Walden, or Life in the WoodsWalden, or Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(this refers to the audiobook edition narrated by Alec Sand.)

when i was in college, the word went around in feminist circles that, while at Walden Pond, Thoreau had his lunch delivered to him daily by a woman from a nearby village.

whether this is true even in the tiniest part, you have to admit, it’s a pretty funny joke.

Thoreau doesn’t get off a lot of jokes in Walden, but i suspect it’s not for lack of ability. Thoreau has that satirist’s sharp and pointy pen forever aimed at one’s overinflated spots; he suffers no fools and bows to no jumped-up authority. and you know what? i think he has what we of contemporary times largely lack: dignity.

sometimes too he’s almost surly–you can feel a young man’s sneering impatience with compromise and getting along. and sometimes he’s contemplative, marveling at the different hues of water or of ice. sometimes he’s kind of a boring, long-winded uncle who will not realize that nobody’s listening any more (as when he goes on about sounding the pond and local lakes, or how much his stake cost).

but then sometimes (a lot of times) he is rhapsodic, ethereal, otherworldly in the clarity and specificity of his observations and in the beauty of the language he uses to express them.

i wonder, reading it, how it is there appears to be no one in our time so original and great-minded, and so able with a pen. perhaps one needs a kind of isolation to rise so far above the mundane. unless one voluntarily withdraws, there’s not much likelihood of this in our hyperconnected time.


a word on the narration: Alec Sand does an absolutely awesome job with this. back in the day, my teachers often portrayed Thoreau as a kind of moony-eyed nature-loving nancy boy, but Sand’s narration could not be more matter-of-fact, with a nice kind of confident masculinity. as my son put it, Hemingway reads Thoreau. it’s an interesting and powerful interpretation.