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Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

Time Event
8:17p
Hmmmmm ...
A couple of weeks back I was enthusing about having found these "Dover Thrift Editions" on Amazon, and this is the first of that stack (I got 6 for me, 4 for Daughter #1, and one additional book for me that wasn't from Dover) that I've plowed through.

While these certainly are thrifty, they are also (for the most part) rather brief ... the text of Thoreau: A Book of Quotations being a scant 60 pages. Edited by a Bob Blaisdell (who seems to have been involved in a number of these volumes), this collects 500 bits culled from Henry David Thoreau's writings, from the famous works like Walden and Civil Disobedience to thoughts lifted from his journal and personal letters, arranged thematically into 17 headings.

According to the editor, Thoreau "is the most popular, and seemingly, least dated of America's nineteenth-century authors, as his voice and attitude often appear thoroughly modern", which seems to be the canonical "take" on him. Personally, I have always found this "modern" label oddly put on a man whose obsession of nature would seem to dismiss all that is modern. However, taken in the context of his time, many of his stances, to work, religion, and civil disobedience (which is noted as being an influence on the likes of Ghandi), are, perhaps quite modern indeed.

I assume that I read some Thoreau in my highschool and college years (I'm sure he's in that big two-volume set of English & American lit that was my frequent companion for much of that time), but it was never something that I enjoyed enough to either seek out independently or remember any more than vague impressions. As such, aside from the "famous lines" (ala "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."), most of what has been assembled in Thoreau: A Book of Quotations was new to me.

Predictably, I was most taken with Thoreau's quotes on Religion, as he seems to have been both well read in various faiths, and no fan of "priestcraft" (or, it would seem, "simple piety"). Having been a student of Ralph Waldo Emerson, much of his reflections in this area bear the marks of his teacher's transcendentalist leanings, although certainly framed in his own world-view. One quote that I found particularly, well, "modern" was:

"Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life so. Aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something."
Another quote that I found fascinating is a little snipped from Walden that would seem to presage one of Gurdjieff's trademark concepts: "Moral reform is the effort to throw off sleep" ... one has to wonder if the later mystic's "war against sleep" was at all informed by Thoreau's writings!

As one would expect from being in a "thrift" edition, this slim volume can be had for very little cash ... indeed the cover price on this is only $1.50! I inquired at my local brick-and-mortar book dealer about the availability of these and they indicated that they could be ordered, but must be pre-paid for in advance. Amazon, of course, has this and so your best bet, were you inclined to pick this up, would be to add this on one of those orders that is almost-but-not-quite up to the $25 free shipping threshold!


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