“My Journal should be the record of my love,” wrote Henry David Thoreau on November 16, 1850. “I would write in it only of the things I love, my affection for any aspect of the world, what I love to think of.” Thoreau’s record of his affections (and disaffections) grew to over 2 million words, published in both abbreviated and complete editions since 1906.
The latest version is I to Myself: An Annotated Selection from the Journal of Henry David Thoreau, by the curator of collections at the Thoreau Institute, Jeffrey Cramer. Cramer not only presents a readable selection of Thoreau’s multifarious loves—from friends to fish and from Goethe to the evening sky—but offers commentary to elucidate the historical, cultural, intellectual, and personal context of Thoreau’s text. Cramer’s scholarship deepens the meaning of Thoreau’s entries without weighing them down with too much detail or critical opinion. The result is a balanced and beautifully designed work of value to researchers seeking particular insights into Thoreau’s life and thought or for readers seeking the heady pleasure of immersion in some of the finest prose by any American writer.
Thoreau also wrote, on November 11, 1851, “’Say’s I to myself’ should be the motto of my journal.” If your New Year’s resolutions include undertaking a journal of your own, Cramer’s book offers an inspiring (and perhaps a bit daunting) record of a quarter century’s production. To me, it also offers a starting point for a resolution of a different kind. Given my conviction that books could play a greater role in environmental protection, I’m disappointed when my advocacy efforts sometimes feel like I’m talking to myself. To reach more people, I’m going try writing a few recommendations for favorite works on Amazon.com. I hope it will give me a satisfying outlet for encouraging readers to choose books that have the power to change not only individuals’ lives but society. Whenever I’m not eating better, exercising, or keeping my house cleaner and my family happier, I’ll be working harder in 2008 to advocate for nature writing and the natural environment. Happy New Year!
P.S. Thoreau also wrote, on December 17, 1851, “I do not know but a pine wood is as substantial and as memorable a fact as a friend.” And three days later, “Nothing stands up more free from blame in this world than a pine tree.” How could I not love a book with an index listing 33 entries for pines!