TIWMT Book Club: Walden

Try-It With-Me Tuesday, an interactive weekly time and place to foster connections that challenge and encourage the process to become a well-rounded person.

The TIWMT Book Club discussion of Walden by Henry David Thoreau begins today. Have you read it?  Share your thoughts below.

“To the sick the doctors widely recommend a change of air and scenery,” Henry David Thoreau in Walden.

Reading Walden certainly is a change of air and scenery from my life, but a change that didn’t bring me the wisdom and inspiration I was seeking. I hope I can say that without sounding truly ignorant of good ideas. Thoreau observes the simplicities of life with intelligence, which is a gift that I do not possess. But his gift, while admirable, did not rub off on me just by reading his story of getting back to nature.

I promised that we wouldn’t have a stuffy discussion, but embarrassingly, even though I chose this book, I am having a hard time crafting a good discussion post about it. It’s an old classic with many beautiful metaphors but overall, I just had the hardest time staying interested. I think that is because it is a book of observations rather than a story with a plot. Admittedly, I skimmed some of the chapters on economy, the bean field, and winter animals. The chapters I appreciated the most were on reading, solitude, and the ponds. In these, I made a connection with his philosophy to become a student and observer of life.

While his ideas of shunning materialism for a more simple life have much relevance fro us today, I’m afraid his style of writing and pace is so far removed that average modern readers like me will have a hard time relating it easily to our lives. I did find some lines that spoke to me, and I’m holding firmly to the poetry of his words, rather than his overall philosophy as a good reminder to slow down and savor what I have in my life rather than always searching for more.

Please stop by and see Rebecca at Thrilled By the Thought. She made her own honest assessment of the book; please check out her post and leave a comment there, too, to add to the discussion.

As a conclusion, tell me how you think these statements in Walden by Thoreau might relate to our time:

One:

I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture or to carve a statue, or 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.

Two:

When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and worthy things have any permanent and absolute existence, that petty fears and petty pleasures are but the shadow of the reality.

Three:

And gradually from week to week the character of each tree came out, and it admired itself reflected in the smooth mirror of the lake. Each morning the manager of this gallery substituted some new picture distinguished by more brilliant or harmonious coloring, for the old upon the walls.

Four:

The phenomena of the year take place every day in a pond on a small scale. . . . The day is an epitome of the year. The night is winter, the morning and evening are the spring and the fall, and the moon is the summer.

Five:

The orator yields to the inspiration of a transient occasion, and speaks to the mob before him, to those who can hear him; but he writer, whose more equitable life is his occasion, and who would be distracted by the vent and the crowd which inspire the orator speaks to the intellect and heart of mankind, to all in any age who can understand him.

Six:

Not that food which entereth into the mouth defileth a man, but the appetite with which it is eaten.

Join the discussion by leaving your thoughts on one or more of the statements in the comment section below or if you wrote a post about it on your own website, leave your link in the comments below.

Even though this book wasn’t a favorite, I’m not giving up on my lifetime pursuit reading list. Next Tuesday I will announce a new the TIWMT Book Club Book for November. Have some recommendations? Send them to me at tj (at) tjhirst (dot) com.

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3 Comments

  1. TJ
    Oct 28, 2008

    Camille left this comment on last week’s post, and I wanted to share it here for those who are keeping up with our disucssion today on Thoreau. She makes some useful points.

