Photo illustrations, Mental Floss. Backgrounds: iStock. Covers: courtesy of the publisher.
Photo illustrations, Mental Floss. Backgrounds: iStock. Covers: courtesy of the publisher.

25 Amazing Books by Women You Need to Read

Photo illustrations, Mental Floss. Backgrounds: iStock. Covers: courtesy of the publisher.
Photo illustrations, Mental Floss. Backgrounds: iStock. Covers: courtesy of the publisher.

It's time to do some spring cleaning, dust off the bookshelf, and plot which stories to add to your reading list. Whether you're looking to discover a new author or find an unread title by an old favorite, these 25 books by women would be welcome additions to your collection.

1. BAD FEMINIST // ROXANE GAY

BAD FEMINIST, ROXANE GAY

Roxane Gay is a New York Times best-selling author who has written everything from novels to cultural essays to comic books—in short, she's a badass. Bad Feminist—a term she uses for herself—is her collection of personal essays (backed up with external sources) about the daily conflicts that women encounter being feminists in our complicated, culture-consuming world. She approaches each topic with a healthy balance of humor and criticism, acknowledging the messy, flawed nature of trying to live by an ever-changing set of feminist principles.

Find It: Amazon

2. MEN WE REAPED // JESMYN WARD

MEN WE REAPED, JESMYN WARD

After Jesmyn Ward's second novel, Salvage the Bones, took home the National Book Award for Fiction in 2011, she turned to her own life for the 2013 memoir Men We Reaped. It's a devastating account of black lives lost to drugs, accidents, or suicide, all in her tiny Mississippi hometown. Telling the stories of five men she knew in reverse chronological order while weaving in chronological chapters about her own childhood and coming of age, it all leads to the heartbreaking death of her brother.

Find It: Amazon

3. TEXT ME WHEN YOU GET HOME: THE EVOLUTION AND TRIUMPH OF MODERN FEMALE FRIENDSHIP // KAYLEEN SCHAEFER

TEXT ME WHEN YOU GET HOME, KAYLEEN SCHAEFER

Kayleen Schaefer admits early on in Text Me When You Get Home that she is a reformed mean girl. As someone who used to view other women solely as competition, her book about the incredible, complicated bonds of female friendship is relatable, familiar, and subverts the false notion that women are predisposed to hating each other.

Find It: Amazon

4. LIKE THE SINGING COMING OFF THE DRUMS // SONIA SANCHEZ

LIKE THE SINGING COMING OFF THE DRUMS, SONIA SANCHEZ

Sonia Sanchez's 1998 collection of love poems is romantic and sexy. Her poems take various forms, including tanka and haiku, and with lines like "I breathe you and become high," Sanchez invites you to bask in their lovely brevity while entreating you to turn the page to the next one. The musicality of her poems ("i dreamt i was tangoing with / you, you held me so close / we were like the singing coming off the drums") is kinetic and shows why The New York Times once referred to her as "the spiritual mother of spoken word for a hip-hop generation." (Sanchez did, after all, dedicate this book to Tupac Shakur and his activist mother, Afeni Shakur.)

Find It: Amazon

5. DIVING INTO THE WRECK // ADRIENNE RICH

DIVING INTO THE WRECK, ADRIENNE RICH

Adrienne Rich's collection of poems feels as relevant today as it must have when it was released in 1973. When it was announced she would split the National Book Award for poetry with Allen Ginsberg, Rich declined the award as an individual and instead accepted it on behalf of all women, speaking to the deeply feminist and political nature of her work. Her 2012 New York Times obituary called her "a poet of towering reputation and towering rage"; after reading the titular poem, it would be impossible to disagree.

Find It: Amazon

6. SATAN SAYS // SHARON OLDS

Sharon Olds won a Pulitzer for 2012's Stag's Leap, but her first collection of poetry, Satan Says, from 1980, set the tone for her acclaimed career as a writer of incredibly personal poems who can tackle themes like sex, trauma, and abuse with honesty and aplomb. Fellow award-winning poet Marilyn Hacker called it "a daring and elegant first book," and its straightforward prose and frankness quickly made Satan Says college curriculum material.

Find It: Amazon

7. PACHINKO // MIN JIN LEE

Min Jin Lee's epic Pachinko was one of the most celebrated books of 2017, and with good reason. This novel, Lee's second, chronicles the lives of four generations of a Korean family who immigrate to Japan. Owning pachinko parlors, a slot-machine-style game popular in Japan, is one of the only ways for the Korean immigrants to rise in economic standing. Lee's ability to keep the reader captivated through each new generation is a testament to her ability to craft detailed and nuanced characters who resonate.

