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Back to School (with Ralph Waldo Emerson) August 22, 2007

Posted by bookgoddess in Books.

This is the big day for teachers and students in Palm Beach County.  A full day of classes featuring some excitement, some dread, some separation anxiety – maybe even some separation glee…the (almost) universal school experience has begun.

What do you think about when you think of going back to school?  I think the thing I liked best was selecting my new school supplies.  Of course, they are now far more glamorous and high-tech than we ever imagined in the long ago days when I was in grade school.  (I did buy a fab new notebook recently that is a piece of modern art.)

But – this blog is about reading, not my shopping obsessions.  I had a teacher friend in graduate school who always read Emerson’s essay “The American Scholar” as a back to school ritual.  I think this is eminently cool, and would recommend it to you.

“The American Scholar” was Emerson’s declaration of independence for the life of the mind in America.  As a transcendentalist, he placed a great deal of emphasis on nature and experience as opposed to an ivory tower existence:  Action is with the scholar subordinate, but it is essential.”  He also says, and here the Book Goddess has to part company with him a little bit:  “books are for the scholar’s idle times.”  However, she is big on experience, too.

This essay was originally an address given to the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Harvard.  They liked it so much that they named their journal after it.  Emerson was hugely popular with the general public as well and filled many a lecture hall on his speaking tours.

Back in the sixties, a lot o people read Walden and moved out to the woods, which I think was slightly literal-minded of them.  Maybe if they had known that Thoreau often went to have Sunday dinner with the Emersons, they would have picked up his Essays as well. 

After you’ve finished “The American Scholar,” I’d recommend “Self-Reliance.”  You can read it first if you like.  Emerson was also a poet and coined the phrase “the shot heard round the world.”  (Google it if you want to know which poem!)

Do you have any reading rituals?  Are you an Emerson fan?  Let me know!


Tina Maura Albee

The Book Goddess


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