GOLD MINERS & GUTTERSNIPES: Tales of California by Mark Twain, edited by Ken Chowder (Chronicle Books: $10.95). Twain's pungent wit shines undimmed in this collection of columns, miscellaneous short pieces, excerpts and letters. Twain was less than ecstatic about California and Californians when he arrived in the early 1860s, dismissing the inhabitants as "rotten, lop-eared, slack-jawed, jack-legged . . . How I hate everything that looks, or tastes, or smells like California!" However, he soon grew to love the state, especially San Francisco, and in 1866, he extolled "the dawn of a radiant future": "California . . . stands in the centre of the grand highway of the nations; she stands midway between the Old World and the New, and both shall pay her tribute. . . . Half the world stands ready to lay its contribution at her feet! Has any other state so brilliant a future?"