Thursday, 17 January 2013

H. D. Thoreau, "Walden" (1854)

Before choosing to read Walden, I had heard references to it for years. I have to admit that I had avoided the book, assuming - based on the majority of references I had heard (or perhaps the referees) - that it would be a nineteenth-century equivalent of either '60s back to the land/environmental treatises (the best of which is perhaps represented by Small is Beautiful) or the (even worse) 1980s prescriptions for how to find and connect with one's inner 'wild man', such as contained in Iron John. I was sorely wrong.

Walden combines the simple charm of 'backwoods' narratives by the likes of Susannah Moodie and Laura Ingalls Wilder, with the humble storytelling and archival desires of the Farmer's Almanac, and the philosophical clarity of Persig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I cannot count the number of "quotable quotes" the circulate in popular communication that stem from this book. It is, in short, a landmark of American literature that deserves to be read by everyone.

From his analysis of the purpose of education, to the effects of industrialization on the development of the rural northeastern American seaboard, Thoreau's book is an important record of a particular time in American history. His reflections on natural phenomena, such as the melting of spring ice, behaviour of fish and birds and squirrels, growth of flora and fauna, as well as his analysis of the manners of his peers, along with his own thoughts of 'supernatural' questions, help to keep the book timely, topical, and rewarding for the most contemporary of readers.

No comments: