Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Book

August 9, 2011
Inside a Book

How many a man has dated a new era in his life
from the reading of a book!
The book exists for us, perchance,
that will explain our miracles

and reveal new ones.
The at-present unutterable things
we may find somewhere uttered.
     HDT, Walden, "Reading" chapter, 1854

Today is the day that Walden was published back in 1854.
It’s not the only book that has changed my life,
or that has shown the way along interesting trails over the years – but today is a day to celebrate nonetheless !

We can be thankful that Mr. Thoreau saw fit to try again,
after the commercial failure of his first book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. He had printed that book at his own cost, having been unable to find a publisher willing to take a chance on an unknown author. 

He joked bitterly in his Journal -

[October 27, 1853]:
For a year or two past, my publisher,
falsely so called,
has been writing from time to time
to ask what disposition should be made of the copies
"A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers"

still on hand, and at last suggesting
that he had use for the room they occupied
in his cellar.
So I had them all sent to me here,
and they have arrived to-day by express,
filling the man's wagon, --
706 copies out of an edition of 1000
which I bought of Munroe four years ago
and have ever since been paying for,
and have not quite paid for yet.
The wares are sent to me at last,
and I have an opportunity to examine my purchase.
They are something more substantial than fame,
as my back knows,
which has borne them up two flights of stairs
to a place similar to that
to which they trace their origin.
Of the remaining two hundred and ninety and odd,
seventy-five were given away, the rest sold.
I have now a library of nearly nine hundred volumes,
over seven hundred of which I wrote myself.

Fortunately for us, he tried again with a second book, and after several years and eight revisions, sent the final manuscript of Walden to another publisher, where it was slightly more successful.
Now, 157 years after that first book rolled off the press, there have been over 200 editions, and the book has been translated into at least 50 languages.

At this very moment, a friend many thousands of miles away is laboring at a desk, laboring with love on a translation of Walden into yet another language, a translation for new readers, far across the sea.

With his second book, Thoreau wasn't necessarily publishing it to make money.
There are other measures of success, as the book itself so aptly points out.
He had something to say. And I'm glad he said it.

Let me ask you, dear readers,what books have initiated new eras in YOUR lives ?


  1. Your quotes from Thoreau have intrigued me, I just reread Anne LaBastille's "Woodswoman II". Her inspiration for her retreat cabin in the Adirondacks was Thoreau, hence its name "Thoreau II". It was her place to write and contemplate. I bet you have read her books.
    Being a kid of the Northern Adirondacks and Lake Champlain, your photos and his writing always seem so familiar to me :o)

  2. Sue, Nicely said. Garrison Keiller had a piece about Walden's publication on his Writer's Almanac program today. It included the line "I grew in those seasons like corn in the night,..."

  3. hello Caroline - sad to say Anne LaBastille recently passed on - she was a local treasure that is for sure.
    And hi Al, as a matter of fact, because of that very same quote, I have been paying weekly visits (with camera) to a nearby cornfield, just to see if corn DOES grow in the night ! It got a late start over here this year due to very wet fields at planting time.
    It's a beautiful plant, just coming off tassel stage right now.

  4. Henry David Thoreau is probably the biggest influence-- most of his works. Walden is certainly a major influence as well as Terry Tempest Williams' works (Refuge, An Unspoken Hunger, etc.), Outermost House by Henry Beston, Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley.
    Sorry to hear about Anne LaBastille-- Iknew she was not well but did not know she had transitioned. Certainly enjoyed her books.
    Thoreau is the one person I would love to walk with.

  5. I knew Anne had passed away, she had been living in a care center a block from where my folks live.
    A unique and amazing person.