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Walking Hardcover – April 23, 1851
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- Publisher : Chump Change (April 23, 1851)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 42 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1945644230
- ISBN-13 : 978-1945644238
- Lexile measure : 1290L
- Item Weight : 8.3 ounces
- Dimensions : 6 x 0.25 x 9 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,070,436 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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It’s been too long since I read _Walden_ (1854), but if my memory serves me right, there is not much in this essay that Thoreau did not express one way or another in his most famous book. “Walking” (1862) has, of course, the advantage of brevity. About walking itself, Thoreau tells us that “every walk is a crusade,” and his invitation to a walk is almost the same as Christ’s call to his disciples: “If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again--if you have paid your debts, and made your will--then you are ready for a walk.” Becoming a walker requires “a direct dispensation from Heaven.” I wonder what was behind my choice to walk instead of taking the bus. Did I simply want to be different? If so, was it because I did not want to be identified with the majority? Because I wanted to be noticed, even if I was probably made fun of behind my back? Or did I simply want to save the bus fare? The bus simply went too fast for me. It did not allow me to pause and look at the world around me. I wanted to look at the shop windows, at the people, at the sidewalks and the trees. Thoreau does not go into detail when it comes to the psychology of the walker, but I do feel that when I decide to walk I am answering to some sort of call.
Thoreau soon delves into the beauty of wildness. All of our so-called improvements “deform the landscape, and make it more and more tame and cheap.” I was surprised to find in this essay a phrase I had heard in a Metallica song! “In Wildness is the preservation of the World.” The song, if you’re interested, is “Of Wolf and Man,” from the black album. I share Thoreau’s enthusiasm for nature in the raw, though I admit I like a few of civilization’s comforts. “I enter a swamp as a sacred place,--a sanctum sanctorum.” A few years ago I had the chance to visit New Orleans; I went with a girl I was dating at the time. Our time was limited, so we had to decide between a boat down the Mississippi or a swamp tour. She wanted the former, and could not find one reason why I--or anyone, for that matter--would be more interested in the latter. “It’s just a swamp!” she said. I enjoyed the Mississippi, but I’m still waiting for the opportunity to go back to New Orleans--on my own, or with the right person--and experience the swamp tour.
Literature, says Thoreau, should be wild too. I was reminded of the English painter Thomas Cole, who loved the American continent because of its “want of association.” US literature fulfills the promise Thoreau envisioned. Edgar Allan Poe is an iconic American author because he is sui generis. Many of his short stories inaugurated genres. “Genius is a light which makes darkness visible,” Thoreau says, “like the lightning flash, which perchance shatters the temple of knowledge itself--and not a taper lighted at the hearthstone of the race, which pales before the light of common day.”
My favorite passage in the essay, however, has to do with knowledge and ignorance. “What is most of our boasted so-called knowledge but a conceit that we know something, which robs us of the advantage of our actual ignorance? What we call knowledge is often our positive ignorance; ignorance our negative knowledge. […] Which is the best man to deal with--he who knows nothing about a subject, and, what is extremely rare, knows that he knows nothing, or he who really knows something about it, but thinks that he knows all?” I don’t believe Thoreau is promoting ignorance; rather, he questions our perception of knowledge. The situation in our age is even more pitiful. We may be lead to believe we know everything simply because we carry little devices in our pockets that allow us to look up anything we want. In school we are taught what the system decides we should be taught. Universities are no better. The environment has become so politicized that in some cases more indoctrination goes on in universities than in high schools. Thoreau does not disparage knowledge; he is saying that much of what we call knowledge is a form of ignorance. In our upside-down world, unlearning is often more liberating than learning.
There’s much more to Thoreau’s philosophy than can be appreciated in “Walking,” but this is an excellent essay that offers plenty of food for thought. Thoreau may (and has) been criticized for many things, but few will deny that he is an excellent writer and a stimulating thinker. I have reservations about _Walden_, but it is a book that should be read, even if it is only to disagree with it. “Walking” may not be exactly about the art of using your legs, but in its exploration of wild nature it moves us to truly become a part of the world we call our home.
My next essay by Thoreau will be “Civil Disobedience.”
Thanks for reading, and enjoy the book!