Find It: Amazon

8. HOMEGOING // YAA GYASI

Yaa Gyasi's historical novel begins in the 18th century with two African sisters and follows the lives and struggles of multiple generations of their descendants. The family progresses forward one chapter at a time, each focusing on a different generation and contextualizing their lives based on where their family line was headed—one sister married a British official and stayed in Africa, while the other was captured and sold into American slavery. Each subsequent character is so incredibly well developed that closing their chapter and leaving them behind hurts a little every time.

Find It: Amazon

9. THE ANIMATORS // KAYLA RAE WHITAKER

The Animators, Kayla Rae Whitaker's 2017 debut novel, joins the pantheon of books about complex female friendship. The story focuses on the bond between two talented and creative women who meet in college and become successful collaborators as adults. The relationship between Sharon and Mel is as intense and messy as it is funny and inspirational, and their artistic failures and achievements can sometimes feel like a third friend.

Find It: Amazon

10. A LITTLE LIFE // HANYA YANAGIHARA

Over the course of Hanya Yanagihara's 2015 novel, an unlikely crew of college friends—Jude, Willem, Malcolm, and JB—become such indelible characters that you'll be thinking about them long after you've finished reading. While each of the boys becomes wildly successful in his own field, there is a darkness that looms due to a mysterious past trauma suffered by Jude. Yanagihara, who uses this book to examine the role of male friendship, once described the novel as "a fairy tale set in a contemporary time and place"—but consider this fair warning: She is referring more to classic Grimm than Disney.

Find It: Amazon

11. THE HOUSE ON MANGO STREET // SANDRA CISNEROS

Acclaimed Mexican-American writer Sandra Cisneros's The House on Mango Street came out in 1984. A coming of age story about a young Latina girl named Esperanza ("in Spanish my name means hope, in English it means too many letters") in Chicago, the book format follows Esperanza from her teenage years to adulthood. Cisneros weaves in stories about the robust Latin neighborhood around Esperanza, painting a vivid picture of life on Mango Street.

Find It: Amazon

12. WHAT IT MEANS WHEN A MAN FALLS FROM THE SKY // LESLEY NNEKA ARIMAH

The National Book Awards named Nigerian writer Lesley Nneka Arimah one of their 5 Under 35 in 2017. The very first story in this debut collection, "The Future Looks Good," is so brilliantly crafted around the family history of a girl who is fumbling to open a locked door, it's nearly impossible to catch your breath until the spectacular end. Each subsequent story has a distinctive voice. NPR called her writing "defiantly original" with a range that goes from "nightmare fairy tale" to "post-apocalyptic hope."

Find It: Amazon

13. ELEANOR & PARK // RAINBOW ROWELL

If it were possible to bottle up the feeling of first love and put it into word form, Eleanor & Park would be the result. It's set in the '80s—meaning mixtapes on cassettes and having to wait to see your crush because there are no cell phones. Rowell writes beautifully about the first flutters of love. Her other books vary in theme from a fanfic writing college student to gay magicians, but her ability to capture that first love feeling remains one of her most magical qualities across all her books.

Find It: Amazon

14. FAR FROM THE TREE // ROBIN BENWAY

Robin Benway's novel about a pregnant, adopted teen searching for her biological siblings could have easily veered into the after-school special territory. Instead, its realistic dialogue and beautiful prose make this book a smart, "big-hearted and uplifting" read, and made it last year's National Book Award winner for young people's literature.

Find It: Amazon

15. THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING // JOAN DIDION

THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING BY JOAN DIDION

The Year of Magical Thinking is the painfully honest chronicle of Joan Didion's life the year following the sudden death of her husband. Known for her novels, screenplays, and essay collections like Slouching Towards Bethlehem, this deeply personal book is a raw glimpse into the realities of grief. Didion adapted Magical Thinking into a play that debuted on Broadway in 2007.

Find It: Amazon

16. TO ALL THE BOYS I'VE LOVED BEFORE // JENNY HAN

To All the Boys I've Loved Before

Jenny Han's first book in the series about teen Lara Jean Song Covey is so charming it's no wonder it's being adapted into a movie. Han writes incredibly authentic sister relationships: Lara Jean keeps the love letters she's written to the boys she's crushed on in a hat box, and when her younger sister mails them out, it sets off a series of perfect rom-com events.

