Wednesday July 12th- despite the rain, lightning and flood warnings- a group of individuals met at Pine Banks Park to celebrate the 200th birthday of avid transcendentalist and Massachusetts author Henry David Thoreau. The Malden Public Library put on this event under the guidance of Library Director Dora St. Martin to discuss Thoreau’s most popular novel, “Walden,” and to talk about the man who cast himself as the starring role in it. There were many varied opinions on what people thought of “Walden” and Thoreau with some feeling that his writing was very, “self-centered,” while others felt that his writing was, “stimulating,” and viewed the novel as less straightforward than it seemed.
The varied opinions of the group were also reflected in the varied origins of the group’s members. Aside from St. Martin, there was also a married couple who had lived in Malden for all of their married life, a woman who moved here from Malaysia five months ago, and a man from East Boston who’d visited the Malden Public Library recently and having heard about the event decided to attend. While all had different ideas and thoughts about the book, all shared a passion for not only reading but for challenges, as they not only braved the storm but plowed through Thoreau’s challenging text.
When discussing the writing style of Thoreau, it was clear that most found his writing to be a bit difficult to understand due to both the time period and the multiple interpretations one could take from the novel. The woman from Malaysia had never previously read the text and since English is not her first language she had to, “re-read paragraphs,” however she still could easily see how the language Thoreau used was, “poetic and romantic.” Others had read the book in high school and hadn’t taken another look at it since the event and were surprised by the difference they felt in reading it a second time. One woman felt that the, “19th century prose,” was rather challenging for her but back in high school the ideas and philosophies that Thoreau wrote about were still very new and fascinating to her. Another woman noted that Thoreau used a lot of, “Greek and religious references,” throughout the book which also provided a bit of difficulty when reading.
However, despite the difficulties that may have arisen while reading the novel all of the partygoers could agree that the novel is still able to be applied to our lives. The woman from Malaysia spoke about how Walden is a, “very self-reflective book,” and that Thoreau’s focus on individuality reminded her of our current lives and how our world has become very self-consumed. Another woman who’d previously read the novel agreed and said that when she’d first read it she was a teenager and was drawn the to aspects of individuality throughout the novel however now that she’s surrounded by it she, “doesn’t like it (the individuality) as much.” Another big idea that the readers garnered from the novel was the concept of living more simply and being present in the current moment, which a lot of them felt was especially important as we are so often focused on the future that we forget to enjoy what is currently happening.
The 200th birthday party for Henry David Thoreau at Pine Banks Park was a wonderful way for interested readers to be able to expand their knowledge of the book as well as share thoughtful discussions on nature, self-reflection, and symbolism. Thoreau truly came to life again through the perseverance and enthusiasm of this group of people to commemorate the day and hold onto the timelessness of the book.