One of the most famous works of American literature is Henry David Thoreau’s 1854 book, “Walden.” Odd thing is, despite the fact that studied American Lit in high school and college, I couldn’t honestly say that I’d read this entire book from start to finish, even though I had read small portions of it. For this reason, I put “Walden,” or as it’s properly known, “Walden; or, Life in the Woods,” on my bucket list several years ago.
For a while, I kept my eyes open for an inexpensive copy of this book, and a year or so ago, I found a $4 copy of it at the Ol' Curiosities and Book Shoppe in Monroeville, Ala. I bought the book, and then it proceeded to sit on one of my bookshelves for a few more months, unread. Fast forward to Dec. 12, when I finally started reading this classic book.
The edition I read was the 305-page, Signet Classics paperback 130th Anniversary Edition, which not only included “Walden,” but also included Thoreau’s famous essay, “Civil Disobedience." I wouldn’t say it was a quick read for it took me nearly a month to read it from back to front. I officially read the last page on Jan. 5 and took more than a little pleasure in crossing this item off my bucket list.
For those of you unfamiliar with “Walden,” it tells the story of how the 27-year-old Thoreau conducted a two-year experiment in which he took to living alone in a simple cabin in the woods along the banks of Walden Pond, near Concord, Mass. Thoreau began this experiment on July 4, 1845 and he officially left the woods, ending his experiment with simple living, on Sept. 6, 1847. He published “Walden” almost seven years later, in August 1854.
I read somewhere that it took five years for Thoreau to see all 2,000 copies of the first edition of “Walden.” Thoreau eventually contracted tuberculosis and passed away at the age of 44 in 1862. He didn’t live to see the second printing of “Walden,” which went on to sell millions of copies around the world.
As you might have imagined, “Walden” is one of the most influential American books ever written, and you’ll find it on many “best of” lists. Easton Press ranked it No. 4 on its list of “100 Greatest Books Ever Written,” and Easton Press also ranked it No. 46 on a list called “Books That Changed The World.” One of my favorite Web sites, “The Art of Manliness,” ranked “Walden” No. 20 on a list it called “100 Must Read Books: The Man’s Essential Library.”
The editors at The Guardian also included “Walden” on a list they called “The 100 Greatest Non-fiction Books,” and the Library of Congress included the book on a cool list the compilers called “88 Books That Shaped America.” The College Board (the good folks who created the SAT test) included “Walden” on a list they called “101 Great Books Recommended for College-Bound Readers,” and the book is also recommended reading for students in the Outdoor Literature classes taught at Idaho State University, the home of the annual National Outdoor Book Awards.
In the end, how many of you have read “Walden”? What did you think about it? Did you like it or not? Let us know in the comments section below.