Being somewhat of a wanderer myself, I was excited to finally read Into the Wild by Krakauer. This true story is about a young man, Christopher McCandless, who leaves his home in Virginia to wander the country alone with no money, no plan, and no destination. Krakauer follows his journey through the American west, piecing together the details, and all the way to Alaska, where McCandless’s body was found in a rusted bus near the Stampede Trail. Part documentary, part commentary on restless youth, I was at a loss as to whether I liked this book or not.
Krakauer is an exceptionally talented storyteller. As such, the writing and mechanics were flawless. But some of the ideas behind this book left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. In the book, McCandless was lauded as a kind of modern transcendentalist—someone who has given up on society and its corruption and seeks to live more simply and reach back to humanity’s roots. Yet I was not persuaded that McCandless, and his story, embodied this sort of lofty ideal. In my mind, I saw a story about a young, white, middle-class man, moody and pretentious, giving up what he had without understanding what it means to not have. It could be that both sets of stories apply here, but the latter far outweighed the former for me.
I am not sure why I had such a strong reaction to McCandless’s story. Some of the ideals that he follows I also identify with. I have wandered a great deal around the world, lived and slept alone in foreign places, and often wonder what it would be like to grab a backpack and traipse into somewhere wild. Yet, the way in which McCandless seemed to reproach and angrily push others away was not something I would expect from a traveler seeking some kind of better, simpler life.
Granted, in the book Krakauer took care to show both sides of the story—McCandless as a lofty wanderer as well as a petulant youth. He also spent time to discuss the strangeness of these kinds of people who have popped up throughout history and followed these dangerous paths in hopes of some kind of enlightenment. As such, whatever it is I disliked had to do with the story itself, and not the book or the writing.
And considering all of that, this is precisely the kind of book that is essential to read—the kind that will make you think about something. So I recommend it for anybody and everybody, and make sure to read it alongside a friend so you can discuss it later.
Story: 5 // Craft: 5 // Food for thought: 5