The first time I read "Self-Reliance," I didn't. It was assigned summer reading before my senior year AP English class and I was too busy golfing and playing pick-up basketball to waste my summer on a book written by a dead guy with weird sideburns. At age 23, I read it the second time, printing out a public domain edition using a temp job's laser printer then plowing through it on my lunch break. This week was my third time to read it and by far the most valuable thanks to the Domino Project's beautiful new special edition.
Stunning design by my friend Alex Miles Younger places all of Emerson's original text on the right side of the page in this slim 73 page volume, with notable pull-quotes from the book as well as complementary and supplementary quotes from famous people on the left side (pictured above). OK, fine, it's a bit ironic that a book that preaches you needing to think for yourself highlights the lines that you SHOULD think are the most important. Except for the fact, those ARE the most important lines. They were to me at least.
I somewhat always dismissed and ignored Emerson because I thought he was like his friend Thoreau, who I kind of hate. But, whether it was because of my age or this special edition, "Self-Reliance"--finally!--resonated with me on this third read like few books have ever before. (It could be a fitting companion to my beloved "Meditations" even.)
"Self-Reliance" is truly a book about artistic confidence and belief in one's own genius: "To believe your own thoughts, to believe what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, that is genius." It's a book about not sitting around waiting for someone else, someone anointed, to say the things you want to say: "Else, tomorrow a stranger will say with masterly sense what we have thought and felt all time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another." Devastating, and often so sadly true.
"Self-Reliance"--just like my more curse-filled book--preaches that one force himself to reject the conformity around him if he truly wants to live: "...for he who does not postpone his life, but lives already." It wonders why we're scared to bring our deepest, most private thoughts out into the real world: "These are the voices which we hear in solitude, but they grow faint and inaudible as we enter into the world."
You're betraying yourself when you're not letting your voice be heard and I'm reminded of both poet Alexander Pope and pimp Iceberg Slim.
Alexander Pope who said: "Whatever is, is right."
Iceberg Slim who said: "Chumps prefer a beautiful lie to an ugly truth."
Don't be a chump. Quit lying to yourself. We all lie to ourselves and to the public far too often. We need to stop doing that. We need to believe in ourselves, worship at our own altar, be our own philosopher. No one can do a better job of teaching you to be you...than YOU.
"Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles."
This book could have been written yesterday.
Today and tomorrow, May 25 and 26, 2011, the Kindle edition of "Self-Reliance" is FREE thanks to sponsorship from Ibex.