Into the Wild - Jon Krakauer

At the time of writing this, I had noticed that the last few books I'd read had really hooked me in and had me mainlining them into the early hours of the morning which may be why they all ended up getting those 4 stars from me. Eh, whatevs.

 

So I'm going to speak ill of the dead and say McCandless was a bit of brat, or at least that's how he comes across in the account presented in this book. Given that it's a nonfiction novel, well, some people are just like that in real life. He certainly came from a life of privilege and his attitude was, in recounts, admirable and despicable by turns. I have mixed feelings.

 

Intriguing that the book continued even after it was initially published, as told by the author in the last chapters and afterword. Their findings cast a tragic glow on the end of McCandless's life. I never saw the movie but apparently it's quite different from what they've found to have actually happened to him. Hindsight.

 

Thoughtful Things:

 

-- "I think maybe part of what got him into trouble was that he did too much thinking. Sometimes he tried too hard to make sense of the world, to figure out why people were bad to each other so often." Isn't it a paradox that thinking too much can lead to a sort of existential crisis but not being introspective at all can lead to self-destructive behaviors?

 

-- "We Americans are titillated by sex, obsessed by it, horrified by it. When an apparently healthy person, especially a healthy young man, elects to forgo the enticements of the flesh, it shocks us, and we leer. Suspicions are aroused." Compare with the perceptions of the sexual appetite of a "healthy young woman."

 

-- "Alex struck me as much older than twenty-four. Everything I said, he'd demand to know more about what I meant, about why I thought this way or that. He was hungry to learn about things. Unlike most of us, he was the sort of person who insisted on living out his beliefs." Admirable. Unrealistic? Better than most.

 

-- "...Entering the wilderness purposefully ill-prepared, and surviving a near-death experience does not make you a better human, it makes you damn lucky." This reminds me of many stories in the Alaskan gold rush genre.

 

"The most strident criticism came in the form of a dense, multipage epistle... The author was a white writer and schoolteacher, formerly from Washington, D.C.... Warning that it was 1:00 A.M. and he was well into a bottle of Seagra's, [he] let fly: 

 

Over the past 15 years, I've run into several McCandless types out in the country. Same story: idealistic, energetic young guys who overestimated themselves, underestimated the country, and ended up in trouble. McCandless was hardly unique; there's quite a few of these guys hanging around the state, so much alike that they're almost a collective cliche. The only difference is that McCandless ended up dead, with the story of his dumbassedness splashed across the media....(Jack London got it right in "To Build a Fire." McCandless is, finally, just a pale 20th-century burlesque of London's protagonist, who freezes because he ignores advice and commits big-time hubris)....

 

His ignorance, which could have been cured by a USGS quadrant and a Boy Scout manual, is what killed him. And while I feel for his parents, I have no sympathy for him. Such willful ignorance...amounts to disrespect for the land, and paradoxically demonstrates the same sort of arrogance that resulted in the Exxon Valdez spill - just another case of underprepared, overconfident men bumbling around out there and screwing up because they lacked the requisite humility. It's all a matter of degree.

 

McCandless's contrived asceticism and a pseudoliterary stance compound rather than reduce the fault....McCandless's postcards, notes, and journals... read like the work of an above average, somewhat histrionic high school kid - or am I missing something?

Wow... that is hands down the most epic rant response I've ever read in a book. I love the fact that it was written by schoolteacher who I bet is 110% done with having to listen to his students' ridiculous arguments using the same distorted logical fallacies as McCandless. So relatable and yet it hurts to acknowledge that I am, in fact, an adult in comparison. -insert that one Disney princess's argument pic-

 

-- "...Alaska is "not the best place in the world for eremitic experiments or peace-love theatrics."" Clearly one should go to Florida for that.

 

-- "The pursuit of knowledge, he maintained, was a worthy objective in its own right and needed no external validation." But external validation looks so pretty framed and hanging on my wall...

 

-- "...instead of putting his demons to rest, success had merely agitated them." Hmmm.

