Thoughts on Transcendentalism and Walden by Henry David Thoreau

I am not as familiar with nineteenth-century American literature as I feel I am with British nineteenth-century literature, especially Victorian fiction. In fact, I don’t recall studying many American classics from the era since my junior year of high school, and I struggle to name classic authors from various decades in American literature. Walden was one book I know I studied in depth in my high school class. I remember I did a group project in which we handed out fortune cookies. Other than that, I don’t remember much about Walden. When Jillian announced a Transcendentalist month (see more details here), I was willing to give this American classic another try.

As most people know, as a young man, Henry David Thoreau left his comfortable home in the village of Concord to live in the woods near Walden Pond. Walden, his collection of his thoughts about his years living a life of simplicity which he called “self-reliance,” has been called one of the greatest books in American literature. Apparently, while Emerson began the concept of finding truth within one’s self, Thoreau was one who put it in to practice in a real way by living the life. He is essential to the transcendentalist movement.

In my case, very little of Walden inspired me. I personally found Thoreau unbearably egotistical and opinionated. There were a few gems here and there, and I did enjoy the beautiful style in which he described the nature around him (to some extent). He certainly was a talented writer and a well-educated man. But I felt there were a few essential issues about his “self-reliance” that left me annoyed, rather than inspired. Because I wanted to be sure I wasn’t misunderstanding transcendentalism, I even found a few essays and a book about the era in American literature to make sure I was interpreting his concepts “properly.” I believe the entire philosophy is simply not one I can subscribe to, although I appreciate aspects of Thoreau’s way of life in the woods.Continue Reading

Oddfellow’s Orphanage by Emily Wingfield Martin

Delia has recently been orphaned and finds herself among a truly odd assortment of characters when she arrives at Oddfellow Bluebeard’s orphanage. Each child at Oddfellow’s Orphange has something that sets them apart from the others, from the boy with an onion head, to the girl with blue tattoos all over her body, to a young hedgehog. Each child also has some delightful quality that makes them perfectly likeable.

Oddfellow’s Orphanage, written and illustrated by celebrated Etsy artist Emily Wingfield Martin (to be published January 2012 by Random House), tells us a little bit about each of the children, and just how their personalities and their not-so-happy pasts give them a special reason to contribute to the happiness of the others in the home. Together, the happy family of orphans and the assortment of interesting teachers create a delightful world that a young reader would probably love to visit. What child wouldn’t love classes in fairy tales and cryptozoology (imaginary animals)?

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(Kids Corner) Some Cybils 2011 Books about … Imagination and Bedtime

Once again, I’m doubling up on subjects here, but they do relate. On one side, we have the wonderful world of imagination. Some of my favorite books I’ve read for the Cybils this year have been about children entering an imaginary world in one way or another. My son Raisin is quite imaginative, so I can relate to these books very well as a mother.

And then we have the magical twinkling stars that surround us at bedtime. Bedtime stories are some of my favorite books to read to a sleepy child. They, for the most part, do a wonderful job of getting a child ready to close their own eyes. I like to read the last sentences slowly and quietly myself.Continue Reading

D’Aulaires’ Norse Gods and Giants and Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt

Although I grew up with D’Aulaires’ Greek Myths, I have never been familiar with traditional Norse mythology. I have a Scandinavian heritage, so this seems a bit sad to me. When I saw that A.S. Byatt’s new addition to the Canongate Myths series was about the end of the world according to Norse mythology, I decided it was finally time to delve in to the Norse myths.Continue Reading