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review 2017-03-30 23:54
reminds me of the folks saying "save up by not buying that daily coffee!"
Walden - Henry David Thoreau

So, Walden.


There's some nice, flowery prose here.  Also some overly discursive and recursive prose that I found tedious.


But overall, and I'm writing this as someone who's happiest living out in the woods where I can't see my neighbors, the book drove me bonkers.  His privilege is suffocating.  He talks against things he was a huge subscriber and user of (Post Office, railroad, etc), writing about how we'd be better off without them, how he has no need of them, etc.  He portrays himself as a common man supporting himself on his own labor... but he's on this property with express permission, certainly was not destitute going into this, and should things go very poorly he had plenty of reasonably wealthy friends who could help him get back on his feet.  He likes to educate folks who come from lesser means about how his way is so much better and fulfilling, but at the same time ignoring the situational elements that allow his way of life.


There are definitely sentiments I enjoy here, but they're wrapped in so much of the above that it was frustrating.  Land and resource management are almost moot when you're one person living in the woods.  Once you start facing large congregations and communities things aren't as simple as his hybrid farmer/hunter-gatherer lifestyle enjoins, and for all that he speaks against it, he too enjoys the products of commerce and industrialization.

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review 2016-02-06 23:02
Walden & Civil Disobedience - Henry David Thoreau,W.S. Merwin

I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, EVAR understand the association between scribbling in the margins and becoming a more "active" reader. Where is the logic????


As you may have guessed, I read this for school and am referring to the abominable requirement by the vast majority of English classes called "annotating." I did not read the entirety of the book, but rather a select few of specific chapters: "Where I Lived, and What I Lived For," "Solitude," "Spring," "Conclusion," and the essay "Civil Disobedience," which is not part of Walden but is included in this volume.


First, I apologize. Great American Romantic or no, I could not get into this. *ducks* Those looking for extensive analysis, thoughtful processing, and intense scrutinizing of textual evidence should look elsewhere.


I will confess that having to read this with a figurative gun to my head played a large part in my reaction. When you're being exhorted left and right to view a writer as "great" regardless of your own independent observations, the temptation to play devil's advocate is so overwhelmingly alluring, although I prefer to think of my judgment as impartial. (ha)


It's just, here's the thing. I know these people were ahead of their times and all, that they faced social repercussions for thinking outside of the box, that they might even have kicked off future movements, like the civil rights movement in this case. (Although really, I think crediting the civil rights movement and MLK's leadership to Thoreau is going way too far--the movement happened because a giant section of the population was being unfairly disenfranchised, not because some white guy started it all with his wise white words.) 


But...how about now? Doesn't that mean these "classics" are outdated? Will this stuff be relevant to ME? 


One of the things that absolutely drove me up the wall was Thoreau's repeated use of "man" and "mankind" as synonyms for "human" and "humankind." I was told that this guy was progressive for his time, goddammit. (Ditto for Emerson's Self-Reliance and Other Essays, too.)


Why that bothers me so much is another issue. I think that it's because this is a book that ruminates on the wrongs and ills of society--in addition to making sweeping generalizations of how humanity should behave and fight against unjust social and political structures--at a time when feminism was already starting to become a thing, yet Thoreau blindsides an entire gender of people as if they don't fucking exist.


Again, I admit I might have tolerated this if I read it of my own will. Alas, Thoreau shall have to bear the brunt of my increasingly belligerent feminist temper tantrums.


He does, however, give several nice denunciations of slavery, for instance in "Civil Disobedience":


...when a sixth of the population of a nation which has undertaken to be the refuge of liberty are slaves, and a whole country is unjustly overrun and conquered by a foreign army, and subjected to military law, I think that it is not too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize.


Thank you. Now remember that half of all blacks are women too, pretty please? 


Another thing is that I find Thoreau's biography (what I learned in class anyway, so I could be missing something here and I'm far too lazy to Google it) shockingly unimpressive, having only spent a single night in jail before being bailed out. Much of the philosophizing like quoted above came almost entirely from meditating in naaaaaature (well, it is a memoir) rather than firsthand social experience, and hence lacks the down-to-earth immediacy I expect when it comes to discourse on issues of any kind, particularly a classic as venerated as this.


I mean, seriously. If you're going to spend two years as a semi-solitary hermit in the wild, then of course you can afford to pass bland aesthetic judgments of no relevance whatsoever to people who actually live in the world you rejected and criticize. 