Find It: Amazon

17. THE MOTHERS // BRIT BENNETT

THE MOTHERS BY BRIT BENNETT

Brit Bennett's 2016 debut novel, The Mothers, is about a young woman, Nadia, whose grief over her mother's recent suicide sends her down a path where she makes life-altering decisions that change the course of her future. Her ongoing relationships with her best friend, Aubrey, and the pastor's son, Luke, remind Nadia of what could have been had she made different choices.

Find It: Amazon

18. THE ROUND HOUSE // LOUISE ERDRICH

THE ROUND HOUSE BY LOUISE ERDRICH

Celebrated Native American writer Louise Erdrich has written 14 novels, including the 2009 Pulitzer Prize finalist The Plague of Doves. In her 2012 novel The Round House—which was called "haunting" and "powerful" when it won the National Book Award for Fiction that year—the narrator shares the story of his struggle to make sense of and seek justice after the violent rape of his mother when he was 13 years old.

Find It: Amazon

19. TENDER AT THE BONE // RUTH REICHL

TENDER AT THE BONE BY RUTH REICHL

Former New York Times restaurant critic and Gourmet magazine editor-in-chief Ruth Reichl's 1998 memoir is infused with a lot of humor and truth telling. She writes openly about her mother's manic depression (and penchant for quirky culinary creations) and includes recipes throughout the book, which takes the reader through the various people who shaped her palate. Kirkus aptly described Tender as "A perfectly balanced stew of memories: not too sweet, not too tart."

Find It: Amazon

20. WE ARE NEVER MEETING IN REAL LIFE // SAMANTHA IRBY

WE ARE NEVER MEETING IN REAL LIFE BY SAMANTHA IRBY

Four years after her first book, Meaty, comedian Samantha Irby returned with a new collection in 2017. We Are Never Meeting in Real Life is filled with 20 candid and moving essays which Bust called "so vulnerable and fearless that they'll stop you in your tracks." Chronicling decidedly unfunny moments, like spreading her father's ashes or dealing with a sick pet, Irby manages to inflect her curmudgeonly humor and warmth into every scenario, leaving you unsure if you should laugh or cry.

Find It: Amazon

21. IN THE COUNTRY // MIA ALVAR

IN THE COUNTRY BY MIA ALVAR

The nine stories in Mia Alvar's 2015 debut collection center around the life of Filipinos, those in the Philippines as well as those who moved to the U.S. or Bahrain for work, as she and her family had in her childhood. "Many of Mia's stories are so plausible," BuzzFeed reviewed, "it's easy to forget her book is a work of fiction." One story, about an expat woman who begins to tutor a severely impaired young girl, provides such insight into the morally gray area that so many people find themselves in that you'll find yourself thinking about it long after you've set the book aside.

Find It: Amazon

22. AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE // TAYARI JONES

AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE BY TAYARI JONES

Tayari Jones's fourth novel, An American Marriage, was quickly chosen by Oprah as her next book club selection after it was released earlier this year. The novel is told from the alternating points of view of a newlywed couple, Celestial and Roy, and the man who introduced them, Andre. When Roy is falsely convicted and sent to prison, it irreparably damages their marriage. Jones's masterful storytelling is gripping, and as Oprah describes it, "It's a love story that also has a huge layer of suspense."

Find It: Amazon

23. CRAZY SALAD // NORA EPHRON

CRAZY SALAD BY NORA EPHRON

This 1975 collection by legendary screenwriter Nora Ephron is hilarious and very much of the time. Prior to writing and/or directing classic movies like When Harry Met Sally …, Sleepless in Seattle, and You've Got Mail, Ephron was a journalist and essayist. Crazy Salad includes the famous "A Few Words About Breasts," which is Ephron's humorous musing on how different her life would be if her breasts were larger. The essays, described by Entertainment Weekly as "coiled with crabby wit and snide intelligence," offer a glimpse into the women's movement in the '70s.

Find It: Amazon

24. THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR // NICOLA YOON

THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR

This dreamy YA novel published in 2016, Nicola Yoon's follow-up to her debut, Everything, Everything, is about a matter-of-fact teenage girl who doesn't believe in fate or magic, but meets a winsome teen boy who shows her otherwise. With two POC protagonists tackling topics like deportation and the unique pressure of being the child of immigrants, this book manages to feel both current and timeless.

