Walden and Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book is saturated with the kind of quotes you would frame on a wall or see in motivational posters found in dentist offices. The ideal that he talks about is something I have always longed for, and I love the messages he shares (even though there are some problems with the authenticity of his experience—a mile from town, mom doing laundry, etc).
To live consciously, to “be awake” and thus be alive, not wasting life, and living simply, are all things we could probably heed a little more. I crave all of these things when I am bogged down with the mundane, monotonous tasks of daily living. But this was surprising to me in some regard. It seems to be the anti-travel narrative. It is about changing the way you think, your state of mind, and as Thoreau beautifully put it, “to crave and paint the very atmosphere” from “which we look.” This idea that we can “affect the quality of the day,” no matter who we are or where we are, seems to be an argument against the need to go far far away in the pursuit of travel to “live deliberately” (74). Still, I think it can be fun do to do both, though I recognize the necessity of having that stability of mind no matter where you happen to be. I think it is hard, especially being back from Ghana, to retain the peace and joy I felt when things did not seem so go-go-go. When life was not marching to a clock, etc. I hate it when I look around in a crowd or in a restaurant and everyone seems so down and dejected. Do most men really “live lives of quiet desperation”(17)?
One thing that I do question in this narrative is what he says about the uselessness of taking advice from older people, or relating to others experiences. To some degree I think that experiences are so circumstantial that it is hard to qualify what it could mean to someone else, but I do think that there are a lot of things that I can learn from people who have gone before me. You definitely have to decide what works for you, not force that jacket if it does not fit or anything, but to say that advice is completely out is a little extreme in my book. I also question his section on “Solitude” (104). Even though I tend to like my alone time, we are social creatures, and I am prone to think he got lonelier than he let on.
I feel like the majority of these messages were really speaking to me. I am the kind of person who would be completely happy throwing my phone away and never hearing that incessant ringing again. Buying a home is the symbol of being stuck. I do not want a car, to the confusion of most people who know me, and the bus does just fine. Even though I am here, hundreds of years later when “this chopping sea of civilized life” Thoreau describes seems a little bit choppier than it was in his day, there is a lot that I can appreciate from Walden (75). I look forward to going on and reading Civil Disobedience.
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