I have been thinking this review over carefully. Walden is an “important” book. I had some troubles with it, particularly about midway through, when I stalled for several days and was sure I was going to give up. This was while visiting Concord and Walden Pond, no less! I think I owe my father credit: he recommended that I just read it through, with less attention to note-taking and interpretation at every page along the way. And on my long travel day home, I got back into it.
What is it that made this book a little difficult for me? Well, the language is somewhat dated, and the sentences tend to be long and rambling. Picture several long clauses strung together, and then having to look back up half a page to see what the subject was that this verb, finally, is acting upon. That will slow a person down. And the subject matter, the thoughts being communicated, are often quite dense. When Thoreau writes descriptions of his natural surroundings, I can settle into the imagery and the poetry, and float along pleasantly. But when he philosophizes, I am often in trouble. Large ideas are presented here, regarding our relationship with the natural world, politics, and religion. Thoreau jumps around between these subjects. Perhaps this begins to help you understand my trouble.
The first chapter, “Economy,” is lengthy. In my edition it occupies 80 pages, of 350. And no later chapter runs longer than 20 pages. I enjoyed “Economy”: I sympathize with the points Thoreau makes therein. But maybe I was wearied by it. It wasn’t until 200+ pages that I stalled badly. And once I got back into it, I enjoyed it again. I can’t entirely explain that pattern, and I’m sure yours was/will be different. I think the biggest help I got was visiting Walden Pond. This is obvious, no? When my mother and I toured The Wayside, our park ranger/tour guide quoted Nathaniel Hawthorne (and I wish I could find the quotation) on visiting authors’ homes. The gist was that visiting the home of an author is the best way to better understand his or her work, and my (limited) experience visiting authors’ homes certainly backs this up. In this way, walking around Walden Pond enriched my appreciation of Walden and renewed my interest in it.
Walden is a memoir; a political tract; a geographical study; a fine piece of nature writing; and a poetic rambling by a unique sort of Renaissance man. I found it rather effortful reading, but worth it in the end. For those who enjoy thought-provoking, challenging, lyrical writings (and longish sentences), it should be a big hit. For those who find these characteristics a little daunting, but are interested in the legacy of Henry David Thoreau, I recommend giving it a go just the same. I’m glad I did. And go see the place in question if you can, too!