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On the Monks cd-rom the ebooks are a bonus. First browse The World of an Idea in the Life of Henry David Thoreau which presents, in an unprecedented hypertext matrix, the controversy, the contradictions, and the compelling truths in the world of Thoreau. Then if you wish to do your own exploration of Walden the ebook gives you the tools to do it. Search for any term and the chapter and the phrase for every instance of your search string appears in a list. Click on a line to go that spot in the text.

In addition to the powerful search features that one expects in an electronic book, this edition of Walden includes a glossary and a guided tour of Thoreau's masterpiece. The tour is made with the ebooks built-in notebook. When you click on one of Thoreau's famous phrases in the notebook's table of contents column the ebook highlights that section of the text and the notebook opens to a commentary on that text. Below you see the "goWalden" notebook window on top of the Walden ebook.

[The reader has the option of hiding the table of contents that by default runs down the left hand side of the ebook and that is what has been done in the illustration above. I also placed the notebook on top of the ebook and shrunk the whole thing down so that it could fit inside this column and still be sort of legible.]

I am pleased that these free ebooks have many useful features, but delighted that they also have at least one totally useless feature. Inside each ebook is a copy of Text Blender Pro. Paste in any meaningful passage from Walden (or whatever text you have at hand) and it will, grind, whip, puree, or liquify it until it is more or less meaningless. Below you see the original text in the upper window and the ground-up text in the lower window.

Before the age of the computer beatnik authors like William Burroughs and those influenced by him used to randomly cut up newspapers to find word combinations they liked such as "soft machine" or "diamond dogs." In the above example there are some interesting random word combinations such as "liberty evening." Nonetheless, I still think it is a delightfully useless feature.

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Each of the ebooks begins with an original preface or introduction. However, in the case of Walden I had just finished the comprehensive World of an Idea in the Life of Henry David Thoreau for the Monks cd-rom. I could think of nothing to add but the most personal remarks. They begin like this:

When I asked my composition teacher how I could improve my writing (and my average grades) he answered, "I'm sorry, I can't help you."

I managed to stutter out,

"W-wait a minute, isn't that your job?"

"No, it isn't."

"Well, what is your job?"

"It is my job to recognize good writers and encourage them." He concluded the discussion by leaving the classroom saying, "A talent for writing well, like any talent, cannot be taught."

I remember being very angry, and calming down only as I searched my well-worn copy of Walden for the words:

What old people say you cannot do
you try and find that you can. ...
I have yet to hear the first syllable of valuable advice ... from my seniors.

Then I began to investigate this thing teachers were always scouting for, this "talent." I considered the way the word is used in Hollywood when a script isn't working, "Get us some new talent!" Was talent just an all-purpose lubricant useful for cramming senseless things down the American throat? ...

© Brian Thomas, 2009
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