Find It: Amazon

25. MS. MARVEL // G. WILLOW WILSON

MS. MARVEL

When Marvel decided to make Ms. Marvel a Muslim, Pakistani-American teenager who lives in New Jersey—and had G. Willow Wilson, a Muslim woman, write the series—the world took notice. (The novel won the Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story in 2015.) Part My So-Called Life, part classic Peter Parker origin story, Wilson makes Kamala Khan's adventures balancing school, family, and her superpowers feel like the universal teen experience.

Find It: Amazon

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Hulton Archive, Getty Images
15 Things You Might Not Know About Jules Verne
Hulton Archive, Getty Images
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Jules Verne, widely regarded as one of the fathers of science fiction, wrote some of literature's most famous adventure novels, including seminal works like Journey to the Center of the Earth, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and Around the World in 80 Days. In addition to helping pioneer a new genre of writing, the French author also sailed the world, had a career as a stockbroker, fell in love with his cousin, and was shot by his nephew. Here are 15 facts you probably didn't know about him.

1. HE GREW UP SURROUNDED BY SHIPS.

On February 8, 1828, Pierre and Sophie Verne welcomed their first child, Jules Gabriel, at Sophie's mother's home in Nantes, a city in western France. Verne's birthplace had a profound impact on his writing. In the 19th century, Nantes was a busy port city that served as a major hub for French shipbuilders and traders, and Verne's family lived on Ile Feydeau, a small, man-made island in a tributary of the Loire River. Verne spent his childhood watching ships sail down the Loire and imagining what it would be like to climb aboard them [PDF]. He would later work these early memories of maritime life into his writing.

2. HE FELL IN LOVE WITH HIS COUSIN.

Verne began writing poetry at just 12 years old. As a teenager, he used poetry as an outlet for his burgeoning romantic feelings. Verne fell in love with his cousin, Caroline Tronson, who was a year and a half older than him. He wrote and dedicated poems to Tronson, gave her presents, and attended dances with her. Unfortunately, Tronson didn't reciprocate her younger cousin's feelings. In 1847, when Verne was 19 and Tronson was 20, she married a man two decades her senior. Verne was heartbroken.

3. HIS FATHER PRESSURED HIM TO BE A LAWYER.

While Verne had been passionate about writing since his early teens, his father strongly encouraged young Jules to follow in his footsteps and enter the legal profession. Soon after Tronson's marriage, Verne's father capitalized on his son's depression, convincing him to move to Paris to study law.

Verne graduated with a law degree in 1851. But he kept writing fiction during this period, and continued to clash with his father over his career path. In 1852, Verne's father arranged for him to practice law in Nantes, but Verne decided to pursue life as a writer instead.

4. HE LIVED IN PARIS DURING A TUMULTUOUS TIME.

Verne's time in Paris coincided with a period of intense political instability. The French Revolution of 1848 broke out soon after Verne moved to the city to study law. Though he didn't participate, he was strikingly close to the conflict and its turbulent aftermath, including the coup d'état that ended France's Second Republic. "On Thursday the fighting was intense; at the end of my street, houses were knocked down by cannon fire," he wrote to his mother during the fighting that followed the coup in December 1851. Verne managed to stay out of the political upheaval during those years, but his writing later explored themes of governmental strife. In his 1864 novella The Count of Chanteleine: A Tale of the French Revolution, Verne wrote about the struggles of ordinary and noble French people during the French Revolutionary Wars, while his novel The Flight to France recounted the wartime adventures of an army captain in 1792.

5. HE BECAME A STOCKBROKER TO PAY THE BILLS.

In May 1856, Verne was the best man at his best friend's wedding in Amiens, a city in northern France. During the wedding festivities, Verne lodged with the bride's family and met Honorine de Viane Morel, the bride's sister. He developed a crush on Morel, a 26-year-old widow with two kids, and in January 1857, with the permission of her family, the two married.

There was one big problem. Verne had been writing plays for Paris theaters, but being a playwright didn't pay the bills. Verne needed a respectable income to support Morel and her daughters. Morel's brother offered Verne a job at a brokerage, and he accepted, quitting his theater job to become a stockbroker at the Paris Bourse. Writing was never too far from Verne's mind, though. He woke up early each day to write and research for several hours before heading to his day job.

