I have savored many profound and beautiful nonfiction books over a lifetime of reading, and in this and upcoming journal entries I will revisit several favorites. Some are acknowledged classics, other titles may be less well known, but each has left its mark on me. I'm starting today with a book that entered the world in 1854.
"Simplify, simplify," Henry David Thoreau famously wrote in Walden. We tend to think of Thoreau's account of his year beside Walden Pond as a manifesto on simple living, a how-to manual on letting go of unneeded possessions and unnucessary tasks, and at its most basic level his book is just this. To a cabin snug as an overcoat he brought only a bed, a desk, a table, some chairs, and a few utensils. Living in this way, Thoreau felt close to the earth and in tune with its rhythms. He planted and tended a garden and, as he wrote, "came to love my rows, my beans." But if the day dawned too beautiful for work, he would sit in his doorway to savor the songs of birds and the sunlight filtering through the branches overhead. After all, "To maintain one's self on this earth is not a hardship but a pastime, if we will live simply and wisely," he taught.
Studying nature alongside Thoreau is one of the pleasures of reading Walden, but the book becomes most profound only when its author decides to move on. He has fallen into a routine; he has made a beaten path for himself, both physically and mentally. "I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there," he wrote. "Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one." There it is: a truth that I hold dear and have tried to apply to my own life and work. We need to seek new experiences, because they change us, causing us to learn and grow throughout life in expected and unexpected ways. In Walden Thoreau challenges us to seek the new, to move through life like "curious passengers."
"Be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening up new channels, not of trade, but of thought." I come away inspired. This is a book about life.