An independent archive of typography.
to participate.
Topics
Formats
Typefaces

The New Walden

Contributed by Matt Steel on May 26th, 2022. Artwork published in .
    The New Walden 1
    Steel Brothers. License: All Rights Reserved.

    The New Walden is a collectible, hardcover edition of Thoreau’s masterpiece, annotated for modern readers. Beautifully designed, illustrated and printed to last for generations.

    The preorder for this limited edition is now live and will run until August 5, 2022. As this is a crowdfunded project, the book has not yet been produced. All images shown here are renderings.

    Thoreau’s ideas about consumerism, busyness, and humankind’s place in the natural world are uncannily relevant to the problems we face today. When I (Matt Steel) first read Walden, I shared my enthusiasm for the book with anyone willing to listen. But I kept having to couch my recommendations: “This is a wonderful book, but the 19th-century language can be hard to digest. It’s full of beauty and wisdom, but the first chapter is a tough hill to climb. But stick with it, and you’ll be glad you did!” The bevy of buts 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. What’s more, there seemed to be a design gap among the many editions of Walden. After first reading the book on a tablet, I went hunting for an archival edition to keep near my other favorite books. Given Walden’s status as a classic, I was sure someone somewhere had made an edition that looked and felt like a genuine reflection of the story. An heirloom that could last for hundreds of years. To my surprise, I couldn’t find one still in print.

    The New Walden 2
    Steel Brothers. License: All Rights Reserved.
    The New Walden 3
    Steel Brothers. License: All Rights Reserved.

    Hopefully, this newly annotated and illustrated edition will help Walden remain evergreen.

    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 are relatively sparse. We don’t want to create a study companion as much as an unobtrusive guide for newcomers and longtime fans alike. The goal is to leave you alone with the text as much as possible while offering enough insight so you can keep that smartphone in your pocket.

    Much of Walden remains accessible by today’s standards. We’ve simply elucidated the archaic words and idioms in the book, as well as the cultural, historical and literary references that Thoreau used to embellish and connect his thoughts. And when untranslated Latin and Greek appear in the text, we’ve included the English translation in the margins.

    We’ve also created a brand-new section of prose poems selected from some of Thoreau’s most arresting sentences in Walden.

    The New Walden 4
    Steel Brothers. License: All Rights Reserved.

    Lastly, typography is central to this book’s design. After extensive research and testing, I decided against using fonts 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.

    Thoreau had French Huguenot ancestry on his father’s side. I wanted a typeface that felt efficient and relatively anonymous, with just a little Gallic flair. Lyon Display and Lyon Text, from Commercial Type, fit the bill. Type designer Kai Bernau created the Lyon Collection as a contemporary rendition of serif typefaces created by the 16th-century French designer and printer Robert Granjon. Furthermore, Lyon’s optical variations allowed me to use a single font family – ideal for a book about simplicity.

    Visit our preorder page to find out more about this project.

    Editor’s note: A first version of this post was published on February 24, 2016. It was updated in May 2022 with new text and images coinciding with a renewed crowdfunding campaign for this book.

    The New Walden 5
    Steel Brothers. License: All Rights Reserved.
    The New Walden 6
    Steel Brothers. License: All Rights Reserved.

    Post a comment