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 and most of his possessions, 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.... [ synopsis from goodreads ]
So, I just finished this book a few hours ago and I had thought about waiting a bit to review it so I could have more time to collect my thoughts. But I realized that giving myself more time wouldn't help in the slightest. I don't think I'll ever really have a clear understanding of whether I love this book or hate it. I can't really decide.
But let's start at the beginning. Dearest Lizzy chose this book for book club as a book she owns but hasn't read. Which is my story exactly. I know I bought it ages ago because there's a film version but I didn't know anything about it when I bought it and I never actually picked it up and read it. So I'm honestly wondering why I even bought it in the first place? I am not a person who enjoys GOING to the woods/wilderness, much less willingly reading about it. But, whatever the case, it's a book club book so I read it. (Honestly, you can get me to read literally anything so long as it's with book club. I would literally sit there pouring over the phone book and dutifully reading each page as long as I knew all the rest of you were suffering through it with me, ahahaha.)
But, anyway, back to the book in question. So, going into this I didn't know anything about the story. Chris McCandless's death and the media aftermath from it happened when I was approximately 1 year old and I asked both of my parents if they remembered anything about it and they didn't. (But they also had a newborn so understandable.) So I went into this without any background entirely. That worked well since I discovered all I needed to know in the pages of this book.
First off, I loved how it was written. Having just finished a Mass Comm degree and taking many journalism classes, it was evident pretty much from page one that this book was written by a journalist. That's not really a style you find in most books. Even novels written by journalists don't usually keep that evidently journalist style. So I really enjoyed that this one did. I think that drew me in more and made this more of an interesting read.
But then there's the content and that's where it lost me. Although this was, thankfully, not totally a book about the wilderness, that was a big part of it. This book was equal parts about McCandless's life (both the time leading up to his death and his life as a whole) and about the wild itself and the stories of those who have perished at its hand or who have lived to tell the tale. The parts about McCandless's life were the most interesting to me. I am always and forever a sucker for finding out what makes people tick. And discovering what drove Chris McCandless into his nomadic existence was exactly what I wanted.
That, however, wasn't all this book had to offer. It was riddled with other stories of those who had braved the wild. And while I think that's a great thing to add, I think that also wasn't for me. For someone going into this looking for stories about the wild, I think all of the extra tidbits will be well received. But I'm not one of those people. And so I found this book exhausting. It was not one that I ever wanted to pick up and read. I more wanted to fly through it and move on to something else that I would actually deeply enjoy.
But, all of that being said, I did learn a lot from this book. I learned probably more about the wild and about the wilderness than I ever would've known. And for that, I'm grateful. Because you never know when that kind of information will come in handy. And I also see the value that this book has for others. While reading, I found Chris McCandless to be a stubborn and impulsive young man. Don't get me wrong, I love what he was trying to do and I think it takes real courage to follow your dreams and truly live for yourself. But I also think his death could've been prevented and I think this book can be a guide to others who might try to make his same mistakes. Because young guys trying to survive on their own in the wild and believing they will come through entirely unscathed? They're a dime a dozen. I think stories like this should be told more if only to help them and maybe throw a cautionary tale their way about how you ABSOLUTELY need to be prepared.
So that's why I feel this book is one that truly everyone should read. I might not have totally enjoyed it or thought that it was for me (and it's probably not something I'll ever read again. Unless, that is, book club has a book reunion in a few years and decides to reread old things, haha) but I definitely see the value in it and that's why I would highly recommend it to others. So, at the end of the day, I am glad I read it. And I'm glad that I learned so much from it. So I guess it served its purpose after all. And, for that, I'll always be grateful.
review originally posted on goodreads