Similar books to Walden by Henry David Thoreau?
April 23, 2015 11:45 AM   Subscribe

I'm curious to know if there are any works of novels, poetry, and non-fiction that parallel with the work of Walden? From an individualist, naturalist, and stream of consciousness point of view. Particularly works similar to Thoreau's eloquent writing style.

What are some excellent works of novels and non-fiction similar to Walden's social and political themes? I have read some of Woolf, Frost, and Wilde; in some respect, their writing seems to equate with Thoreau's work of Walden. I enjoy memoirs and nature very much; as well as poetry encompassing nature. Wealthy feedback would be greatly appreciated. Thank You.

P.S. I have been told that the novel based on a true story 'Into The Wild' is a highly regarded work, which may have been influenced from Walden.
posted by RearWindow to Education (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
posted by Ideefixe at 11:50 AM on April 23, 2015 [7 favorites]

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard is consciously similar to Walden. And much superior.
posted by 256 at 11:50 AM on April 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank You! I will most certainly scout for this recommendation. Appreciated.
posted by RearWindow at 11:52 AM on April 23, 2015

Does Ed Abbey fit in here? I'd certainly call it individualist, naturalist, and stream of conciousness but I'm not sure if people would put him in the same class as Thoreau.
posted by H. Roark at 11:55 AM on April 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I recommend reading A Sand County Almanac, by the light of burning pages from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.
posted by humboldt32 at 12:10 PM on April 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

I would also recommend Dillard's essays Teaching A Stone to Talk.

And I immediately thought of Abbey when reading your question, but as H.Roark notes, his writing style is very different.

You might like Wendell Berry. You might like John McPhee.
posted by janey47 at 12:15 PM on April 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

Have you ever tried John McPhee's work? Any of his books about nature might interest you but I'd especially suggest either The Control of Nature, The Pine Barrens, or Coming into the Country.
posted by Wretch729 at 12:18 PM on April 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

I am glad to see that Also Leopold already got mentioned. And he's got a sweet chair to his name, too!
posted by wenestvedt at 12:25 PM on April 23, 2015

Thoreau was part of the "Transcendentalist" school, which also included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa May Alcott, Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickenson. (Wikipedia: "Among the transcendentalists' core beliefs was the inherent goodness of both people and nature. They believe that society and its institutions—particularly organized religion and political parties—ultimately corrupt the purity of the individual. They have faith that people are at their best when truly "self-reliant" and independent. It is only from such real individuals that true community could be formed.) So you might start with "Leaves of Grass" by Whitman, "Little Women" by Alcott, a collection of Dickenson's poetry, and Emerson's "Self-Reliance." These are all on Gutenberg free ... although you might want to attempt Whitman with some editorial guidance.

John Muir and Willa Cather aren't part of the Transcendentalist movement, but jump to mind as similar. Most American writers after the Civil War have at least SOME Thoreau in them ... it's hard to avoid.

Cheryl Strayed's "Wild" is another modern work (like "Into the Wild") that shares a lot in common with Walden.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:54 PM on April 23, 2015

Abbey, Muir, and McPhee mentioned above are spiritual kin of Thoreau in my book.
posted by nickggully at 3:16 PM on April 23, 2015

Almost everything I would recommend (Dillard, Leopold, Abbey) has already been suggested. But I will add "The Sacred Depths of Nature" by Ursula Goodenough. I've read only a little of it, but it's pretty clear already that it belongs in this company.

You might also like "West with the Night" by Beryl Markham. It's a memoir of childhood and badass-lady-pilot-hood in Africa in the early 20th century. That's a notably different subject matter than some of these other recommendations, but the language is gorgeous, and the memoir is substantially of a relationship with the land, the people, the flora and fauna of a rapidly changing continent.
posted by richyoung at 4:16 PM on April 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've read most of the above suggestions, and can nth them all.

Leopold's The River of the Mother of God is an essay that has always haunted me, more than anything in the Sand County Almanac..

The river has been in my mind so long that I cannot recall just when or how I first heard of it. All that I remember is that long ago a Spanish Captain, wandering in some far Andean height, sent back word that he had found where a mighty river falls into the trackless Amazonian forest, and disappears...ever since some maps of South America have shown a short heavy line running eastward beyond the Andes, a river without beginning and without end, and labeled it the River of the Mother of God...

That short heavy line flung down upon the blank vastness of tropical wilderness has always seemed the perfect symbol of the Unknown Places of the earth. And its name, resonant of the clank of silver armor and the cruel progress of the Cross, yet carrying a hush of reverence and a murmur of the prows of galleons on the seven seas, has always seemed the symbol of Conquest, the Conquest that has reduced those Unknown Places, one by one, until now there are none left.

...I know the time is not far off when there will no more be a short line on a map, without beginning and without end, no mighty river to fall from far Andean heights into the Amazonian wilderness, and disappear. Motor boats will sputter through those trackless forests, the clank of steam hoists will be heard in the Mountain of the Sun, and there will be phonographs and chewing gum upon the River of the Mother of God.


Into the Wild provides a sobering counterpoint to it all. Or perhaps, an exploration of when idealism surpasses common sense.
posted by kanewai at 7:44 PM on April 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Richard Proenneke went to the Alaskan wilderness and write a few sets of journals, some of which were published later. He's not as erudite as Thoreau but his natural observations are great and I'd try to read his journals. They're available from the National Park Service. I also liked This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland by Gretel Ehrlich. Part travelogue and part interesting political discussion of the area. Noel Perrin's books are more modern but he wrote a series of books about moving to rural Vermont (First person Rural &c) that are very readable and enjoyable.
posted by jessamyn at 10:03 PM on April 23, 2015

Though it was written 700 years earlier, the work of this Chinese buddhist recluse poet, which for some reason I seem to be the only person in my circle to enjoy so much, seems to share themes with Walden.
posted by Schmucko at 10:20 PM on April 23, 2015

You could try Adam Thorpe's On Silbury Hill - positive Guardian review, negative Guardian review. Also W G Sebald. And Hugh Thomson's The Green Road into the Trees - interview.
posted by paduasoy at 10:59 PM on April 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

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