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$28,952 pledged of $104,000 goal
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By Matt Steel
$28,952 pledged of $104,000 goal
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About this project

This campaign has changed from its original scope. Based on community feedback and our own reflections on how to help Walden remain contemporary, we have decided to forego the adaptation, and instead publish a new hardcover edition of Walden with the original text and annotations tailored for today’s reader.

Today, Thoreau’s Walden is more relevant than ever, but it has been said that the book's readership is declining. I'd like to change that.

When I first read Walden in 2014, it had a profound impact on me. Having gone through a period of career burnout followed by radical lifestyle change, I could see that Thoreau's ideas on simplicity, consumerism, and busyness had an uncanny relevance to the challenges we face today. I shared my enthusiasm for the book with anyone willing to listen. But I kept having to couch my recommendations: “This is an incredible book, but the 19th century language is hard to digest at times. But stick with it, and you’ll be glad you did!” This situation bothered me. I didn't want to keep telling people they should read Walden – 'BUT' ...

While Walden has always been a challenging book, the evolution of language over the past two centuries has made it harder for modern readers to get into the text.

I’m creating a newly annotated, hardcover edition of Walden that I hope will solve this problem.

Thoreau in 1861. Ambrotype by Edward Sidney Dunshee
Thoreau in 1861. Ambrotype by Edward Sidney Dunshee

BACKGROUND

In 1845, Henry David Thoreau built a small cabin on the shore of Walden Pond, near Concord, Massachusetts. He wanted to create a quiet place where he could write, live simply in the thick of nature, and, in his own words, “suck all the marrow out of life.”

Thoreau lived on the Pond for about two years. Walden is the account of his experiment and reflections during that time. First published in 1854, Walden is a heady mix of memoir, philosophy, satire, and nature writing. In Walden, Thoreau observed that many people were spending their lives chasing after possessions and comforts that would never satisfy. He discovered that when we reject greed, simplify our lives, and pursue living in the present, a quiet revolution takes place inside the spirit and ripples outward into the lives of others.

For our own sake as well as future generations, it’s vital that we prevent Walden from becoming a collection of motivational posters for cubicles and suburban half-bathrooms.

"A century and a half after its publication, Walden has become such a totem of the back-to-nature, preservationist, anti-business, civil-disobedience mindset, and Thoreau so vivid a protester, so perfect a crank and hermit saint, that the book risks being as revered and unread as the Bible." — John Updike

The best books are timeless. Only the ongoing transformation of language leaves them behind. By creating easily-accessed notes that illuminate archaic words and references that may be obscure for many readers, we can preserve the original text and shed new light on it at the same same.

Given the speed at which our society is changing, we owe it to ourselves and future generations to find a better way to keep our greatest stories alive. That is why I’m creating a new edition of Walden, and why I’m doing it now.

I've partnered with Billy Merrell, an award-winning author, editor, and poet. He loves Thoreau and Walden in particular. With his help, every annotation will pass through a double filter. Together, I’m confident that we can help this story remain evergreen.

The front cover: clothbound, foil stamped, simple and sturdy.
The front cover: clothbound, foil stamped, simple and sturdy.

What makes this edition of Walden different from all the others?

SCOPE

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 our primary goal.

Our annotations will be relatively sparse. We don’t wish 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.

Much of Walden remains accessible by today’s standards. Our plan is to elucidate the archaic words and idioms in Walden, as well as the cultural, historical, and literary references that Thoreau uses to embellish and connect his thoughts. And when untranslated Latin appears in the text, we will include the English translation in the margins.

We're also including a new section of prose poems selected from some of Thoreau's most arresting sentences in Walden (more on that below!).

Archaic words and idioms are defined throughout, and historical or cultural references are made clear.
Archaic words and idioms are defined throughout, and historical or cultural references are made clear.

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 can distract the reader. Such elements have their place in textbooks and study Bibles, but would weigh down a book like Walden. 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 much easier to find when you want them, but they enhance the page’s aesthetic, ruffling like little prayer flags in the wind.

A closer look at the notes
A closer look at the notes

Additionally, I am updating the structure of Walden, but not in a way that changes the content or its order of appearance. Presented in four distinct parts or books, each section begins with a gorgeous illustration (more on this below). 

Economy, the book’s first chapter, is by far the longest, comprising nearly 25% of the entire text. I’ve broken Economy into five shorter chapters, and left the other 17 chapter arrangements alone. This yields 22 chapters of similar length. The content is presented in the same order as the original text, but the new structure creates a more sustainable pace and a better rhythm.

Opening spread of Book One
Opening spread of Book One
Opening spread of Economy, Part One
Opening spread of Economy, Part One

A Timeless Design

A well-designed book is a visible reflection of the story, as well as its author’s persona and values. Thoreau was an early advocate for conservation, and sustainability is critical to this project. From cover cloth to paper and ink, all of this edition's materials will be high-quality, archival, durable, and responsibly made. And I’ll be partnering with a printing company that uses 100% renewable energy.

The dedication page. Note the full-color endpapers peeking through.
The dedication page. Note the full-color endpapers peeking through.

ILLUSTRATION

This book will be illustrated by a wonderful artist named Brooks Salzwedel. His images depict natural environments divorced from any usual surrounding or place in time. He draws and paints onto layered sheets of transparent papers and casts them directly onto panels. Brooks will create five full-color illustrations, which include an image for each section and a map of Concord, Massachusetts in Thoreau's day. Shown below is Brooks's illustration for the first section. He will also produce marbled patterns for the endpapers and pull-quote pages.

One of five full-color illustrations
One of five full-color illustrations

Below are just a few examples of past work from Brooks's portfolio.

EPIGRAPHS

Walden is packed with powerful one-liners, and this edition features pull quotes sprinkled throughout, with each thought having a page to itself and typeset like large-scale poetry. This mixture of loud and quiet, negative space and density creates a pace that continually invites the reader to keep going, turn the page, venture a little further.

Opening spread of Solitude
Opening spread of Solitude

TYPOGRAPHY

Typography is at the heart of this book’s design. After extensive research and testing, I decided against using fonts that are based on those from Thoreau’s day. Most of them felt either too stiff or too ornate for this project. I wanted something that was not only effortless to read, but also crisp, energetic, and timeless in its design. Since Thoreau was a poet, and his prose has a poetic ring to it, I wanted type with a lyrical feel. I found all of the above traits in the Lyon type collection, designed by Kai Bernau for Commercial Type in 2009. Lyon's optical sizes means that I can use a single font family for everything from the cover to marginalia. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!

Lyon is a contemporary take on Robert Granjon’s serif typefaces from the 16th century.
Lyon is a contemporary take on Robert Granjon’s serif typefaces from the 16th century.

PROSE POEMS

Thoreau was a poet, but his best poetry was hidden in the midst of his prose. This edition features an all-new section at the end: A curated selection of Walden's most beautiful 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.

The title of each prose poem is its corresponding page number in the main text.
The title of each prose poem is its corresponding page number in the main text.

A NATURAL FORM

A book about living simply in nature deserves natural proportions. I wanted Walden’s layout to have a harmonious tension between the page shape and the text column. The page shape and layout are based on a short pentagon proportion, found in many living things from roses to starfish. Finally, Thoreau was an intense and active man by all accounts. He often walked several miles just to visit a particular tree or stream. This asymmetric layout makes the words feel alive, as if they’re about to walk off the page and around the bend.

The book's proportions are based on a short pentagon, a form found in nature ...
The book's proportions are based on a short pentagon, a form found in nature ...
... And then we take it for a walk in the layout.
... And then we take it for a walk in the layout.

Design and Production Details

  • Printed with renewable energy in Italy by Graphicom.
  • Approximately 6.6" × 9" (167 × 228 mm). 
  • Around 300 pages (to be determined once typesetting is finished).
  • Hardcover, cloth bound.
  • Two color foil-stamping on the front, back, and spine.
  • Durable Smyth sewn binding.
  • Rounded spine for nearly-flat opening.
  • Black head and tail bands.
  • Black ribbon bookmark.
  • Printed on archival, acid-free Munken Lynx uncoated paper, with a subtle warm white color that’s ideal for long-distance reading.
  • Crisp typography for optimal reading.
  • Endpapers printed with a full-color, hand-marbled pattern.
  • Five full-color illustrations by Brooks Salzwedel, including a map of Concord in Thoreau's day and images for each of the four main sections.
  • Hand-marbled background textures for pull-quote pages.
  • Two PMS spot colors.
  • Signed and numbered.

What Inspired Us to Create this Project?

