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Walden by Henry David Thoreau
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M 50x66
's review
May 16, 2009

bookshelves: nonfiction

From the conclusion: "The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to us. Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star."

If Thoreau had not contradicted his own attitude by sitting down to pen this pretentious collection of meditations, we would not have this iconic point of reference today. I'm glad this is required reading in high school, because the books we read in those classes tend to be remembered later on not for the text itself or even for the discussions, but for the general memory of it. Thoreau is a memory, a symbol, a reminder.

The rest is better digested in quotations and aphorisms, with a Whitmanian sort of reader-involvement. This is a book which should not be critically taught, nor read as an exchange for real life lived. In his words, "Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature."

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re-read in 2013:

Yet not the less, in my case, did I think it worth my while to weave them, and instead of studying how to make it worth men's while to buy my baskets, I studied rather how to avoid the necessity of selling them. The life which men praise and regard as successful is but one kind. Why should we exaggerate any one end at the expense of the others? (19)

We have built for this world a family mansion, and for the next a family tomb. The best works of art are the expression of man's struggle to free himself from this condition, but the effect of our art is merely to make this low state comfortable and that higher state to be forgotten. (35)

Who knows but if men constructed their dwellings with their own hands, and provided food for themselves and families simply and honestly enough, the poetic faculty would be universally developed, as birds universally sing when they are so engaged? But alas! we do like cowbirds and cuckoos, which lay their eggs in nests which other birds have built, and cheer no traveller with their chattering and unmusical notes. (42)

As for your high towers and monuments, there was a crazy fellow once in this town who undertook to dig through to China, and he got so far that, as he said, he heard the Chinese pots and kettles rattle; but I think that I shall not go out of my way to admire the hole which he made. (53)

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