NY Times Reviews Book of Essays on Thoreau

Why Does Thoreau Live On? A Few Famous Writers Offer Answers.

By John Kaag

Writers Reflect on Henry David Thoreau
Edited by Andrew Blauner

Our 4-year-old son, Henry, calls it “my rock.” It’s right near our house in Concord, Mass., and we visit it often at the burial ground at Author’s Ridge, the final resting place of Hawthorne and Emerson. It is the plainest yet most impressive of headstones, a small marble slab bearing a single word: HENRY. Before Henry David Thoreau died on May 6, 1862, he whispered four words to his sister that have always puzzled me, at least until now — “Now comes good sailing.” It’s a strange suggestion that the journey of life might only truly begin after death.

Thoreau never understood, and could never have guessed, how popular he would become. When he fell ill with his final bout of tuberculosis, his masterpiece, “Walden,” was out of print. Today, millions of readers cherish it and its call to “live deliberately.” “Walden” will probably never go out of print again, and the first edition, the one Thoreau struggled to sell for a dollar, fetches thousands at auction today.

Why does Thoreau live on? This is the central question answered by a remarkable anthology gathered by Andrew Blauner, entitled “Now Comes Good Sailing.” Anthologies are rarely remarkable. It is extremely unusual for any number of iconic writers (much less 27 of them) to team up in defense of their literary hero, but Blauner’s table of contents reads like a “Who’s Who of Intelligent Modern Prose”: Megan Marshall, Lauren Groff, Celeste Headlee, Pico Iyer, Amor Towles, Alan Lightman and Adam Gopnik, among 20 others. Read the full review at the New York Times.

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