 

-- "Esthetics as a parlor affectation is ludicrous and sometimes a little obscene; as a way of life it sometimes attains dignity." Hmmm....

 

-- "I have always been unsatisfied with life as most people live it. Always I want to live more intensely and richly." This could be the motto for some of the nicer lifestyle blogs/Instagrams I've seen out there. Good thing?

 

-- "A lot of us are like that... [w]e like companionship, see, but we can't stand to be around people for very long. So we go get ourselves lost, come back for a while, then get the hell out again." Hah, so relatable...

 

-- "Even from across the room it is apparent that some very high voltage is crackling through his wires." Good line!

 

-- "[He] had so much natural talent...but if you tried to coach him, to polish his skill, to bring out that final ten percent, a wall went up. He resisted instruction of any kind..."

 

-- "Nuance, strategy, and anything beyond the rudimentaries of technique were wasted on Chris. The only way he cared to tackle a challenge was head-on, right now, applying the full brunt of his extraordinary energy. And he was often frustrated as a consequence. It wasn't until he took up running, an activity that rewards will and determination more than finesse or cunning, that he found his athletic calling."

The above two quotes are on the same page in the book and are related. 1) Why do some people resist improving upon their natural talents? Rejection of the available mentors/resources? Internal fear of potential inadequacy? Disinterest? 2) Perhaps personality is the deciding factor to the previous point. Even so, it's still possible to find an acceptable outlet, in this example: running.

 

-- "Chris didn't like going through channels, working within the system, waiting his turn. He'd say, 'Come on, Eric, we can raise enough money to go to South Africa on our own, right now. It's just a matter of deciding to do it.' I'd counter by saying we were only a couple of kids, that we couldn't possibly make a difference. But you couldn't argue with him. He'd come back with something like 'Oh, so I guess you just don't care about right and wrong.'" Agree with McCandless - it is possible to cause change if you're determined enough. Also agree with the friend quoted - it is not necessarily children's obligations to invoke change in that way, especially if it involves running away from home into a war zone! The apocryphal dismissal, however, bothers me with it's carelessness, whether true or not.

 

-- "Chris answered that careers were demeaning "twentieth-century inventions..."" Incorrect. Blacksmithing, tailoring, being a knight or a soldier, housewifery, herding; all valid "careers" but we would perhaps call them trades or, in the case of women, wifely duties, due to our modern perspective, whereas the word "career" has the modern connotation of a job performed in an office in the US, which would have been his frame of reference.

 

-- "...if you really want to make a difference in the world, if you really want to help people who are less fortunate, get yourself some leverage first. Go to college, get a law degree, and then you'll be able to have a real impact." Nicest argument for a college education I've encountered in a novel so far. It occurs to me though that most stories I've read don't have favorable arguments pro-college. Sign of the times?

 

-- "I think he would have been unhappy with any parents; he had trouble with the whole idea of parents." On the one hand, I get it, because the institution of parenthood is especially unfavorably portrayed since the mid-1950s onwards in America. OTOH, your parents... =/

 

-- "He could be generous and caring to a fault, but he had a darker side as well, characterized by monomania, impatience, and unwavering self-absorption, qualities that seemed to intensify through his college years." Sounds like the intro an episode on Investigation Discovery.

 

-- "Like many people, Chris apparently judged artists and close friends by their work, not their life..."

 

-- "The danger bathed the world in a halogen glow that caused everything - the sweep of the rock, the orange and yellow lichens, the texture of the clouds - to stand out in brilliant relief. Life thrummed at a higher pitch. The world was made real."

 

-- "...I was dimly aware that I might be getting in over my head. But that only added to the scheme's appeal. That it wouldn't be easy was the whole point."

 

-- "...dunning cold..." Okay, I looked up "dun" in the dictionary just to make sure I was right about the definition. This right here is such an adjectifying abuse of a noun. :P (Forgot the technical grammatical term for it, bleh)

 

-- "But I never had any doubt that climbing the Devils Thumb would transform my life. How could it not?" Arrogance + fantasy destinations = life experience?

