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Thoreau at Walden [Hardcover]

John Porcellino


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Book Description

April 22 2008

“I am convinced, both by faith and experience, that to maintain one’s self on this earth is not a hardship, but a pastime, if we will live simply and wisely.” So said Henry David Thoreau in 1845 when he began his famous experiment in living on Walden Pond. In this graphic masterpiece, John Porcellino uses only the words of Thoreau himself to tell the story of those two years off the beaten track. The pared-down text focuses on Thoreau’s most profound ideas, and Porcellino’s fresh, simple pictures bring the philosopher’s sojourn at Walden to cinematic life. For readers who know Walden intimately, this graphic treatment will provide a vivid new interpretation of Thoreau’s story. For those who have never read (or never completed!) the original, it presents a contemporary look at a few brave words to live by.


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Product Description

About the Author

John Porcellinohas been writing, drawing, and publishing minicomics, comics, and graphic novels for the last twenty-five years. His celebrated series King-Cat Comics, begun in 1989, has inspired a generation of cartoonists.Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man, a collection ofKing-Catstories about Porcellino's experiences as a pest control worker, won an Ignatz Award in 2005.Perfect Example, first published in 2000, chronicles his struggles with depression as a teenager. According to cartoonist Chris Ware, "John Porcellino's comics distill, in just a few lines and words, the feeling of simply being alive."

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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Soft and still April 30 2008
By E. R. Bird - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Credit The Center for Cartoon Studies with this much; it isn't your everyday average run-of-the-mill comic book variety factory. I mean, any schlub can slap together a bunch of panels, paste in some vague dialogue and facts, and then create enough computer images to declare their product a graphic novel bio of such n' such a figure. It's much harder when you want to do something a little more original with your subject. When The Center produced Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow last year, they didn't make it some rote retelling of facts. Instead they created a story around their subject, placing Satchel at the center of the action rather than the story. I was curious to see how they'd tackle their next project: Henry David Thoreau. The result was not what I'd expected. Simplifying everything down to its most essential components, John Porcellino takes Thoreau's Walden and conveys ideas through the minimum words and images needed to tell his tale. Its success is dependent entirely on the reader's willingness to play along.

Separated into four seasons, the reader follows Henry David Thoreau as he spends time living on his own alongside Walden Pond. Snatches of his writings from the time dot the text, with much of the attention paid to his quieter moments of pause and reflection. Watching an owl in a tree, standing in the rain, or sitting in the middle of a boat in the center of his pond, artist John Porcellino allows us the chance to experience the simple miracles of the everyday through Thoreau's eyes. With an almost minimalist style of cartooning, we see Porcellino recount the incident with the poll tax and other well-known moments, but for the most part this is a book that takes Thoreau's message to heart and seeks to present a book that conveys the message of Walden visually rather than with words.

I was pleased to see that D.B. Johnson was responsible for the Introduction to this book. Best known for his Henry picture books (Henry Hikes to Fitchburg, Henry Works, etc.) starring a Thoreaunized bear, Johnson delivers a beautiful summary of Thoreau's life, his ideas, and the way in which John Porcellino has captured the his spirit with remarkably few lines. Says Johnson, "You may regret that not all of Thoreau's words are here, but I do not. His words are among the most quoted of any writer and are found everywhere today. What could not be found until now are the countless moments of silence that Thoreau experienced at Walden Pond." I see it this way; anyone can relay a person's words. It takes a special talent to relay a person's peace of mind. I would also say that Johnson's Introduction is essential reading before you start in on the story. If you don't understand that this is a book that hopes to capture the quiet moments between Thoreau's thoughts then you might be confused as to why not much happens in the story. As Porcellino says of his book, it is, "not a definitive or chronological account of Thoreau's stay at the pond, but rather an impression of his experience there."

My husband was unconvinced of Porcellino's cartooning talent. And it would be fair to say that many people could pick up this book and see it as childlike and simplistic. But I suppose that Porcellino was paired specifically with Thoreau because the simplicity of his line echoes the simplicity of the text. I began to wonder if the story could have been improved it had been in color. Thus far the books created by The Center for Cartoon Studies have all been black and white. This cuts down on costs, but something about this book felt like it should have had color in it. Not gross shadings and undulating tones, but straightforward blues for the lake, greens for the trees, and the color of a huckleberry hanging off a bush. If any book deserved it, this one did.

