Posted in Short Stories

Mark Twain’s “How I Edited an Agricultural Paper”

The title of Mark Twain’s short story “How I Edited an Agricultural Paper” doesn’t exactly scream out “read me!” But because I’m making my way through Twain’s short stories I read it anyway.


Mark Twain’s fictional version of himself narrates as he takes a short-term job filling in for an editor of an agricultural newspaper. The key is that he knows nothing about agriculture which makes for some humorous articles that are reprinted in the story, like this portion of one:

“Turnips should never be pulled, it injures them. It is much better to send a boy up and let him shake the tree.”

These articles cause a minor sensation in the narrator’s home town and even make subscriptions increase a little.

If it stopped there, this could be a funny little story poking fun at journalism – which it still is. But when the editor returns and questions the articles, Twain’s fictional self goes on a little rant explaining how nobody in the newspaper business ever knows anything about what they are writing and with this little rant, Mark Twain explains the meaning of the story. The same way one might explain a joke even though explaining a joke makes the joke not quite as funny.


4 thoughts on “Mark Twain’s “How I Edited an Agricultural Paper”

  1. I have frequently found that Twain’s titles are misleadingly boring. I wonder why, considering he’s otherwise so good at capturing readers’ attention.

    1. Good question! I wonder if he did it on purpose or whether he just didn’t feel like putting much thought into a title. And some of his more famous short stories do have more memorable titles. Interesting.

      1. I can sympathize with not being great at writing titles, but I think it take a special gift to give a humorous anecdote a title that make it sound like a dry journal article. :p

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