This project was born of frustration. The first time I read Walden was on a tablet. The experience was anachronistic. I was reading a story about the reduction of worldly distractions on a device that was made for multitasking. The font was whatever was set as my default in the reading app. The text felt forgotten, like someone had dumped it down a digital hole and never gave it a second thought.

I went on a hunt for a printed version that might do justice to the story. I couldn’t find an extant edition that, in my opinion, came close. This was unexpected, given that Walden is in the public domain and there are many editions floating around out there. So I thought, well … I’m a designer. Maybe I can do something about that! But a pure redesign would’ve only been cosmetic. I realized there needed to be another layer in order for this to be of lasting value. I realized that a new version with straightforward, clear annotations tailored for modern readers could introduce new audiences to this powerful book. And it might be a welcome addition to the libraries of Thoreau enthusiasts as well.

I’ve been working on this project since June 2015, although the idea started to germinate around April. I left my job as a creative director at the end of October, and began working on this edition of Walden and the Kickstarter campaign full-time.

It was clear that I needed help in order for this to be a worthy addition to your library. As an editor and poet, Lambda award-winning author, and contributor to the New York Times bestselling series Spirit Animals, Billy Merrell was the perfect partner for this project.

Why Kickstarter?

1. As stated above, Walden is more relevant than ever, and I want to give it maximum visibility. I wanted this to be a community-driven project, and Kickstarter is the best platform.

2. The traditional publishing route is time-consuming, involving agents and many other people who can say no, maybe, or you're crazy, please go away. I wanted to bring this to market more quickly and simply. As Thoreau says, "The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready, and it may be a long time before they get under way."

3. If this campaign succeeds, it will make it that much easier for me to get to work on the next book!

Why Do We Need to Raise $104,000?

The lion's share of our budget will go toward printing and shipping 2,000 books. That particular quantity is in the sweet spot as far as cost per unit vs. the budget range we can reasonably hope to raise. (Incidentally, the first edition of Walden was 2,000 books.) Another costly expense are the book materials. We are using some of the best paper, cloth, and binding methods available. While I've been working as a volunteer, I'd like to pay my collaborators for their excellent work. Plus, there are Kickstarter and payment processing fees, and we added a small cushion for unexpected costs. We put a lot of effort into reaching this break-even budget amount, which is reflected in the goal.

Logo Design Reward: Terms & Conditions

In Walden, Thoreau encourages us to engage in projects of lasting value. We insist that anyone who pledges for the $6,000 reward shares these principles. We would strongly prefer if this reward is claimed by a small organization of 50 people or less, and would particularly like to work with clients in the arts, education, humanities, or publishing.

Please note, this reward is only for a logo and will not include a full brand identity system.

A selection of logos designed by Matt Steel
A selection of logos designed by Matt Steel

Meet the Team

Creator: Matt Steel, medium.com/@love_lettrs
Matt is a St. Louis based designer who writes, a father of three, and a husband of one. He thrives on giving good stories the form and visibility they deserve. Since 2003, Matt has worked as a graphic designer, entrepreneur, essayist, and most recently creative director. From 2009–2013, Matt was the founder and principal of Metagramme, an award-winning design studio. In 2013, Steel co-founded Grain Inc, a full-service creative firm in St. Louis. Until 2015, he served as the creative director of Grain's design team. Matt has worked on brand identities, books, collateral, websites, and apps for clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to startups.

Co-editor: Billy Merrell, talkinginthedark.com 
Billy is an author, poet, and editor. He lives in Brooklyn, NY, with his husband, the writer Nico Medina. In 2003, at the age of 21, he published his first book of poetry, Talking in the Dark with Scholastic’s PUSH imprint. In 2006, he co-edited (with David Levithan) The Full Spectrum: A New Generation of Writing about Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and Other Identities, which received a Lambda Literary Award. Recently, Billy's poems and translations have appeared in NADA’s Contemporary Poetry Zine, Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide, Guernica, Gulf Coast, and Brooklyn’s Slice Magazine. From 2006 to 2013, Billy served as front end developer for Poets.org, providing web analysis and content strategy for the Academy of American Poets website.

