Thumbing Through Thoreau, compiled by Kenny Luck: Book Review

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Cover of Thumbing Through Thoreau by Kenny Luck

3 Stars

Synopsis from the book’s website.

On July 4, 1845, when Henry David Thoreau moved into his cabin on the shores of Walden Pond, he was probably unaware that his abode in the woods, and the impact and influence of that endeavor, would forever echo through time.

Thoreau was an uncompromising idealist; an ardent maverick who criticized his fellow man. He urged that men and women ought to live more simply, and more deliberately. “The mass of men,” he famously wrote, “lead lives of quite desperation.”

Yet the scope of Thoreau’s message is much wider than social criticism. He speaks of spiritual transcendence in Nature and the unbounded potential of the individual. Thoreau is a dreamer and he speaks to dreamers. In a word, shun dogmatism and demagoguery; see beyond the immediate conventional religious explanations to reap a higher understanding.

In our commodified contemporary American society, with the rise of religious intolerance and fundamentalism, materialism and mass consumerism, Thoreau’s message is needed now more than ever.

Author Kenny Luck has thumbed through Thoreau’s voluminous journals, correspondences and other publications to make this the most comprehensive collection of Thoreau aphorisms available.

Illustrators Jay Luke and Ren Adams lend their talents to artistically interpret Thoreau’s vision. Each quote is accompanied by an original drawing.

A collaboration of three individuals breathes new life into the immortal words of Henry David Thoreau.

Thanks to the publicist for sending me an unbound galley for review.

I see this review as being in two parts: the quotes and the format.

The quotes are pretty easy. I think most people already have at least a vague idea as to what Henry David Thoreau was all about.  I enjoyed studying the transcendentalists in college, and I enjoyed reading more from Thoreau now.  Here are some quotes that I marked from this book:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential fact of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

“It is never too late to give up our prejudices.”

“Moreover, any man more right than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one already.”

“The stars are God’s dreams, thoughts remembered in the silence of his night.”

I found several obvious typos, both in Luck’s introduction and in the quotes themselves. That feels like a huge no-no in a book of quotations. I did read an advance copy, so I hope that these were corrected before the final printing.

Now for the format. (You can look inside this book on Amazon, so you can see what I’m talking about there.)

Part of the reason I asked to review this was because of the gorgeous cover artwork. I knew this was an illustrated book of Thoreau’s quotes, so I fully expected that kind of artwork to be on the inside. It isn’t.

There are two illustrators. I am not an artist, so I may get some terms wrong, but hopefully you’ll know what I mean. Ren Adams uses “traditional Chinese brush painting techniques.” I would describe Jay Luke’s style as pen-and-ink. At first I was disappointed because the illustrations were so very spare and I had expected lush woodsy scenes like the cover. Once I thought about it, I realized that the simple black-and-white illustrations on the inside matched Thoreau’s “Simplify, simplify!” philosophy perfectly. However. They did start to feel generic. I don’t know if the illustrators ran out of ideas or time or something, but I felt there were entirely too many illustrations of dead trees.

The formatting is a little odd too. The font is in varying shades of gray. Important words are in a larger font. I can see why this would seem like a good idea, but in reality, I read the large words with extra emphasis, which led to some odd cadences. The alignment of the text is set to justify, but some quotes were so short they felt like they should have been centered.

Overall, it was a good book with a good idea, but the format was not to my taste. I might have paid more attention than I normally would have because I did receive this for review. Thoreau lovers should be happy with it.

That gorgeous cover is Woodland Visitors, painted by Nicholas P. Santoleri. A limited number of prints co-signed by the artist and celebrities are being sold to assist The Walden Woods Project in conserving Walden woods.

Visit other reviewers on the book tour and see what they thought.

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  1. Dear The Bumbles,

    Thanks for sharing the authenticity of the cover painting – and how it realistically depicts the real-life perspective of Walden Pond.

    How wonderful that you live close by such a natural treasure.

    The book is also available at the Gift Shop at Walden Pond if you ever happen to be in the area and want to take a look at it in person.

    Best wishes,

  2. Thanks Jen for the detailed and honest review here. I am a big fan of Walden Pond, since it is a short jaunt over from where I live. It is a simple place – that cover art is a very fair representation of the view from where Thoreau's home stood.

    The interior drawings are simplistic – and as you stated, and the commenter above mentioned – fit the theme throughout Thoreau's words and quotes.

    They are not my taste either however. I don't have a way to describe them but I was anticipating more elegant pencil sketches instead of very blocky and almost modern looking designs. That is not a critique of the artists but rather of the theme I was expecting to see continued within based on the cover art.

    In any event – it is about the words on the pages and if the pages are all about Thoreau's quotes and observations about them I'm all for spreading the love. Thanks for giving it attention – and an honest review. Keep up the good work!

  3. Dear IntrovertedJen,

    Thank you for taking the time to write a comprehensive review. I can see from your gorgeous blog why you are attracted to the cover artwork.

    I just wanted to address a few of the points you mentioned. Yes, full color illustrations throughout would have been glorious. However, being a small press, having over 300 fully illustrated, color pages would be something way beyond our means in terms of cost.

    I want to put in a word for our artists – Jay Luke and Ren Adams. They lived up to the expectations of the project and then some – including a tight deadline. While taste is a matter of personal opinion, I cannot find fault with the quality of their work as professional artists. The style of Nick Santoleri's one painting is what it should be for a cover – the style of Jay and Ren is what it should be for nearly 300 illustrations of a black and white interior. They complement the quotes, but are not designed to upstage them.

    Yes, there is a typo in Kenny's introduction – the word scared should be sacred – and trust me, he is well aware of it. He is the one who first alerted me to its presence. However, even a 200 page book that is 99 percent free of typos, will still have one every 20 pages. No book is perfect, even though everyone involved with its creation wish it could be.

    I guess it's just a little disheartening to see a book everyone worked so hard on receive only 3 stars. I think it's a winner. However, I value your opinion and I appreciate the coverage you have given the book.

    Thanks again,
    Tribute Books

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