This book started as a compromise. I teach freshman English at The Fenn School, a small private school in Concord, Massachusetts set close to the shores of the Concord River, and, like a father forcing a reluctant to hunt, I tried to teach Walden to my ninth grade boys⏤paying no heed to the complexity of a text that eluded me even through high school. I justified my pedagogy in absurd ways: I will make them understand. I will make them love Thoreau as much as I love Thoreau. This is something all boys should read...and on and on...
My first attempts were by no means failures, but neither were they resounding successes. Some few were enamored and inspired; the better part were dutiful and diligent; while more than a few were left exasperated, confused and muddled. What brought the book to life was taking trips to Walden Pond, reading small chunks down by the river, sharing journal entries in a class blog, arguing around the huge roundtable in my classroom--and sometimes just taking long walks in the huge tract of Punkasset Woods across from the school, woods that Thoreau tramped through in his daily saunters and investigations.
My compromise has been to introduce Thoreau in this abridged and abbreviated version of the first several chapters of Walden, enough of a taste to hint of a greater meal later on in life. In here I try my best to capture Thoreau’s writing in his own words and thoughts through slightly parsed chapters, sections and paragraphs. It is my dream and goal to do the same with the whole of Walden as time and tolerance allows. In that sense, this book is the finger pointing at the moon, not the moon itself, though I sincerely hope it will inspire some of you to read the full book as many times or more as I have, for in each reading at different epochs of my life it reveals itself in new and stunning ways, and it is always a worthwhile investment of time and energy.
Read this with the spirit of Thoreau, not simply as an academic duty, but as a personal opportunity and odyssey that searches for your own truths, insights and revelations. There is gold in his words and a currency that will stay with you forever.
Thanks and enjoy,