Monday, March 5, 2007

"New" Thoreau book

Letters to a Spiritual Seeker, Norton, 2005, Bradley P. Dean, editor

A "new" book by Henry David Thoreau? Thoreauvians were thrilled when scholar Bradley P. Dean edited Wild Fruits: Thoreau's Redisovered Last Manuscript (Norton, 1999) and Faith in a Seed: The Dispersion of Seeds and Other Late Natural History Writings (Island Press, 1996). Most recently, Bradley has gathered together a 13-year correspondence between Thoreau and an ex-Unitarian minister, Harrison Blake, into a sustained conversation on nature, intellectual friendship, and spirituality.

I encountered the book at the Daedalus Warehouse, a remaindered book seller near my house (and on the web Daedalus Books). You might think that's a bad sign for the quality of the volume, but I haunt the place. I've bought plenty of best-sellers at Daedalus, including signed copies of John McPhee's Founding Fish, plus lesser-known gems from perhaps my favorite nature book publisher, Milkweed. So even though I hadn't heard of Spiritual Seeker, I knew not to dismiss it just because its print run hadn't sold out.

For me, it's turned into a good carry-along book. You see, I'm not just an armchair reader but also a car seat reader, whenever I'm waiting for my kids to come out of school or dance or a friend's or whereever. Placed in context by Bradley's annotations, each letter offers hearty advice on how to think your best thoughts, live your best life. There's plenty here for people who think of Thoreau as a head-in-the-clouds dreamer. He insists, "Our thoughts are the epochs in our lives, all else is but as a journal of the winds that blew while we were here." Yet the author of "Civil Disobedience" also urges action, of the right, purposeful sort. I read as I waited for my teenager's latest meeting to end, "Life is so short that it is not wise to take roundabout ways, nor can we spend much time in waiting. Is it absolutely necessary, then that we should do as we are doing?" That entry helped spark me to start this long-planned blog; each reader will find inspiration and sustanence throughout this unexpected 50-letter collection.

To learn more about Letters to a Spiritual Seeker and Bradley P. Dean's other volumes, visit the late scholar's website, . Dean also edited the Thoreau Society Bulletin. To learn more about that organization's continuing scholarship, education. and conservation programs, check out Thoreau Society .

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