6. HIS ADVENTURE NOVELS WERE PART OF A SERIES …

A caricature of Jules Verne on the sea floor with fantastic sea creatures on the cover of a magazine.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Modern readers probably think of Verne's most famous books as distinct entities, but his adventure novels were actually part of a series. In the early 1860s, Verne met Pierre-Jules Hetzel, an established publisher and magazine editor who helped Verne publish his first novel, Five Weeks in a Balloon. This novel served as the beginning of Voyages Extraordinaires, a series of dozens of books written by Verne and published by Hetzel. Most of these novels—including famous titles like Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea—appeared in installments in Hetzel's magazine before being published in book form.

7. … THAT PROVIDED HIM WITH A STEADY STREAM OF INCOME.

Starting in 1863, Verne agreed to write two volumes per year for Hetzel, a contract that provided him with a steady source of income for decades. Between 1863 and 1905, Verne published 54 novels about travel, adventure, history, science, and technology for the Voyages Extraordinaires series. He worked closely with Hetzel on characters, structure, and plot until the publisher's death in 1886. Verne's writing wasn't limited to this series, however; in total, he wrote 65 novels over the course of his life, though some would not be published until long after his death.

8. HE DREW INSPIRATION FROM HIS OWN SAILING ADVENTURES.

During the 1860s, Verne's career was taking off, and he was making good money. So in 1867, he bought a small yacht, which he named the Saint Michel, after his son, Michel. When he wasn't living in Amiens, he spent time sailing around Europe to the Channel Islands, along the English Coast, and across the Bay of Biscay. Besides enjoying the peace and quiet at sea, he also worked during these sailing trips, writing most of the manuscripts for Around the World in Eighty Days and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea on his yacht. As he earned more money, he replaced the Saint Michel with a larger boat that he called the Saint Michel II. A few years later, he bought a third vessel, the Saint Michel III, a steam yacht that he hired a crew of 10 to man on long voyages to Scotland and through the Mediterranean.

9. HE'S ONE OF THE MOST TRANSLATED AUTHORS IN THE WORLD …

Verne wrote in French, but his works have always had an international appeal. Since the 1850s, his writing has been translated into approximately 150 languages—making him the second most translated author ever. He has appeared in translation even more often than William Shakespeare. He is second only to Agatha Christie, who holds the world record.

10. … BUT NOT ALL OF THOSE TRANSLATIONS ARE ACCURATE.

Although Verne wrote primarily for adults, many English-language publishers considered his science fiction writing to be juvenile and marketed his books to children. Translators dumbed down his work, simplifying stories, cutting heavily researched passages, summarizing dialogue, and in some cases, nixing anything that might be construed as a critique of the British Empire. Many translations even contain outright errors, such as measurements converted incorrectly.

Some literary historians now bemoan the shoddy translations of many of Verne's works, arguing that almost all of these early English translations feature significant changes to both plot and tone. Even today, these poor translations make up much of Verne's available work in English. But anglophone readers hoping to read more authentic versions of his stories are in luck. Thanks to scholarly interest, there has been a recent surge in new Verne translations that aim to be more faithful to the original texts.

11. HE HAD MAJOR HEALTH PROBLEMS.

Starting in his twenties, Verne began experiencing sudden bouts of extreme stomach pain. He wrote about his agonizing stomach cramps in letters to family members, but he failed to get a proper diagnosis from doctors. To try to ease his pain, he experimented with different diets, including one in which he ate only eggs and dairy. Historians believe that Verne may have had colitis or a related digestion disorder.

Even more unsettling than the stomach pain, Verne suffered from five episodes of facial paralysis over the course of his life. During these painful episodes, one side of his face suddenly became immobile. After the first attack, doctors treated his facial nerve with electric stimulation, but he had another attack five years later, and several more after that. Recently, researchers have concluded that he had Bell's palsy, a temporary form of one-sided facial paralysis caused by damage to the facial nerve. Doctors have hypothesized that it was the result of ear infections or inflammation, but no one knows for sure why he experienced this.

Verne developed type-2 diabetes in his fifties, and his health declined significantly in the last decade of his life. He suffered from high blood pressure, chronic dizziness, tinnitus, and other maladies, and eventually went partially blind.

12. HIS MENTALLY ILL NEPHEW SHOT HIM IN THE LEG …

In March 1886, a traumatic incident left the 58-year-old Verne disabled for the rest of his life. Verne's nephew Gaston, who was then in his twenties and suffering from mental illness, suddenly became violent, to Verne's detriment. The writer was arriving home one day when, out of the blue, Gaston shot him twice with a pistol. Thankfully, Verne survived, but the second bullet that Gaston fired struck the author's left leg.

