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A Year in Thoreau's Journal: 1851 (Penguin Classics) Paperback – December 1, 1993
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"My Father, the Pornographer" by Fang Lizhi
A son tries to understand his late father, by reading the 400-plus novels left to him in his father's will. Check out "My Father, the Pornographer".
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The journals are so long and copious, that it can be hard to decide where to start. I don't know off-hand how many pages or words there are, but there are enough of Thoreau's Journals out there to last you 3 to 5 years of reading.
So! You should buy this starter book to introduce you to the flavor of the Journals. If you also read some of the Biographies out there, you learn that Thoreau's life went through some distinct periods, which will be reflected in the different Journals. Many folks think 1851 was a magic and expanding year for him, and that's why this book follows this year alone.
My only complaint about the book using this time frame is that it sort of Pornographically selects from all the years of the Journals--and pornographically selects from 1851. As if all T's days were charmed, all rich with experience.
But the Journal selections excerpted here and this book as a whole have many good qualities that outway my only complaint. They are:
1.--This book follows a year, and T was very much influenced by the seasons. Coming full circle in a year with T is good reading.
2.--The book doesn't try to do too much. If an Introduction book does its job, it should leave you wanting more deep info on the subject. This book did that for me.
3.--There are a couple-few cool replications of drawings T did in his journal. Bonus points for these.
Overall, the subject material here is awesome. If you only know Thoreau through his published "books" and if you like them (especially the naturalist part of them), the Journals will change your world. This book does a solid good job of introducing you to the Journals.
This is by far the best way to experience his journal, too. Short excerpted collections are problematic because you cannot get used to the flow of his writing, and the changing nature of it over the lifespan of the journal. This book, which is the full year of 1851, may contain less-than-stellar entries, but it also contains some rippers, and is definitely the best way to experience it. It was about this time in his life that Thoreau decided to stop using his journal just as a source for his other books, and rather to create it for its own sake. And it shows - this is not writing to be chopped up and excerpted, but to be enjoyed in its entirety.
The best possible introduction to the masterpiece of his life - 5 stars.
It's fascinating to see how Thoreau went from being considered a failure in his own time to one of the most prescient & relevant American writers of our time. The materialism, the conspicuous consumption, the degradation of both the natural world & human relationships -- he saw it all coming, and did his best to offer an alternative worldview, one based on the development & growth of a genuinely authentic life. Given the superficiality & essential emptiness of current society, that alternative worldview is desperately needed now.
And simply as literature, this is beautiful reading, with a deceptively simple prose that's been carved & polished with incredible precision. Yet it seems to emerge on each page as something spontaneous & natural, like the unfolding & flowering of a green branch in Spring. At the same time, Thoreau can be humorous, particularly in a satiric vein; and he can also be quite pungent, as well.
This isn't for everyone, if course -- although many who'll undoubtedly shun or ignore it would probably benefit from it. But for anyone who hungers for something deeper than the illusion of a worthwhile life -- the one that's offered by contemporary culture in all media -- this is rich & fertile ground. Most highly & urgently recommended!