    After reading some of the beginning of Walden, contemplating the talk about simplifying our lives, and pondering my new phase of life with a new baby and three other little ones I decided to make a list of the things that are most important to me in my life, the most vital things that I focus on for my family’s welfare and my own. Really everything else takes a back seat. I was left with the following list. I made three categories My Spiritual Welfare, My Physical Welfare, and My Family’s Welfare. Each of these categories contain four top priority items. For example under My Physical Welfare I listed exercise, a nap, eat well, and drink water, all of which are absolutely necessary for me to be able to survive in this phase of life, having just had a baby four weeks ago. My Family’s Welfare includes love (which I also call attention, because that is exactly what a 2 year old, 4 year old, or 6 year old see as love, me spending time with them), feeding them well, teaching them gospel principles, and laundry. You may laugh about the last one, but isn’t clothing one of the basic needs Thoreau talked about? And believe me if I don’t take care of the clothing then what do they put on?! I had to laugh about Thoreau’s comments on patched pants. Right before I read that part my 6 year old had just gotten a hole in a pair of his school jeans. I couldn’t believe it, because we only bought them at the beginning of the school year and it’s only October. My husband said just like Thoreau, “It’s only a little hole. Who cares?” And I like Thoreau’s devil’s advocate, just looked shocked and said, “No way. He can’t wear those to school.” Yes, I know our society is way beyond Thoreau’s way of thinking with clothing. We are excessive, vain, and spend way too much money on clothing. But I tend to think of myself more towards Thoreau’s way of thinking, just not as extreme. No holes in public. It’s modest, it’s clean, it’s in good shape, then it should be passable. Right? But then maybe I am just as bad as the people he is mocking. I just went through my closet and pulled out quite a few items of clothing that I’ve been wearing too long, that I just felt frumpy in. I just felt like I needed something new. I’d love to start my wardrobe all over. Wouldn’t it be great to be on “What Not to Wear” and have them throw my clothes away and hand me a credit card to start all over? So maybe I am still a foot on either side. It’s the same with the Thoreau’s ideas of shelter. First of all I know that I couldn’t live in his 10 foot by 15 foot little shack. But the thought has crossed my mind of living like Laura Ingalls Wilder in a one or two room cabin, where everything is right there, cozy, close, and simple. You didn’t have a lot and you didn’t mind sharing a cup or bed with your sister. Maybe that’s why I’m always happy when Amvets or Goodwill calls, because I can go through our material things and simplify. Living in a townhouse where things do get crowded I am constantly wanting to get rid of things, donate clothes, toys, old dishes, books, furniture, etc. I can’t stand the clutter and crowding. So I understand Thoreau and his ways. I agree with him when he talks about the “immigrant tottering under a bundle which contained his all.” He says, “I have pitied him, not because that was his all, but because he had all that to carry. If I have got to drag my trap, I will take care that it be a light one.” I too would prefer to have less. I’m sure that we as a society buy more house than we need and we fill it up with more furniture and decorations than we need. I like his philosophy of decorating a house, that it “grows from within outward, out of the necessities and character of the indweller, who is the only builder, – out of some unconscious truthfulness, and nobleness, without ever a thought for the appearance;…”
    But don’t get me wrong. Don’t think that I’ve transcended this materialistic world. I’m not willing to give up my piano and bookshelves and rocking chair. And I would love to live in a single family home with more yard, a garage, more storage, and neighbors just a little farther away. I’d like to hope that I’m somewhere between the extremes, and trying to focus on what is most important – my family. If I can give them the necessities – shelter, clothing, and food and lots of love – and then cut out the excess then I think we’re on the right track. Thanks for the reminder, Thoreau!

  2. Rebecca
    Oct 28, 2008

    Well, he certainly did have a beautiful way with words. If only he could have condensed his words a couple hundred pages, I may have read the whole thing!

    I love your quote number 2. I think it is important to take time to be “unhurried and wise.” Realisitically, unhurried time may be very short. But we can always benefit from it.

    And Quote Number 3 is breathtakingly beautiful! I love that he compared nature to an art gallery. Art galleries are one place where I am always able to feel “unhurried and wise” (if my baby isn’t with me!) and I feel the same way whenever I am in nature. I had never connected the two before though.

    Likewise, I love Quote Number 1- comparing our ability to change and better ourselves and our environment to artwork. It reminds me of Dieter Uchtdorf’s talk to the Relief Society about uncovering our creativity. God is a creator, and we can be like Him when we participate in creativity. And what better way to try to be like God than to participate in creating a better moral environment, perspective, and life for ourselves!

    I definitely benefited from this book, but it will never make my Top 10! It is one I would like to revisit (in sections) throughout my life.

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