Review: ‘Walden’



Walden: Or, Life in the Woods

by Henry David Thoreau

  • Date finished: April 22, 2014
  • Genre: Memoir, Philosophy
  • Year: 1854
  • Project: Favorites Project
  • Reading List: Spring 2014
  • Grade: A-
  • Thoughts upon reading:

You know, it doesn’t matter that I consider Walden to be one of my favorite books; Walden is just one of those books about which you need to write your reviews immediately upon finishing because those thoughts can be fleeting. Especially when you started A Clash of Kings immediately afterward and found yourself sucked into reading 400+ pages of George R.R. Martin because it is so addicting…yeah, Walden takes a back seat, unfortunately.

But back to Walden. I chose this book for my Favorites Project not necessarily because it’s a book I’m obsessed with, or read every year, or have overtly fond memories of. No, I’ve only read Walden once, and it was in high school on my own, so who knows what I thought of it. However, I love Walden because of its language, and the images it evokes. Truly the perfect book for spring, Walden brings to mind all those meditations on nature: the sound the wind makes whispering through the trees, or the smell of flowers and freshly mowed grass, or birds chirping in the pre-dawn stillness. It’s so important for humans to remember to connect with nature as we pass through our lives, and I love how Walden is a simple, pure celebration of that connection.

Truth be told, though, parts of Walden are difficult to slog through. The book serves as a journal for Thoreau’s personal philosophy on many subjects, and it can be tedious. Plus, I thought Thoreau was a little hypocritical at times. On one hand, he says that people shouldn’t bother with formal education – that the woodman’s son is better suited than the Cambridge-educated sons of the urban elite. Then a little while later, he goes on and on about how you haven’t truly lived, or read “the classics” (which you should do) unless you read them in the original Greek. Thoreau was, of course, an educated man with a comfortable upbringing trying out the life of a hermit, and so one must expect a certain level of hypocrisy.

This hypocrisy does detract from some of Thoreau’s more overt platitudes on how one should think and live your life. But it doesn’t detract from his observations on the natural world. I’m a little mad at myself because I noted a certain page (269) to come back to, since it had this wonderful passage on lilac bushes, which I love. I wanted to write it down, but was too lazy to do so at the time, and with the book all packed away (more on that later this week), there’s no way to find it. Alas.

Still, Walden remains a wonderful book, as well as an important reminder to find time to stop, desist thinking about what’s going on in your life, drive as far away from civilization as you can, hike to a meadow, a lake, or the top of a mountain, and just look around you. Listen to the wind. Watch the light as it dances on the leaves. Feel the dirt underneath you. This world is a beautiful place, and it’s sad that it takes so much effort to remind ourselves of that. Even in Thoreau’s time, that was a difficult and socially isolating task (everyone thought Thoreau was a total weirdo for living out in the woods by himself). It’s even harder today, but that’s why it’s more important than ever. Which is why I’ll always love books like Walden; even if I don’t always agree with Thoreau, he does always manage to convince me to get back out to the woods.


One thought on “Review: ‘Walden’

  1. Pingback: A look back at spring. A look ahead to summer. | Paperback Fool

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