Phillip's Reviews > Walden

Walden by Henry David Thoreau
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Mar 18, 12

bookshelves: favorites, favorites-among-favorites, french-language, my-visionaries
read count: 11

I think I had to read this 6 times before I came to love it. I believe I have read it around 11 times.

"Walden" was required reading in 12th grade American Lit. when I was in high school. We only had to read the chapter on 'Economy', but it was described in terms of dread and horror by my fellow students before my section even got to the classroom. I don't remember what the assignment was, but I do remember that a long period was set aside to get through it and that a lot of people struggled to complete it at all. I believe now, that I was so psyched out by what I heard that I didn't understand what I was reading, not because I didn't understand it, but because I thought I must be missing whatever it was that was so difficult and grueling. I remember turning in the assignment and being dazed and needing to be assured that I did in fact do what was required.

I talked with the teacher, described what was in the chapter and, sure enough, it was about a man who wanted to live simply by building a cabin in the woods. Then I was puzzled, because I thought the idea of the book was cool. It was about nature. What could be wrong with that? There was something about it that compelled me to return to it even though it was hard and it took a long time to understand what it was really about.

It helped not to have to read it once the assignment was over in class. I picked up an annotated paperback version in a used bookstore and read and reread that book until it fell apart. I still have it in a bag. The annotations kept referring to an edition of the book from the 1940s that had photographs in it. Once I had reached the point where I really loved "Walden" I remember wondering what was in the pictures that was so wonderful. I never expected to find out.

I would have been happy just to have looked at a copy. But one day I was walking by the sale books in the public library and the photographic edition from the 1940s was there for $1.00. I couldn't believe my eyes. I brought it to one of the head librarians and I explained what the book was and asked if they were sure they wanted to sell it. I was assured that yes, one dollar would do. What a prize.

Things I like in Henry David Thoreau's "Walden". I like the descriptions of nature and his philosophic, and poetic, and humorous voice in which he asks questions like "Do you own your farm or does your farm own you?" I loved the chapter where he describes being out on a boat and a loon plays hide and seek with him. I liked his description of making necessary trips into town and of his long walks across other people's property and of his description of the loud boom sound that the ice on the pond made when it broke in the Spring. His description of life lived deliberately provided much for him to discuss about life for all of us in a commercial society.

I once saw an Amazon review that said it was, "The worst book I have ever had the misfortune to read." Well, I get it, it is a hard book, but then at some point you see his gentle sense of humor, his love of nature and his human view of life that asks that nature be respected and that we don't work the joy out of life in pursuit of possessions. "Walden" is almost poetry, but not quite. It is almost philosophy, but not quite. It is almost nature writing, but not quite. But in the end it is a great piece of literature that defies being pigeon-holed as it gives the reader ideas for how to avoid being trapped into a life lived in quiet desperation.
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