13. … LEAVING HIM WITH A PERMANENT LIMP.

After the incident, Gaston was sent to a mental asylum. He wasn't diagnosed with a specific disorder, but most historians believe he suffered from paranoia or schizophrenia.

Verne never fully recovered from the attack. The bullet damaged his left leg badly, and his diabetes complicated the healing process. A secondary infection left him with a noticeable limp that persisted until his death in 1905.

14. HIS WORK CONTRIBUTED TO THE RISE OF STEAMPUNK.

Verne's body of work heavily influenced steampunk, the science fiction subgenre that takes inspiration from 19th century industrial technology. Some of Verne's characters, as well as the fictional machines he wrote about, have appeared in prominent steampunk works. For example, the TV show The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne explored the idea that Verne actually experienced the fantastic things he wrote about, and Captain Nemo from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea appeared as a character in the comic book series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

15. MANY OF HIS PREDICTIONS WERE SURPRISINGLY SPOT-ON.

Some of the technology Verne imagined in his fiction later became reality. One of the machines that Verne dreamed up, Nautilus—the electric submarine in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea—came to life years after he first wrote about it. The first installment of the serialized Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea was published in 1869, and the first battery-powered submarines were launched in the 1880s. (Similar submarine designs are still in use today.)

In addition, Verne's Paris In The Twentieth Century contains several surprisingly accurate technological predictions. Written in 1863, the dystopian novel imagines a tech-obsessed Parisian society in 1960. Verne wrote about skyscrapers, elevators, cars with internal combustion engines, trains, electric city lights, and suburbs. He was massively ahead of his time. He even wrote about a group of mechanical calculators (as in, computers) that could communicate with one another over a network (like the Internet). Pretty impressive for a guy born in 1828.

But Verne's influence goes beyond science fiction, steampunk, or real-world technology. His writing has inspired countless authors in genres ranging from poetry to travel to adventure. As Ray Bradbury wrote, "We are all, in one way or another, the children of Jules Verne."

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By Benjamin D. Maxham, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
11 Simple Facts About Henry David Thoreau
By Benjamin D. Maxham, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
By Benjamin D. Maxham, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In his book Walden, Henry David Thoreau declared his love of nature, simplicity, and independence. Although most people know about Thoreau’s time in Walden Woods, as well as his Transcendentalism, abolitionist views, and writing on civil disobedience, there’s a lot more to uncover about him. In honor of his birthday (he would’ve turned 201 years old today), here are 11 things you might not have known about Henry David Thoreau.

1. WE’RE PROBABLY MISPRONOUNCING HIS NAME.

Born in Concord, Massachusetts in 1817, David Henry Thoreau switched his first and middle names after graduating from Harvard. His legal name, though, was always David Henry. Although most people today pronounce Thoreau’s surname with the emphasis on the second syllable, he most likely pronounced it “THOR-oh.” Ralph Waldo Emerson’s son, Edward, wrote that the accent in Thoreau’s name was on the first syllable, and other friends called him “Mr. Thorough.”

2. HE INVENTED A MACHINE TO IMPROVE PENCILS.

In the 1820s, Thoreau’s father started manufacturing black-lead pencils. Between teaching students, surveying land, and working as a handyman, Thoreau made money by working for his family’s pencil business. After researching German techniques for making pencils, he invented a grinding machine that made better quality plumbago (a mixture of the lead, graphite, and clay inside a pencil). After his father died, Thoreau ran the family’s pencil company.

3. HE ACCIDENTALLY BURNED HUNDREDS OF ACRES OF WOODS.

In 1844, a year before moving into a house in Walden Woods, the 26-year-old Thoreau was cooking fish he had caught with a friend in the woods outside Concord. The grass around the fire ignited, and the flames burned between 100 and 300 acres of land, thanks to strong winds. Even years later, his neighbors disparagingly called him a rascal and a woods burner. In an 1850 journal entry, Thoreau described how the earth was “uncommonly dry”—there hadn’t been much rain—and how the fire “spread rapidly.” Although he initially felt guilty, he wrote that he soon realized that fire is natural, and lightning could have sparked a fire in the woods just as easily as his cooking accident did.