Illustrator: Brooks Salzwedel, brookssalzwedel.com
Brooks Salzwedel’s works depict natural environments divorced from any usual surrounding or place in time. Whether drawing and painting onto various sheets of transparent papers and casting these directly onto panels, or placing the works into small curios like vintage tin boxes or corroded pipe ends, his cautiously shaded compositions are balanced between a removal of time and chaos. In 2015, Brooks was chosen as Denali National Park’s visual Artist-in-Residence. He also won Los Angeles Metro poster project for 2016 in which his work will be displayed on many buses, trains and metro stations around Los Angeles, CA. Brooks's work has been displayed at prominent institutions worldwide, including the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2010); MOCA, Los Angeles (2005); San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, CA (2009). Brooks lives and works in Los Angeles.

Campaign management: Crowdsourceress Alex Daly and Vann Alexandra, vannalexandra.com
Vann Alexandra is a creative services agency that gets projects financed through crowdfunding with a 100% success rate. The company’s founder has been dubbed the “Crowdsourceress.” Clients include Neil Young, Oscar-winning and Emmy-nominated filmmakers, citizen investigative journalist Brown Moses, New York Times bestselling authors, Pentagram designers, and best-selling girl group of all time, TLC.

Video: Hannah Radcliff & Edward Calvey, hannahradcliff.com
Hannah is a filmmaker and entrepreneur. Since 2008, she has traveled the world as a camera operator for a major TV network, producing and shooting a Midwest Emmy award-winning regional television show, inventing filmmaking gadgets and honing her skills as a cinematographer on short and feature length indie films. Hannah lives in St. Louis with her partner, Edward.

Music: To the Trees 
To the Trees is the musical collaboration of Bryan and Ariadne Steel. Bryan has been writing and recording music since 2000. From 2009–2012, he wrote, sang, and performed with Dear Vincent, a St. Louis based band. Their eclectic style synthesized elements of folk, pop, and indie, along with moments of Spanish/Gypsy/World influence. Ariadne has been writing and recording music since the mid 90s. Her solo project, Ayung Kyung, is electronic folk. Bryan and Ariadne met through mutual friends, eventually writing and performing together in Dear Vincent. Bryan and Ariadne live in Charlotte, NC with their son Gus.

Special Thanks

This project would have been impossible without my wife’s indomitable spirit, constant encouragement, and complete trust. I’m also grateful for the prayers and support of my entire family. Thank you to Billy Merrell, Brooks Salzwedel, Hannah Radcliff, Edward Calvey, and Alex Daly for not only believing in this project, but also joining me in making it happen and bringing your creativity and expertise to bear. Thank you to Michael Bierman, Kevin Kelly, Corinne H. Smith, Dave Anderson, Mike Going, Peleg Top, Josh Hager, Jason Tasso, and Ariana Schopp for their support, friendship, and wisdom. To Deanna Kuhlmann Leavitt, thank you for teaching me about texture, pacing, and how to continually invite the reader to go just a little further.

Although we've never met, I'm grateful for the influence that Robert Bringhurst and Gerard Unger have had on me as a designer. Their texts on typography, reading, and book design have been indispensable in the development of this project.

And if you've read this far, thank YOU! I can’t wait for you to hold this book in your hands.

 

Risks and challenges

Creating notes for a book as complex as Walden requires many hours of research and editing. Billy will vet my research and help me edit the annotations. When in doubt we’re consulting the substantial body of scholarly research on Thoreau. We estimate that this process will take 2–3 months.

Most of the foundational design work has already been completed, as well as one of five illustrations. The remaining design work will be relatively straightforward. As Billy and I complete the editorial process for each chapter, I’ll typeset the text in InDesign while Brooks finishes the illustrations. This process will take 3–6 months, happening in tandem with editing.

From there we move to printing, where we might encounter our biggest risks.

However, I’ve designed books and many other printed things over the years. I have a thorough understanding of how the process works, and have already been working closely with the printer to mitigate any problems they foresee before production.

I will review hard copy proofs of every page before printing. I will also be on press at the printing plant while the book is being produced – reviewing final sheets, checking bindery and finishing, and ensuring that the final product is of the highest quality.

The printer is expecting around two months from final material order to job completion. We plan on working closely with them to ensure the smoothest production possible. If funded, we plan to update backers on a regular basis.

We currently estimate that this new edition of Walden will arrive on your doorstep in early 2017, well before Thoreau's 200th birthday.

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    Matt Steel will speak to your school or organization about the new Walden’s editing and design process, Thoreau’s contemporary relevance, and the preservation of literary classics.

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