Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough


Now Comes Good Sailing (Writers Reflect on Henry David Thoreau)

By: Andrew Blauner

Narrated by: William Hope, Barbara Barnes, Kaliswa Brewster, Kate Harper, Peter Marinker, Ako Mitchell

Andrew Blauner (Founder of Blauner Books Literary Agency, Editor of anthologies.)

Blauner’s compilation of essays about Thoreau’s life and philosophy is broken into five sections.

  1. Excursions Near and Far.
  2. Deliberate Living.
  3. Direction of His Dreams.
  4. Practicalities.
  5. At Walden.

David Henry Thoreau (1817-1862, Writer, environmentalist, ecologist, philosopher.)

An apocryphal saying by Thoreau on his death bed is “Now Comes Good Sailing”.

The first section is ironically titled “Near and Far”.

Thoreau lives a narrow parochial life which explains “Near”, but his writing reflects a wide philosophical understanding of nature. Of course, Thoreau’s most famous book is “Walden”.

“Walden” is a short book about Thoreau’s two-year experience in his self-built house beside a Massachusetts’s pond.

Thoreau’s observations about nature’s fragility, beauty, and rebirth resonate with many who fear global warming and environmental destruction.

The essayists in the first section of the book lauds Thoreau’s view of solitude and peace that come from communing with nature, away from the hustle of everyday life. One living in this time is discomfited in some ways by these essays of Thoreau’s sabbatical because most who wish to live a life of solitude and peace have bills to pay and children to raise. Thoreau’s answer is “simplify your life”.

A few Americans seem to have interpreted “simplify” to mean one should become a vagrant, live in a tent, and ask charity from others who work for a living. That is not the story of these essays.

Thoreau works as a surveyor, builds his own house, and chooses self-sufficiency as a goal for living within one’s means. He did not look for hand-outs as a way of simplifying his life. He chose to live a simple life, not a life dependent on other’s charity.

When young there is little understanding of who we are or what we can do. As we age, Thoreau argues for understanding yourself and living deliberately with choices based on one’s self-understanding.

Deliberate living is living within one’s means and capabilities. Alan Lightman, a physicist, and writer, recognizes his life is slower now than when he was young. He chooses to live deliberately based on what his life has become, not on what life was when he was young. He obviously misses that fast pace but deliberation, careful consideration of life as it is now, compels deliberative recalibration.

Jennifer Boylan (Author, transgender activist, professor at Barnard College.)

Jennifer Boylan’s essay about Thoreau reveals how much better life is when you are who you are rather than what others think you should be. Boylan chooses to live a deliberative life.

“Directions of His Dreams” is a personal speculation by essayists of Thoreau’s feelings about love and life. James Marcus suggests Thoreau is in love with Ralph Waldo Emerson’s wife. He bases that speculation on scant evidence in Thoreau’s written correspondence. Whether Thoreau is gay, bi, or hetero seems superfluous whether in dreams or reality. Marcus’s speculation seems more titillation than revelation.

“As for Clothing” Amor Towles and Adam Gopnik note Thoreau finds comfort and utility as a measure of value for what one wears.

The point is that clothes made for a King that are only worn once have little comfort and no value. In contrast, Thoreau would suggest clothes that keep one warm when it is cold, comfortable from long wearing, and useful for work have great value.

Geoff Wisner (Author, editor of Thoreau’s Animals.)

Geoff Wisner suggests Thoreau’s measure of “what is worth doing” is based on answering the question of “Is It Worth the While”.

The last section of the essays reflects on independence and political risks Thoreau chooses in his short 44 years of life. Thoreau actively supports abolition by physically participating in the underground railroad with help for escaping slaves. Thoreau wrote about and actively participated in civil disobedience. He went to jail for non-payment of taxes (eventually paid by Emerson) because he disagreed with government policy.

Thoreau aides one of the participants in the abolitionist uprising by John Brown in the 1859 Harper’s Ferry raid. (Brown was hung for his action.)

There are reasons to admire Thoreau in these essays whether one has read “Walden” or not. Equally, there are reasons to question interpretation of Thoreau’s thoughts by 21st century essayists.

Author: chet8757

Graduate Oregon State University and Northern Illinois University, Former City Manager, Corporate Vice President, General Contractor, Non-Profit Project Manager, occasional free lance writer and photographer for the Las Vegas Review Journal.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: