Thoreau on News, Spiritual Life

Last week I read “Life Without Principle” by Henry David Thoreau on the YouTube channel. It’s a fairly short essay (text here) and, from what I could tell, gives a good overview of his outlook on the world if you haven’t read Walden in entirety yet (*cough* guilty).

He has a lot of good thoughts and hot takes, but the main idea that’s lingered with me is the need to keep your inner self as pure as possible from news and other negativity. He’s not saying to go live under a rock—or is he? ๐Ÿ˜† —but rather emphasizing how useless it can be to obsess over current events. He even extends this warning to personal correspondence!

When our life ceases to be inward and private, conversation degenerates into mere gossip. We rarely meet a man who can tell us any news which he has not read in a newspaper, or been told by his neighbor; and, for the most part, the only difference between us and our fellow is, that he has seen the newspaper, or been out to tea, and we have not. In proportion as our inward life fails, we go more constantly and desperately to the post-office. You may depend on it, that the poor fellow who walks away with the greatest number of letters, proud of his extensive correspondence, has not heard from himself this long while.

I can’t imagine what he would say about the “poor fellow” addicted to social media…

Thoreau goes on to speak of preserving “the mind’s chastity” as an antidote to “intellectual and moral suicide.” Similar to Sherlock Holmes’s cautions about filling your brain-attic with junk (although of a different context), Thoreau warns against filling your head with sordid contemplations, even if they are of the real world.

This is similar to what James writes in the first chapter of his letter:

Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
(James 1:27, emphasis added)

I have been feeling pretty convicted about this already, and reading Thoreau’s essay amplified the message. I want to make some positive changes in my life towards this end, but I am not sure what form they will take yet.

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‘Lately, I’ve been, I’ve been thinking’

I can’t really call this a What I’m Reading because I’m barely reading these days… just finishing up Palace of the Peacock (Wilson Harris) and then The Secret History (Donna Tartt). I also read the Prologue to When I Whistle (Endo). But I have no posts prepared for these books yet…

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve also been interviewing for a job at a tech startup. I don’t know if I will be getting an offer or if I will accept it if I do. Feeling really undecided. It’s been good practice, in any case—I haven’t interviewed in a couple of years, and I’ve been getting rusty.

I’m getting so excited for fall! I am working on a poetry book (slowly but surely) which I hope to self-publish in a couple of months. Reading wise, not a lot of plans, just continuing reading books from around the world and whatever catches my fancy. How about you?

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Seasons of Life… and Reading

One thing I’ve been growing increasingly sensitive to is the disparity between my Reading Past and my Reading Present (and my Reading Yet to Come). For example: if you looked at my list of Classics and then at my blog or YouTube channel, you might be disappointed to find that what used to make up a big portion of my reading—the 19th century—is becoming more and more rare a subject.

About ten years ago, a couple of things caused this shift in my reading. One, I (stereotypically) discovered Kafka, who, along with Conrad, changed my reading interests and expectations more radically than I could’ve foreseen. A leanness of vocabulary (with Kafka) and a complexity of thought (Conrad) undermined my satisfaction with much 19th-century literature. Of course, I could still enjoy a good Dostoyevsky novel, and my obsession with Eugene Onegin was not stifled at all. But apart from the Russians, I began to drift away further from ever “getting back to Dickens” or exploring Trollope and Thackeray.

I started reading more nonfiction, too, inspired by my love for history I rediscovered in college. The events of the past 6 years have really made it more difficult to escape into novels. I tried to embrace this tension, looking for intersection points between fiction, history, and current events. It’s been mostly successful reading-wise (although whether it makes me feel any better is debatable!).

All that said… I’m looking for ways to better express these changes on the blog without forgoing past seasons of reading, which are still very valuable to me.

P. S. Am still experimenting with blog designs. Holler if something is hard to find, use, or figure out!