I know that when some people read in Johnson's Introduction that Porcellino has reduced Thoreau's words to a minimum, they're going to be concerned. To what extent do you trust a comic book artist to adapt an American philosopher? Porcellino's Afterword addresses the changes that he has made, and it certainly put my heart at ease to hear him describe what he did. "All the words in this book, with a few exceptions (noted below), come directly from Thoreau's published writings (though I've taken the liberty of altering punctuation when necessary, and combining, and rearranging the quotations to make the story flow." To account for all of this he has a complete list of Quotation Sources at the end of the book detailing each quote and where it can be found "in editions of Thoreau's work that are currently in print and easily available." The book's last few pages also contain a map, Panel Discussions, and a Bibliography of works about both Walden and Thoreau.

Thoreau at Walden would pair beautifully with a high school or college course in which students had to read Walden on their own. I know that had I read this book (and its Introduction) when I was younger I might have been able to understand a lot more of what Thoreau was trying to say. Advocates of civil disobedience, environmentalism, simple living, vegetarianism, and more adore him. It only stands to reason that we should find ways to get his books into the hands of our children. And Thoreau at Walden is now the number one method of doing so.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pitch Perfect! May 27 2008
By P. Karasik - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Do not be fooled by the deceptive simplicity of the drawings here, be moved by them.

Everything that you need to know about Thoreau and why he is important, even essential to Americans of any era, is conveyed with clever precision in this slim, handsome volume. Perfect for the beginner...maybe even better for those who want to recall what it was about Thoreau that made him so important the first time we read his work decades ago.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Richie's Picks: THOREAU AT WALDEN May 11 2008
By Richie Partington - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."

"I see young men, my townsmen, whose misfortune it is to have inherited farms, houses, barns, cattle and farming tools...for these are more easily acquired than got rid of."

"Shall we always study to obtain more of these things...and not sometimes to be content with less"

It is a lovely evening in Sebastopol to be reading and contemplating the words of Henry David Thoreau. There have been a few good rainy days over the past couple of weeks. Everything is suddenly sprouting -- even little weed seeds stuck on the sides of stones -- and one can easily recognize the increase in the height of the newly growing grass from a given morning to the same day's late afternoon. My osmanthus bush, at the bottom of the stairs outside, has in the past couple of days exploded in blossoms that once again send out the sweet, fragrant apricot scent that I fell in love with during that fall, long ago, when I first arrived here in Sebastopol.

It is a warm evening tonight and, with the windows open, the din of birds, bugs and frogs that lay mute just a few weeks ago in the dryness of late summer is providing a rich soundtrack of Mother Nature's fertile stirrings, a symphony of night music to accompany my reading of this inspiring little graphic novel.

THOREAU AT WALDEN succeeds quite beautifully in introducing readers to pearls of Henry David Thoreau through the incorporation of manageable passages of his writings into the graphic format.

"The greater part of what my neighbors call good I believe in my soul to be bad...and if I repent of one thing, it is likely to be my good behavior."

"I hear an irresistible voice..which invites me away from all that."

"And he saw the tree above him, and the stars
And the veins in the leaf
And the light, and the balance."
-- Graeme Edge/Ray Thomas "The Balance"

I had the good sense a few years ago, when ALA was in Boston, to take time to walk from Concord to Walden in the dead of winter and experience in solitude the environs where Henry David melded his observations of his surroundings, his compassion, and his examination of the human condition into a philosophy that has since, for generation after generation, inspired so many of us whose feet move to the beat of a different drummer.

It is not an easy path to follow -- it never has been with the pounding beat of commercialism everywhere we turn. (I'm seeing ads for a life insurance company and a cell phone service provider being projected onto my email browser screen as I write this.)

"It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves...how worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity."
"I went to the woods to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts 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."

For someone like me, who came of age in the Seventies reading the works of E.F. Schumacher and Amory Lovins, THOREAU AT WALDEN is a joy to behold, a lovely book to inspire a new generation to live deliberately.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great graphic version of Walden Jan. 30 2010
By K. Persello - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book combines many of Thoreau's most famous sayings with simple drawings of the area around Walden pond. It is not a word-for-word rendition of Walden, but hits the highlights. It evokes a simpler life, but also shows just how much Thoreau's words still resonate today. Many of the drawings have no words with them, illustrating Thoreau's appreciation of silence, as well as simplicity.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome for Thoreau fans. Feb. 5 2013
By Drewboy64 - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
This comic is awesome. It has a simple but beautiful art style, and it kind of helps bring Thoreau to life. The comics are NOT in color (or rather, they are monochrome), but it is enjoyable. It's a quick read, but regardless, it's a beautiful piece of art.


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