In particular, I found myself pausing on a spread, reading the text on the left-hand page, then gazing at the extraordinary beauty of the photo on the right-hand page, then looking back and forth. On spread after spread, I had an “out-of-mind” experience: being enticed to both see and understand the world as I imagine Thoreau saw and understood it.
For this review, I’ve tried to articulate the experience I had, again and again, reading “Walking with Thoreau.” The following description is too linear to do it justice, but I hope it suggests how the text and photos interact to create an experience richer than either alone:
Typically, I have had four different stages of experience for each spread, in this approximate order:
1) The literal text: what is Thoreau describing? What was Thoreau looking at?
2) The image: what part of the contemporary woodland does Jacobson-Hardy connect with the quote?
3) The significance of the text: is there a figurative meaning in the text that the image brings out?
4) The significance of the image: how does the photo connect with that figurative meaning?
For example, on pages 72-3, I noticed myself interacting with the spread this way:
1) The two quotes from Thoreau seem to connect two ideas: the “perfect stillness and peace of the winter landscape,” and viewing us not so much as members of society, but as “part and parcel of Nature.” Connecting those two ideas stretched my mind, and then made me curious about what image would evoke that;
2) So I looked at the photo on the right, which shows a winter woodland scene, both stark and rich. It wasn’t really "breath-taking" for me; it was more “breath-giving.” I found myself feeling a stillness and peace centered on the memory of fresh, cold air inside my lungs.
3) Looking back at the text, I noticed again the phrase “to regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of nature.” I remembered experiences of canoe-camping years ago; often, on the 4th or 5th morning, I would look over a misty lake and feel connected to the world as a whole.
4) Looking back at the image, I felt fully a remembered sense of truly belonging on this intricate, amazing planet—which defines me more than does the built world of the city or the town. I felt the primacy of my connection to the beautiful earth shown in Jacobson-Hardy’s photograph.
Writing all this out is clumsy and linear. But I wanted to communicate the almost meditative process I experienced through this amazing, humanizing, humbling book.
I have seldom been drawn so deeply into a book of photographs. But the thoughtful, inspiring poetry of the book (words and pictures in tension and in balance) holds up Thoreau and his woods in a way that triggered, for me, experiences of joyful wholeness.
Top reviews from other countries
Thoreau's 'Walking' is a lecture on the benefits of nature. He devotes himself to the outdoors and who can blame him? The descriptions of the walks he takes are encouraging.
Thoreau was an American writer and philosopher. He is best known for his essay 'Walden' although he has written a lot of other works. He lived from 1817 to 1862.
Thoreau's unflagging enthusiasm dominates the writing. I like a walk in the fresh air but I found this essay a bit over the top. His love of swamps is quite alarming. I prefer my countryside easier on the legs. He talks about the wild with references to man and beast. He describes his surroundings with total adoration.
Here are a couple of quotes I enjoyed:
Quote "A man's ignorance sometimes is not only useful, but beautiful—while his knowledge, so called, is oftentimes worse than useless, besides being ugly."
Quote "Above all, we cannot afford not to live in the present. He is blessed over all mortals who loses no moment of the passing life in remembering the past."
I enjoyed his little account of when he climbed a tree and what he saw. Although I am not sure how safe that would have been.
I agree with Thoreau. Do we fit in enough time to relax in nature? Are we always busy? There is no doubt it is good for us. Sadly we are not very good at putting our mental health first.
It's not a big read but still I did find it hard to concentrate and it ended up being more of a chore than an enjoyable read. I may need to read it again. I enjoyed parts of it none the less and whole heartedly agree about the benefits of nature.
He often wanders so far off topic you really do lose track with what he's on about, or what his central theme or point is. Though some of his thoughts that emerge along the way do still have the ring of truth about them. He is the archetypal romantic idealist, urging humanity to get back in touch with the earth. In our post-industrial world this strikes a quaint and elitist note, which isn't going to be much help to most of us living a crowded urban life style. Strangely I can see why he can be adopted by both the left and right wing of US politics. He's not averse to strident tub thumping about moral decadence whilst at the same time espousing an alternative simple lifestyle stripped of the clutter of capitalism. Depends how selectively you read him, I guess.