Sunday, September 11, 2011

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

"So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation becasuse they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damagging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future." ~Chris McCandless~

    I consider myself a newbie when it comes to non-fiction.  I've really only been reading them for 6yrs steadily.  I've maybe read 1-2 every 2yrs in my 20's and that's a very generous estimation.  More like 1 every 4yrs.  It wasn't until my late 20's/early 30's I really started reading more non-fiction.  Why?  Well the way I look at non-fiction is this, we are getting a true story or rather a story that is supposed to be true.  My problem with non-fiction isn't that they aren't good reads, my problem is we get the author's biased view of the subject.  No matter how much a author is supposed to be objective and impartial one can't help but having their work influenced by their own beliefs.  When I read about a true event or individual, I want just that, the truth.  I don't want someone's version of the truth.  If an author likes the subject they will paint the subject/event favorably, if they don't like the subject/event then it will be given an unfair and unbalanced view.  So this is why I am very hesitant to read non-fiction novels.  Having said that, I have indeed read some amazing non-fiction books and Into the Wild is one of them.  In the very beginning Krakauer admits; "I won't claim to be an impartial biographer.  McCandless's strange tale struck a personal note that made a dispassionate rendering of the tragedy impossible.  Through most of the book, I have tried-and largely succeeded, I think-to minimize my authorial presence.  But let the reader be warned: I interrupt McCandless's story with fragments of a narrative drawn from my own youth.  I do so in the hope that my experiences will throw some oblique light on the enigma of Chris McCandless."
  Fair enough.  Krakauer not only voices my very concern with non-fiction novels, he confirms it.  I am more forgiving because Krakauer admits that it will be biased to influence the reader what he felt for McCandless and McCandless's story, but that it will be limited.  OK Krakauer I respect that and I'm intelligent enough to know when you're inflecting that "authorial presence".  So on I read....

   Books synopsis: "In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley.  His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless.  He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car nad most of his posssessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself.  Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a moose hunter..."

My synopsis: I have to admit at first I thought, "Pfft some rich spoiled punk, who is given everything, wants to "find himself".  Big deal".  And I was right, but I was also wrong.  This book made me a bit frustrated because I went from, "This kid is a stubborn moron.  Spoiled and pissing away his life" to "I can totally relate to what this kid is thinking and feeling".  McCandless is truly an enigma.  He craves solitude but loves company.  He wants nothing to do with money and material things, even those material things he desperately needs to survive in the wilderness.  McCandless meets new folks across his travels and every one of them seem fully enamored with him.  He makes indelible impressions everywhere he goes.  So why if this extremely gifted, intelligent and well bred youngster is all these things and so well liked, is he willing to go into one of the most dangerous wilderness's in the world?  This is what Krakauer tries to find out and in the process  uncovers a very complicated, contradictory, heartbreaking and frustrating, yet inspiring story.  This is really as far as I'm going to review this book.  I think it is something everyone should read and determine their own pov.  I will say one thing and it is in regards to McCandless and it is this.

  McCandless is complicated yet simple.  He is hypocritical yet honorable.  What leads him to go off on this journey of life, of self are issues with his parents.  But this is also a bit schizo because he has friends that say he loved his parents and others that say he couldn't stand them.  We do learn what the issue is later on, but to me that issue is just a cop out.  I think the bottom line with McCandless is he was searching for something, I think we all are in some way or another, but he didn't know what that something was.  I don't think he was anti-social or suicidal yet he did show those attributes at times.  I just think he was a kid that said f**k it, I don't know what I want, where I want to be but I know right now none of this is it.  He read and was influenced by works of Tolstoy, London, Davies & Thoreau.  The romanticism of nature and wilderness of living a spartan life and the personal issues he was having led him to this journey of self discovery.  McCandless took those works and views to heart and decided it was how he was going to find, whatever it was he was missing inside.  There is really nothing about McCandless that makes him more special than any other confused youngster in this world.  There are kids all over the world that come from worse backgrounds, who struggle and fight and scrape to survive and make better lives for themselves and no one is writing stories about them.  McCandless was a wealthy kid, though his parents fought and scraped for everything they had and made a success of their lives by hard work and dedication, Chris McCandless did not.  This is not to take anything away from him.  Problems are problems and he had problems, no doubt.  If it weren't for Karkauer's stirring portrait of McCandless, he is just another lost youth trying to find himself and does so half-assed and that leads to his death.  I mean he hitchhiked across America and could've gotten picked up by the wrong person, murdered and that ends the story.  He was lucky.  I will now contradict myself, I admire McCandless for his tenacity and fortitude.  He may have not known what he was looking for, but he went out in search of it when so many of us settle and lead mediocre stagnant lives.  He was stubborn and wanted to do thing his way, I can relate, I'm the same way.  He wasn't a complete idiot as some think.  He studied plants and animals and wildlife and the areas he was going to be venturing through.  It is undetermined what killed him but more than likely it was due to ingestion of poisonous vegetation.

  His death is sad and it broke my heart when I read the scene when his sister, the one relative he was closest too, finds out of his death.  Utterly heartbreaking.  I can honestly say this was an emotional roller coaster of a read that at times had me wanting to sell everything I own and go out on my own adventure in search of who I am.  And if I were younger and did not have a daughter I just would, but it would be foolish and selfish.  So I pick my adventures in other ways and like McCandless I do  everything my way, I never settle.  But unlike McCandless I face my problems head on.  Life isn't perfect and the easiest thing in the world is to pack up and walk away from it all, it's a lot harder to stay and face it head on.  And that is what this book does, makes the reader examine their own life.  The reader knowingly takes a journey in McCandless's life, but by doing so unknowingly begins to examine their own life.  The emotions we feel aren't just directed at McCandless and what he believes and stands for, but at ourselves for the things we don't stand for.  And maybe we aren't mad at McCandless for his journey, but at ourselves for the lack of one.  Excellent read.  Highest rating XXX

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