This is so not your average biography. When I was 10 years old, thanks to Gary Paulson, I had a burning desire to build a shelter in the forest and sleep in it for a night. And Into The Wild reminded me of that desire.
Into the Wild is a 1996 biography that had slipped past my attention. My parents were childless and getting married that year. I was given this as a birthday present by my uncle, and my expectations were sort of low (a previous book he gifted me I sadly hated). It’s the story of Christopher Johnson McCandless, a man who had luck on his side most of his life. Came from a fairly wealthy family and had his own intellectual superiority, even if apparently things like wearing socks on the job at McDonald’s really bothered him. But Chris for some reason wanted to go back in time; back to when humans weren’t the prime species and had to rely on hunting, scavenging, and drinking water from the stream while risking your life in the poison ivy and seasonal relentlessness. In fact, the journalist who wrote a 9,000-word article about McCandless and later published this work, relates to that feeling of wanting to make your life into an adventure. So Chris gave away $25,000 of his savings and hit the road, cutting off all communications from his family…his story sadly does not end well, and this is the story of Jon Krakauer following McCandless’ old trail.
I have a little bit of Christopher McCandless’s drive for adventure in me. I like to think we all do deep down. He made very reckless decisions that caused despair for those who cared about him and lingers today, but he spoke for the rogue libertarian in all of us, the itch we all either scratch or swallow down to deny society’s setup for life and treat the one life we have as the adventure it could be. I guess the difference between me and him is I do understand the need for a backup plan and some leverage. He wanted to go all the way. And did it.
A main reason I write books and have done some acting is so I can escape from the world life has set up for me. I understand having to contribute your share to society to keep it functioning and so you can deserve a living, or in other words, having a job. If people didn’t have jobs, who would make our food, our energy, be there when something goes wrong? I get all that. In fact, I’m enjoying the job I have right now. But today’s employment setup, in my opinion, demands too much for the average person when you consider all there is to really live for. It’s one of the many reasons I advocate for higher wages for the poorest of the population and significant but fair tax increases for the abominably wealthy 1%, so people down on their luck don’t have to waste away their lives salvaging for scraps and people who really don’t need any more money give their fair share. As Jon Krakauer takes us on one of the best step-retracing stories I’ve ever read, you can’t help but feel maybe McCandless resisted settling down even when it would’ve been logical and flat-out healthy because of his burning passion not to give up his end-of-the-tunnel goal. The only problem is he never looked at what was there once he got out of the tunnel and into the field. A merciless field fine with crushing him.
How far do you want to go in life? What do you think is the thing that would make your life feel so complete you would no longer feel like a failure if something else didn’t quite work out because you did accomplish that? Into the Wild might just make you ask that.
Now, I don’t think I’d call Into The Wild action-packed or tremendously fast-paced. Biographies just aren’t generally like that. And in some of the chapters you may start feeling there’s something else we’re more interested in reading about right now, or you might feel all these details aren’t important to what you’re hoping to find out. But one example is Jon Krakauer talking about his own experiences in the wild and what he went through experimenting in McCandless’ terrain for his own dreams, and you’ll feel the passion Krakauer had in bringing Chris’ proper story out there for the world, especially in the face of those who were trying to completely belittle his actions after his original article was published.
And for those wondering? I eventually did build a shelter in the forest and sleep in it overnight. It was when I was 12 and it was in the woods of my summer camp. It was a lean-to made of sticks and branches with a door made of a big plate of wood I found from a treehouse that fell apart. One of my sandals got ruined from stepping in a puddle of tree sap that day. But anyway, I slept a whole night in it once. Didn’t sleep much because of all the mosquitoes that got in in spite of my best efforts. But it was great feeling like the animals we see in the woods for one night.
If you like this, I’d try The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls