Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Walk in the Woods

Although my preferred form of exercise is running, there are times, especially days after a run of miles in the double digits, when walking is just about all that I can manage. There has been on my book shelf for many years (a gift from my friend Ellen) a small Penguin mini-book called Walking. A “how-to” for using a pedometer? Not exactly - rather an essay by Henry David Thoreau written in 1862. I'm sure that I haven't read a true essay since college. Wikipedia defines an essay as: "...a typically short piece of writing, usually from an author's personal point of view. Essays are non-fiction but often subjective; while expository, they can also include narrative. Essays can be literary criticism, political manifestos, learned arguments, observations of daily life, recollections, and reflections of the author.”

Thoreau managed all of these in 50 pages including urban planning, the evils of private property, the effects of climate on personality, the advantages of eating free-range meat, among other topics. If reading can sometimes be a passive activity and sometimes active, this definitely requires the attention of the reader. The language can be difficult, sprinkled with a fair amount of Latin. But the message can be very contemporary: “What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods?” Okay - I won’t always run with my iPod. There is also a bit of humor as in his proposed Society for the Diffusion of Useful Ignorance.

And right to the point for this blog he believes that “A truly good book is something as natural, and as unexpectedly and unaccountably fair and perfect, as a wild-flower discovered on the prairies of the West, or in the jungles of the East.”

Have you read a real Essay lately? Can you recommend one?

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