4. HIS HOUSE AT WALDEN POND LATER BECAME A PIGSTY.

After Thoreau left the home he built in Walden Woods in 1847, the structure went through multiple iterations. He sold the house to Emerson (it was on land that Emerson already owned), and Emerson sold it to his gardener. The gardener never moved in, so the house was empty until a farmer named James Clark bought it in 1849. Clark moved it to his nearby farm and used it to store grain. In 1868, the roof of the building was removed from the base and used to cover a pigsty. In 1875, the rest of the structure was used as a shed before its timber was used to fix Clark’s barn. Today, you can see replicas of Thoreau’s house near Walden Pond in Massachusetts.

5. HE AND HIS BROTHER WERE CAUGHT IN A LOVE TRIANGLE.

In 1839, Thoreau wrote in his journal about how he fell in love with Ellen Sewall, an 18-year-old from Cape Cod. In 1840, Thoreau’s older brother John proposed marriage to Sewall but was rejected. So, like any good brother, Thoreau wrote a letter to Sewall, proposing that she marry him instead. Sewall rejected him too, probably due to her family disapproving of the Thoreau family’s liberal views on Christianity.

Despite the aforementioned marriage proposal, some historians and biographers speculate that Thoreau was gay. He never married, reportedly preferred celibacy, and his journals reveal references to male bodies but no female ones.

6. DESPITE POPULAR MISCONCEPTION, HE WASN’T A LONER.

Historians have debunked the misconception that Thoreau was a selfish hermit who lived alone so he could stay away from other people. Rather than being a loner, Thoreau was an individualist who was close to his family members and lived with Emerson’s family (on and off) for years. To build his cabin in the woods, he got help from his friends including Emerson and Bronson Alcott, the father of Louisa May Alcott. During his stay in the woods, he frequently entertained guests, visited friends, and walked to the (nearby) town of Concord. At his funeral at Concord’s First Parish Church, a large group of friends attended to mourn and celebrate his life.

7. HE WAS A MINIMALIST.

Long before tiny houses were trendy, Thoreau wrote about the benefits of living a simple, minimalist lifestyle. In Walden, he wrote about giving up the luxuries of everyday life in order to quiet the mind and have time for thinking. “My greatest skill has been to want but little,” he wrote. Thoreau also related his love of simplicity to the craft of writing: “It is the fault of some excellent writers ... that they express themselves with too great fullness and detail. They give the most faithful, natural, and lifelike account of their sensations, mental and physical, but they lack moderation and sententiousness.”

8. HE TOOK COPIOUS NOTES.

Although he was a minimalist, Thoreau wrote an abundance of notes and ideas in his journals, essays, and letters. He jotted down his observations of nature, writing in detail about everything from how plant seeds spread across the land to the changing temperature of Walden Pond to animal behavior. In addition to his plethora of notes and environmental data, Thoreau also collected hundreds of plant specimens and birds’ eggs.

9. HE WAS PRAISED FOR HIS ORIGINALITY.

In 1862, newspapers widely reported the news of Thoreau’s death. Obituaries for the 44-year-old writer appeared in The Boston Transcript, The Boston Daily Advertiser, The Liberator, The Boston Journal, The New-York Daily Tribune, and The Salem Observer. The obituaries describe Thoreau as an “eccentric author” and “one of the most original thinkers our country has produced.”

10. HE DONATED HIS COLLECTIONS TO THE BOSTON SOCIETY OF NATURAL HISTORY.

After Thoreau’s death, the Boston Society of Natural History got a huge gift. Thoreau, a member, gave the society his collections of plants, Indian antiquities, and birds’ eggs and nests. The plants were pressed and numbered—there were more than 1000 species—and the Native American antiquities included stone weapons that Thoreau had found while walking in Concord.

11. DON HENLEY OF THE EAGLES IS A HUGE FAN.

As a big fan of both Thoreau and Transcendentalism, musician Don Henley of the Eagles started The Walden Woods Project in 1990 to stop 68 acres of Walden Woods from being turned into offices and condominiums. The project succeeded in saving the woods, and today The Walden Woods Project is a nonprofit organization that conserves Walden Woods, preserves Thoreau’s legacy, and manages an archive of Thoreau’s books, maps, letters, and manuscripts. In an interview with Preservation Magazine, Henley described the importance of preserving Walden Woods: “The pond and the woods that inspired the writing of Walden are historically significant not only because they were the setting for a great American classic, but also because Walden Woods was Henry David Thoreau's living laboratory, where he formulated his theory of forest succession, a precursor to contemporary ecological science.”

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