Framing the Tao of Thoreau

How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book!”

The New Walden is a self-initiated project which our creative director, Matt, began in 2015. We present this Shortcut from his perspective.

Have you ever read a book that challenged how you see the world and your purpose in it? In my life thus far, several books have catalyzed turning points. Walden, by Henry David Thoreau, sits near the top of that list.

Today, Walden is more relevant than ever, but the book’s readership is declining. I’d like to change that.

I’m creating a newly annotated, hardcover edition that I hope will play at least some small part in solving this problem.

Scope Creative Direction Art Direction Design Campaign Strategy Copywriting Editing

Contributors Co-editor: Corinne H. Smith Kickstarter Campaign: Daly Video: Hannah Radcliff & Edward Calvey Score: Ariadne & Bryan Steel

What Makes It New?

Annotated editions of Walden already exist, some of which include abundant commentary. That’s great for academic study, but a delightful reading experience for both newcomers and longtime fans is my primary goal.

Thanks to expert editorial support from Corinne H. Smith, our annotations are relatively sparse yet engaging. We don’t want to create a study companion as much as an unobtrusive guide. The goal is to leave you alone with the text as much as possible but to provide enough insight so that you can keep your smartphone in your pocket.

Corinne, in her element

Some annotated books use footnotes or endnotes, which can be tedious and fussy, forcing the reader to hunt for references. Superscripts or subscripts clutter the page and distract the reader. Even the editions of Walden with friendlier side margins are tough to follow after several pages because the main text and notes become separated.

Instead, our notes are set off in the margins, right next to the lines they elucidate. Not only are such notes easy to find when you want them, but they enhance the page’s aesthetic, ruffling like little prayer flags in the wind.

Additionally, we’ve updated the structure of Walden – but not in a way that changes the content. Thoreau loosely arranged the book to follow the progression of seasons throughout the year, so we simply created four sections of similar length and gave each section its own title and opening spread.

Economy, the book’s first chapter, is by far the longest, comprising nearly 25% of the entire text. I’ve turned Economy into book one by breaking it into six shorter chapters and left the other 17 chapter arrangements alone. This yields 23 chapters of similar length. The new structure creates a more sustainable pace and a better rhythm.

Finally, there are two ingredients that don’t exist in previous editions: full-color illustrations, and a section of prose poems selected from some of the book’s most arresting sentences.

Durable by Design

From typography to layout, I made every decision with beauty, pacing and simplicity in mind.

Thoreau was an early advocate for conservation, and sustainability is critical to this project. From cloth and thread to paper and ink, all of this edition’s materials will be high-quality, archival, durable and responsibly made. And we’re partnering with a printing company that uses 100% renewable energy.

A rounded European spine naturally fans out and lays flat when open. Easier to hold with one hand. Over time, the rounded spine puts far less stress on the binding. In other words, this detail makes the difference between a shelf-life of decades and centuries.

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Illustrations & Endpapers

After exploring the prospect of collaboration with several illustrators, I realized my own collage method could be a good fit for Walden. I gathered old photos and drawings from open-source archives and combined them with vector artwork to create figurative scenes and vignettes. I think the scrappy thrift of collage would resonate with Thoreau if he was alive today.

My friend Whitney Winkler is an artist who specializes in watercolor and ink works on paper. She graciously offered to donate several images for endpapers and liquid textures in my illustrations.

Economy. “The grand necessity, then, for our bodies, is to keep warm, to keep the vital heat in us. … Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.”

Living. “This was an airy and unplastered cabin, fit to entertain a travelling god, and where a goddess might trail her garments.”

Neighbors. “In warm evenings I frequently … [played] the flute, and saw the perch, which I seem to have charmed, hovering around me, and the moon travelling over the ribbed bottom…”

Dawn. “The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to us. Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.”

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Whitney Winkler’s ink washes are subtly woven throughout the illustrations. The first one shown here will be used for endpapers.

Prose Poems

Thoreau was a poet, but his best poetry was hidden in his prose. This edition features a curated selection of Walden’s most lyrical passages, presented as prose poems and arranged in thematic pairs. By setting these selections in prose form rather than lineated verse, we can maintain the original format while highlighting each passage’s aesthetic. And just as the main text walks through the seasons, pale background tints gradually cross the color spectrum as you turn from spread to spread.

Approaching the Finish
After more than five years in the making, this edition of Thoreau’s beloved masterpiece is nearly finished.

In addition to the hardcover book, we’ll offer an ultra-limited slipcased edition. The case will be simple, sturdy, and clothbound to match the book’s cover. A detailed drawing of New England granite will wrap around all five sides.

Open-source, customizable crowdfunding tools now exist. This means no Kickstarter, no hidden fees and no drop-deadline.

We’ll build a pre-order page where you can reserve your copy. Once we meet or surpass the target of 2,000 books, we’ll move into production. Books will begin shipping about 8–10 weeks after production commences.

When? 2022. Spring. Could be April, could be May. But barring some unforeseen calamity, you won’t have to wait any longer than that.

Once the pre-order page is up, we’ll notify Kickstarter backers and everyone on our email list. If you signed up on my personal website, you’re already good to go. If not, what are you waiting for? Scroll down, sign up for our emails and you’ll be in.