Laura Dassow Wall’s biography of one of the most eclectic writers of all time was my best read of the year. It’s one of the books that are just so immersive. I have an eye for biographies because I was exposed to them in college. I know what good historiography is. But Dassow Walls’ biography was entirely different and unique from all the academic biographies I’ve read. She writes as if she’s in a quest to answer the same questions that Thoreau asked himself—and, actually, she was! She also writes poetically and she has a taste for creative literary tools—there are cliffhangers all over the book creating suspense at the end of sections, making you want to read more of what could’ve been a very boring book.
I felt very, very close to Thoreau while reading this biography. I read it in the morning, then I read it in the evening, and every time I read it, I was spending time with a great master of the art of living. My creative life will never be the same. In Thoreau’s life, I found an affirmation of the things that I have already been doing in my relationship with the material world and my relationship with my art. Thoreau also provides a model for me to follow.
My favorite part of the book was Laura’s description of Thoreau’s final moments. I can still picture in my mind how the dying Thoreau lied down on his porch while passersby—both young and old, even children—came by to pay their respects to a nation’s treasure who is about to breathe his last. It was just powerful writing. I’m currently immersing myself in Thoreau’s journal, reading his entries for each day. If I keep at it, I’ll finish by December next year and his journal will definitely be part of next year’s My Hero Books list.
Walls, L. D. (2017). Henry David Thoreau: A Life (First edition). University of Chicago Press.