Thoreau is a lot more concerned about ideals than practicality, and his commentary reflects that distance. One symptom of this is the anti-industrialist sentiments expressed, which for the most part I found so holier-than-thou and blandly naive as to be totally irrelevant to any discussion of industrialism-- decrying the ugly artificiality of human civilization and the innocent beauty of the natural world before humans come in and ruin it all, blah blah blah.


You may melt your metals and cast them into the most beautiful moulds you can; they will never excite me like the forms which this molten earth flows out into. 


And all I could think to myself was, whatever.


All that said, Thoreau is a stunningly beautiful prose writer, and the neutral-literary part of myself loved going over his sentences almost as a form of therapy. "Spring" is full of glittering descriptions of what is essentially the awakening of a new world, and by extension, the awakening of the self. The lush landscape portrayed, combined with Thoreau's love of botany and science, is a real treat and fairly spoiling for a reader who loves to get immersed. Anyone with an ounce of love for nature in their veins should read that chapter, if nothing else.


Still, I think I'm gonna go with Whitman. Reading "Song of Myself" at the moment and it is delightfully inclusive, as well as earthly and relatable in a way Thoreau never was for even a single millisecond I spent with him. Perhaps one day I'll return to Thoreau without the school-incurred resentment and recognize his literary glory for myself.

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review 2016-01-19 00:00
The Maine Woods
The Maine Woods - Henry David Thoreau This is a very detailed account of the travels in 1846, 1853, and 1857 of Thoreau. What they ate, what they wore, where they slept, and how much items cost along the way are all recorded. There’s mention of intense cold of 40 to 50 Fahrenheit (which is above freezing, so I’m not sure what to make of that).
I’ve never had tea sweetened with molasses. Nor have I ever eaten moose horn. However, the oddest meal I came across in this book was as follows: “The Indians baked a loaf of flour bread in a spider on its edge before the fire for their breakfast…”
The pleasure of Thoreau’s adventure is destroyed during a moose hunt. Hunting for merely the satisfaction of killing is like shooting your neighbor’s horses and God is that neighbor — THAT is the lesson that Thoreau gifts to readers in the middle of this book. After that scene, he really “sees” the reality of where he is.
Some lessons are never learned and thus never cease to be relevant. One example in the book is when he comes to a place where there are two political parties mentioned. One is in favor of schools. The other, following the wishes of a priest, is opposed to schools because education could lead to “Indians” who would know how to manage their money.
Thoreau’s appreciation of “Indian” language is bold and rare.
I’ll end my review with a favorite (condensed) quote from the book:
“The Anglo-American… cannot converse with the spirit of the tree…”
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review 2016-01-14 00:00
Walden - Henry David Thoreau If I start to read a book, I almost always will end up finishing the book. I don't recommend starting this book because it's really not worth the effort. This book dealt mostly with feelings and poetic imagery (but not the composition that poetry usually employs) and such books usually confuse me as this book did. Thoreau does make a statement to the effect how he is affected through nature by "the artist who created the universe and me", and I suspect he wants to affect the reader similarly.

I have no problem with someone who wants to drop out of society and do his own thing as the author tried to do for two years. I think there is no better path to happiness than for a person than to buy a single wide trailer in the middle of nowhere (or a cabin on a lake) and become authentic to their self and remove them self from the idle chatter and in the words of Volaire "il faut cultiver notre jardin" (the last words in Candide, and it can be translated as "I should cultivate my garden", a very appropriate sentiment for this book).

There are random gems of true brilliance sprinkled in this book, but the problem is the author is always within the social sphere and just can't get out of it, he has no concept whatsoever for the appreciation of real solitude, doesn't know what alienation within a group really means (he's constantly always disturbing his solitude by seeking out others or having them find him). He also uses too much poetry, longs for the simple life before trains, loves Homer, poets who visit him, dead poets he's read, transcends logic by embracing the universal, necessary and certain, and a host of other things for which a neuro-diverse person might have a hard time following.

Even with all the negative things I can say about this book, I enjoyed some of his incredibly wise perspectives on the world and the last chapter of the book. But overall, I have a disconnect with this book because it deals with feelings, emotions and intuitions.
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review 2015-04-16 00:00
Walden - Henry David Thoreau He has an opinion about EVERYTHING and this is all of those bound together. Even though many of the things, prices, etc are out of date, the story's points transfer to every time period. This is suppose to make the reader think about what is important in life and live accordingly. Even though it didn't become a favorite, I'm glad I took the time to check it out.
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