 

-- "Because I was alone, however, even the mundane seemed charged with meaning."

 

-- "I was nearly out of stove fuel and down to a single chunk of cheese, my last package of Ramen noodles, and half a box of Cocoa Puffs. This, I figured, could sustain me for three or four more days if need be, but then what would I do?" Somehow that is so unromantic. Realistic, but unappealing, sigh...

 

-- "I had been granted unusual freedom and responsibility at an early age, for which I should have been grateful in the extreme, but I wasn't. Instead, I felt oppressed by the old man's expectations... The revelation that he was merely human, and frightfully so, was beyond my power to forgive."

 

-- "Because I wanted to climb the mountain so badly, because I had thought about the Thumb so intensely for so long, it seemed beyond the realm of possibility that some minor obstacle like the weather or crevasses or rime-covered rock might ultimately thwart my will." Human arrogance much? One thing I like about Alaskan frontier novels a la London and co. is that Mother Nature always reminded men of their place in the grand scheme of things.

 

-- "It is easy, when you are young, to believe that what you desire is no less than what you deserve, to assume that if you want something badly enough, it is your God-given right to have it." Not a generational problem when phrased this way, more like a mankind problem.

 

-- "The season of snows was preferred, that I might experience the pleasure of suffering, and the novelty of danger."

 

-- "[He]... mused that Chris "was born in the wrong century. He was looking for more adventure and freedom than today's society gives people."" I would argue instead that that type of adventure and freedom still exists, it's just not as socially acceptable anymore, particularly to the socioeconomic class to which he belonged.

 

-- "In 1992, however, there were no more blank spots on the map - not in Alaska, not anywhere. But Chris, with his idiosyncratic logic, came up with an elegant solution to this dilemma: He simply got rid of the map. In his own mind, if nowhere else, the terra would thereby remain incognita." On the list of things one should not do when risking one's life... People spent centuries exploring and making maps and he just threw his away. Sigh...

 

-- "It is hardly unusual for a young man to be drawn to a pursuit considered reckless by his elders; engaging in risky behavior is a rite of passage in our culture no less than in most others. Danger has always held a certain allure. That, in large part, is why so many teenagers drive too fast and drink too much and take too many drugs, why it has always been so easy for nations to recruit young men to go to war. It can be argued that youthful derring-do is in fact evolutionarily adaptive, a behavior encoded in our genes. McCandless, in his fashion, merely took risk-taking to its logical extreme." Evolutionarily adaptive behaviors improve your ability to endure as a species in some way, doesn't it? This would be more culturally adaptive behavior, I believe.

 

-- "But built into his life is awareness of that presence [of nature]... of the narrow margin by which he is sustained." I recall that one post somewhere on Tumblr about how maybe trees are the dominant species on the planet and we, and all animals, are merely allowed to exist to produce carbon dioxide to feed them. An interesting perspective shift. +1, Mother Nature.

 

-- "McCandless distrusted the value of things that came easily. He demanded much of himself - more, in the end, than he could deliver." The fatal consequences of perfectionism/overachieving when taken to the extreme.

 

-- "...how difficult it is for those of us preoccupied with the humdrum concerns for adulthood to recall how forcefully we were once buffeted by the passions and longings of youth." I feel that way with my younger siblings with just an age gap of 5 years! And definitely felt it when I dealt with kids 10-15 years my junior. It seems like they live a whole different world now.

 

-- "The difference between a popular account for a general audience and a peer-reviewed journal is that an editor or two may check the former, while the latter will be subject to critical examination aimed at uncovering sloppy work." Hah! What about all those vanity press type "academic" journals? Or the practice of bias in favor of one's hypothesis that most academics will fall victim to when interpreting their results? Or those other academics who just flat out forge their data? A 'popular account' can be edited or criticized openly, a peer-reviewed journal is more likely and more often subjected to cover-ups to keep the mistakes secret because heaven forbid someone's funding gets cut or they lose their tenured position. Hmph.