Thoreau and I find common ground

I’m making good progress in my study of Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden”, the supposed seminal work on self reliance. It’s not an easy read, as his prose is full of references, many of which cannot be understood without the help of the editor’s footnotes. I also find his tone a bit too self-righteous and absolute.

Nonetheless, I probably agree with his basic assertions more often than not. We are too interested in the accumulation of things. We can become slaves to our own possessions. We could get by more simply than we do. I’m not sure I’m ready to take it to the level he does, but I’m quite certain my life could be more simple than it is.

But where I really start to agree with him most is his section “Reading”, in which he discusses what literary pursuits are most worthwhile. He recommends the classics (though of course he insists that we must read them in their original language). And though I may disagree with him somewhat on what qualifies as a classic, I do feel that his differentiation between worthy literature and trite, “for entertainment only” literature is valid. I’m not against reading for entertainment, necessarily, but I do feel, especially these days when my time is at a premium, that if I am going to read something it should be something that will either elevate my soul or educate/exercise my mind (no, not exorcise, thank you).

I do not necessarily join Thoreau in his dismissal of children’s books. They may be light and trite, but they are no less full of truth sometimes. There is something to be gained, actually, in remembering how to view the world through a child’s eyes–or at least the eyes of a writer trying to appeal to children. I find books by Cynthia Rylant, for example, to be quite fun–especially her “Mr. Putter and Tabby” books. She has a charming sense of humor that manages to find gentle humor in everyday life, and at the expense of no one. While the characters are often the source of the humor, it is clearly in a spirit of love, not derision, that she elicits laughs.

But I digress. I think that the stories and information we take in helps form who we are in many different ways. We should be more cognizant of what we read and more careful in how we spend our reading time. As the saying goes, “Garbage in, garbage out.”

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