by Henry David Thoreau
Thoreau wrote this infamous book after deciding he was sick and tired of his busy city life in Concord, Massachusetts. In 1845 he left the city and moved to an isolated cabin on Walden Pond. He spent two years there, farming and living off the land. When he returned home he decided to write about his experience and this book is the results.
The book is a mixed bag of literary gems, pontification, wise advice and tedious daily chores. I kept stumbling across so many famous quotes that I didn’t realize originated in this text. I also grew tired of his exhausting catalogue of his daily labors.
Thoreau was around 30 when he wrote the book and there are bits that are insufferably cocky. I’m younger than he was then, but I can still understand that older generations have wisdom to offer us. At one point he goes on a rant about the fact that just because people have lived longer than him doesn’t make them expert in life and they shouldn’t be trying to give him advice. I wonder if Thoreau ever re-read those words when he was older and regretted his hubris.
Yet there were also lessons that resonated with me 150 years after they were originally written. The main one was the importance he placed on giving yourself time to reflect in solitude. We need to take breaks from society (especially from social media) to put our lives in perspective and make sure we have our priorities straight. That’s even more important today than it was then. Thoreau talks about us filling our lives to the brim and leaving no room for reflection; imagine what he would say if he heard about facebook and twitter and the nonstop stream of television that fills our every waking hour!
BOTTOM LINE: There are parts of this book I just loved to pieces, and those were absolutely 5 star sections for me. But there are also a lot of bits that talk in detail about what he did each day (fishing, gardening, etc.) and those parts really dragged. It’s definitely worth reading for all of the gems you stumble upon, but don’t expect a quick, light read.
“It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour.”
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.”
“A written word is the choicest of relics. It is something at once more intimate with us and more universal than any other work of art. It is the work of art nearest to life itself. It may be translated into every language, and not only be read but actually breathed from all human lips; -- not be represented on canvas or in marble only, but be carved out of the breath of life itself.”
“I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”
“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.”
**There’s one section which talked about huckleberries. The Huz and I discovered that amazing fruit when we road tripped to Montana last year and we just fell in love with it. I was so excited to stumble across another reference to it.
*Photo is of the replica of Thoreau's cabin the has been built near Walden Pond from here.