Thursday, February 04, 2010

Classic Fail

You may have noticed that in the sidebar, I have a thing from, saying what books I'm currently reading. I read quite a bit and love to share what I'm reading with others, so if any of my loyal readers want to join Goodreads and friend me, I would be glad to see you!

Currently, I'm reading Walden, by Henry David Thoreau. This is a non-fiction work about a time period in Thoreau's life when he built and lived in a small cabin on Walden Pond in Massachusetts. A little bit of personal history with this book: originally, I tried to read it in 7th grade because it was on a reading list for my science class. I have to say, I do not know what it was doing on a 7th grade reading list, because I'm having trouble getting through it as an adult.

Normally, I really like those "experiences-living-in-the-wild" kind of books. Case in point, the other book on my sidebar is Dick Proenneke's One Man's Wilderness, which is his journal about the period he spent building and living in a cabin in Lake Clark Wilderness, Alaska. I haven't started it yet, but I'm thinking it's more my speed.

Walden is considered the quintessential "city-man-living-in-the-wild" book. Now, Thoreau was a philosopher, so the beginning starts out with a lot of stuff about necessity vs. want, etc. Again, this normally would be something I think I would like. Here's the problem: I don't really like the author (Thoreau). In fact, he's kind of a jackass. The beginning of Walden is very snooty, talking about how people spend too much money on clothes and shelter, and that no one is self-reliant anymore (may I remind you, this was written in 1854? H.D.T. would be appalled to see modern society). But Thoreau himself was pretty reliant on the generosity of his friends and neighbors. His aunt had to bail him out of jail, and then his family continued to pay fines to keep him from going back. In one portion of the book, he writes how he built a frame for his house, and then had his neighbors help put it up, not because he needed their help, but because he wanted to make them feel needed. Really, Thoreau? You were going to hang the sides of your house all by yourself? Because I actually have helped build a cabin in the woods, and let me tell ya, it seems pretty difficult to hold up those boards and nail them in. Dick Proenneke, on the other hand, built a log cabin, which would be an easier one-man job than hanging siding.

I have to admit, Thoreau is more capable than I would be in the wilderness -- at one point, his axe handle breaks, so he carves a new one and puts it on the axe. If that had happened to me, well, I'd be taking the next train back to Comfort Town. But still, Thoreau's self-satisfaction so far is driving me nuts. In fact, he kind of reminds me of that kid from Into the Wild -- so self-absorbed that he doesn't realize he isn't as capable as he thinks.

I'm only a 3rd of the way through the book, and it's going to take me another two months to finish if I keep reading a whopping 4 pages a day. But so far, I'm unimpressed. And this is supposed to be an American Classic!


Kelly@TearingUpHouses said...

that's exactly why i was too irritated to get through into the wild! there was something arrogant about the premise to me...


Lynn said...

I have tried 3 times to read Walden, and I just can't do it. It is still on my bookshelf, so maybe I will try again.

I love Dick! I have the DVD of the documentary and the book. I envy him, but I don't think I could have done it.

I liked Into the Wild, but I totally think the guy was an arrogant punk that had no business being out there.

Anonymous said...

A very wise librarian wrote that if you don't like the book, stop reading it. Goodness knows you have give an honest effort. However, there are so many books and so little time. My advice would be to quit reading "Walden" and move on to another book. My experience has been that Thoreau is more interesting to read about than to actually read. He's an author I can appreciate through filters, i.e., others who can explain it all to me. A very interesting article in the New Yorker or Atlantic a while back traced his trip up the Merrimack River to the fall line. Really good article, lots of Thoreau quotes, but without the plodding Thoreau syntax. I can't read Thomas Harding, George Eliot or Cotton Mather. But I have thoroughly enjoyed Washington Irving, Leo Tolstoy and Jane Austin. Move along -- there are so many wonderful books to read.