Friday, April 15, 2022

Memoir Review: Six Walks: In the Footsteps of Henry David Thoreau

Booktopia 2022 is quickly approaching (click Events for more info; my recap of Booktopia 2019), and I am continuing to read the new releases from the authors who will be there for the weekend. Last month, I read a memoir,  Six Walks: In the Footsteps of Henry David Thoreau, by Ben Shattuck. This unique nonfiction book is filled with nature, beautiful outdoor writing, and the kind of introspection I love in memoirs.

The author began retracing some of Thoreau's walks spontaneously during a low point in his life. He set out to walk the coast of Cape Cod, wholly unprepared and poorly equipped, on a whim (it felt a bit like Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods at that point!). But he met some fascinating people, saw some amazing sights, and came out of that walk a little bit better in mind and body, so he continued his mission. He based the six walks on both the published books and essays written by Thoreau and also on Thoreau's personal journals (which I guess have been published). As often as possible, he tried to re-experience the exact same places in similar ways to Thoreau, though of course our modern world has changed things quite a bit. Besides two walks along Cape Cod (along the inner and outer shores), he also ventures up a mountain in Massachusetts, along the MA/RI coast starting from his own home in the salt marshes where his family has lived for generations, up Mount Katahdin in Maine's Baxter State Park (the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail), and canoeing with a friend in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway in northern Maine, to the exact island where Thoreau and his colleagues camped on his own canoe trip there. Throughout the book, Shattuck shares his most intimate thoughts and feelings, as well as his observations of nature, and quotes from Thoreau himself. The result is both an emotional and physical journey.

From Thoreau, on how walking echoes life, quoted in the book:

"There is, however, this consolation to the most wayworn traveler, upon the dustiest road, that the path his feet describe is so perfectly symbolical of human life,--now climbing the hills, now descending into the vales. From the summits he beholds the heavens and the horizon, from the vales he looks up to the heights again. He is treading his old lessons still, and though he may be very weary and travel-worn, it is yet sincere experience."

From Shattuck, comparing nature to life:

"Grief and joy are in the same life, but it's only in the forest where you notice the shafts of sunlight spilling through."

As someone who loves nature, loves walking (as much as I am able), and has visited Cape Cod and Maine (one of my favorite places), I thoroughly enjoyed taking this journey with Shattuck. His nature writing is lyrical, bringing the forests, lakes, and coastlines to life on the page. I'm embarrassed to admit I have never read any Thoreau (I plan to rectify that), so I also enjoyed reading these passages from his many writings. And I could appreciate the healing power of nature and the author's own personal journey in this book. He accompanies this lovely writing with his own sketches, which were so beautiful that I ordered a hardcover copy of the book, even though I've already read an ARC on my Kindle. All of these elements come together in a beautifully written memoir that combines nature, travel, literature, and personal experience. I can't wait to meet Ben Shattuck at Booktopia in a few weeks!

175 pages, Tin House Books

Audio: Blackstone Publishing

PLEASE NOTE: Six Walks: In the Footsteps of Henry David Thoreau will be released on April 19, 2022.

This book fits in the following 2022 Reading Challenges:

Nonfiction Readers Challenge (category Wild Animals)

Literary Escapes Challenge - Maine 

Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. My review is my own opinion and is not influenced by my relationship with the publisher or author.


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Listen to a sample of the audiobook here and/or download it from Audible. There is an audiobook, narrated by actor Jonathan Todd Ross. I'm guessing the audio sample will be posted on the book's publication date.


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Or you can order Six Walks: In the Footsteps of Henry David Thoreau from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

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