03 February 2010

10. Walden

Walden - Henry David Thoreau

Reading this was an experiment on a few different levels. First, this is a pretty difficult and exhaustive book. Second, for the first time in my life, I chose to do this one as an audio book. The experiment was a huge success and a bit of a failure. I shall explain...

I drive to work each day in my car listening to the radio. It takes between 45 and 50 minutes to get to work and the same to get home each night. That is between 1 1/2 and 2 hours each day that I could be using for something other than listening to commercials for junk I don't want to buy.

So, I decided to try out an audio book. While looking for the "right" audio book I thought I would get one that I wish to read, but probably never would actually sit down with and read in the conventional ink on paper format.

Walden has been on the list of "someday" reads for many years. So many years that I thought it was most likely going to be on that list forever. Well, why not try out this book in this new format and see how it goes.

So that is what I did. What I found is that I am very happy with listening to a man read the words Thoreau had writen so long ago. I loved hearing it. I loved the thoughts and observations. I look at it now and know that there is no way I would have ever finished reading this book if I did start it at some point. I say that becasue Thoreau droned on and on describing all manner of things in intricate details that would have driven me crazy if I was sitting with a book. Listening to these same words was like listening to poetry. It was enjoyable.

On the other hand, I think some of the underlying meaning of the words were missed because the pauses in audio are not the same as when I would read it myself. I may stop reading to reflect on something that was written, but while listening in the car the reader just kept on cruising along, leaving my thought, for which I wished to feed on for a little while, as little more than a fleeting tought. Far from Thoreau's philosophical views.

So, audio is great in some ways. One being that I got to "read" Walden when I probably never would have. Audio is also bad. I have missed opportunities to tie some of Thoreau's thoughts into my own life.
I think in the future I will listen to more audio books and stop wasting that time going to and from work, but I think that I will generally keep to some simpler subject matter.

Maybe I will try some more modern books. One's that don't really matter if I don't "think" about them and can just listen to the events as they unfold. Those would work well, I think.

Maybe I will listen to some other books that I doubt I will ever actually read but that I do want to read at some point. Those will be tough decisions.

The book itself was very interesting. Thoreau goes into the woods and lives a very simplistic life for a few years and philosophises about this and many subjects.

The first chapter, Economy, was by far the largest. In this chapter the author explains how and why he made choices and the results of those choices. Much of it came down to people should keep their lives much simpler than they are currently living and would then have far more time to do the things that make them happy. In this chapter there are lists upon lists of supplies purchased and money earned. It all came back to prove that Thoreau's woodsy simple way of life cost less than renting a place and trying to keep up with the Jonses.

My wife and I found this to be quite true a few years ago and took steps much n line with Thoreau's writings. Not to the same degree he went to, but we are doing it for life, not just a few years. We owned a big fancy house in a ritzy neighborhood and had dreams or acquiring all kinds of things. We decided to sell that house and buy a cheaper house out in the country. We wanted to grow our own vegetables to eat. We wanted to get away from wondering if our TV screen was bigger than the guy next door. I was tired of wondering what the neighbors would think if I didn't wash my car this week. We went to the country and live much simpler lives now. It is awesome. Thoreau was right on many counts, though he did go to some extremes that we will never go near. I won't be eating any chipmunks that the dog has killed.

One problem I had with Thoreau's thought on economy was that he thought others should do what he is doing also. He criticized those that did not make decisions he would have made. But, if everyone did as he did then he himself could not have done what he did. He went to town and purchased numerous items. Nails, flour, etc. So, where do the nails come from? Where did the flour come from? If too many lived as he lived then there would be no nails, flour or anything else.

My favorite section in Walden was a chapter called Brute Neighbors. There was a long section discussing the war he witnessed between a group of red and black ants. The descriptions and observations he made with this and the section about the habits of partridges were outstanding.

I came back to add this part. I forgot to mention Thoreau's theory on how the things we do as human beings, in fact all living things, are to keep our inner heat going. We eat, drink, seek shelter, love, converse, etc etc in order to supply the essentials to keep the heat within our being at a temperature where we can remain alive and prosperous. His time at Walden was spent discovering how much was needed to keep his inner heat alight. How much of the things we think we need are actually a waste of energy. How much of what we do actually consumes more heat than it generates. It was very interesting stuff.

I know I want to read Thoreau's "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience". I think I would rather do paper than audio for that one.

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