Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Into the Wild by John Krakauer

I hated this book. I read it because my mom asked me to. My mom asked me to read it because it is one of the assigned books for High School AP English classes and my mom wanted to know if I thought it was a book that would "speak" to high school sophomores. Personally, I can only imagine a fringe group of high schoolers to whom this book would appeal, and very few of those would be sitting in AP English.
Into the Wild is the story of a 24 year old man, Chris McCandless, who disposes of his worldly goods and treks across the United States living on the fringes of society. Eventually he decides to go "into the wild" and heads to Alaska where he can really commune with nature and get away from society. However, he dies of starvation in a bus 15 miles from nowhere. Revealing that he dies gives away nothing of the story. After all Krakauer starts the book with McCandless' death and tells the story through a wide variety of backflashes and conversations with people who met McCandless on the road.
From the fact that the AP chose this book and the quick glance of the reviews on, I am apparently in the minority for disliking this book. But that won't stop me from continuing to find it pointless. Basically, I felt as though Krakauer, himself a journalist for Outdoor Magazine who has lived off the radar and found society questionable, continually tries to convince the reader that McCandless was sane, not mentally unstable, and just unlucky or unprepared to have died in the wild. The further I got the more I kept thinking, the author "doth protest too much." McCandless had no practical experience hunting - but that was okay. He did not have adequate clothing - but that was explainable. He ate questionable seeds - but that too can be explained away.
Also, reading chapters about a mountain climber, another figure who lived away from society in 1934, and the author's personal experiences as a 20-something disenchanted member of society did not convince me of the rightness of McCandless's choices.
Finally, the beginning of each chapter began with quotes from McCandless's various graffiti or lines in books that McCandless had underlined. Krakauer gave each of these quotes undue attention. For Krakauer, they were necessary to understand the protagonist's personal struggles. How many college students have underlined passages in books and made marginal notes that had nothing to do with their greater internal struggles? I would hate to think that in the future someone would dig through my trove of books and make judgments about my state of mind and my views of society based on the commentary I wrote in a book. I found it to be a real stretch.
(And one last caveat. Don't just watch the movie and assume that it is the same as the book. My mom kept warning me about the relationship between the father and son. I got to the end of the book and went, "huh?" Apparently, the director took some literary license and changed some of the facts, in my opinion to make the main character seem slightly more justified in his crazy wanderings.)


Kelly Jane Dahl said...

I have to agree with you about this book. As a book, I felt it to be vacant. I read it for a class on adolescent development though, and it proved to fuel some really great discussion on whether we need to re-define the age limits for this stage of life. Many "experts" are extending the age of adolescence to 24, and I think that Chris McCandless proves this to be true. As for this being an AP novel, I really don't get that. I never took AP English, but as an ex-middle school English teacher, I still don't get it.

AvidReader said...

I had actually thought about suggesting this for our book group. I wondered if I was alone in finding it an odd choice for AP English. I'm glad to know that you find it a weird choice for high school sophomores too.