, and The Diaries of Adam and Eve, translated by Mark Twain, is one of them.

The Diaries of Adam and Eve
Translated by Mark Twain
Editor: Don Roberts
Illustrator: Michael Mojher
Publisher: Fair Oaks Press
Copyright: 1997
ISBN: 0-965-88119-9
127 pages
Audio book read by Mandy Patinkin, Betty Buckley, Walter Cronkite

Who doesn’t like Mark Twain? This book is different from anything of his I’d read. In fact, I consider it one of the best pieces of fiction I’ve read…ever. It was a delightful surprise.

Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer this is not, although I enjoy the atmosphere and tone of those books. For The Diaries of Adam and Eve, Mark Twain “translated” the thoughts of the first couple. The humor is the laugh-out-loud type, and who cares if someone nearby hears you?

Editor Don Roberts compiled Diaries from six of Twain’s lesser-known works in which Twain spoke from a female perspective. Not only does Diaries reinforces Twain’s humor and wit, but it also highlights his quaint, sensitive side. It offers a chance for us to be in Eve’s and Adam’s shoes. Um, I mean in their heads. Through them Twain entices us to enter the zone of what it might have been like to find our consciousness unexpectedly plucked from the sky and suddenly situated in these human bodies. We get to experience the awe and the miracle of first being alive and to explore the commonalities and differences between physical nature and human nature.

The story begins with Eve’s innocent wonderings of who she is, what she is, and where she is, a full day after her creation. We follow as she discovers Adam (who continually runs from her up into a tree), the animals and plants around her (which she names from instinct; Adam’s interpretation of this phenomenon cracked me up and reflects differences in modern female and male communication techniques. Not much has changed!), the laws of nature (“When you cast up a feather, it sails away on the air and goes out of sight; then you throw up a clod, and it doesn’t. It comes down every time.”), and herself (“I love to talk. I talk all day and in my sleep, too, and I am very interesting.”). I mean, can you imagine those first thoughts being thought?

The book proceeds in alternating voices, and it’s now Adam’s turn. He comes across as a nervous, whiny, pathetic being who keeps his distance from Eve both physically and emotionally: “This new creature with the long hair is a good deal in the way. It is always hanging around and following me about. I don’t like this…I wish it would stay with the other animals.”). Gradually, he softens. He puzzles over the babies that come, questioning their identity–are they fish? Eventually, however, he has a change of heart and after 12 years writes, “After all these years, I see that I was mistaken about Eve in the beginning; it is better to live outside the garden with her than inside it without her.”

Some literary critics believe this is Twain’s eulogy to his dearly beloved and departed wife, Livy. It is obviously a celebration of the first time–for everything. Diaries is a series of innocent and insightful revelations about nature and being human, of joys and sorrows. The audio book, which was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album, is more performance than reading. It is outstanding.

If you can get your hands on both the book and the audio, do it. And delve into it with an innocent mind to get the most out of it. It’s for literary connoisseurs and those you love.

And that’s why it’s still on the shelf.

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