Thursday, December 18, 2008

Jon Krakauer

I am not so much of a non-fiction reader, I admit. In general, when I am reading, I am practicing my own form of escapism, and consequently, I have very little interest in reading about real life. Unfortunately, where it comes to audiobooks, occasionally they are cheaper if you purchase non-fiction. And as I drive a TON for work, it is a challenge to keep up with audio, even from my local library, which sadly has more cassettes than CD's, and I do not have a cassette player in my car.

Before Lauren gave me her copy of The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir, I was desperately seeking cheap audio books to read on my travels around Virginia. I stumbled upon Jon Krakauer on two separate occasions, and as his books fit the "under $20 and unabridged" criteria, I purchased them. I got Under the Banner of Heaven first and followed it up with Into the Wild.

Heaven was a great read and very interesting, but I want to talk more about Into the Wild. I first became aware of the story a year or so ago when the book was turned into a movie. From the previews, I thought it was more of an adventure type of movie, in terms of dude goes to Alaska, hunts bear, and decides he loves the great outdoors. However, in browsing the shelves at Borders, I came upon the audiobook version and found the description to be completely different than my expectations.

This did not mean, however, that I actually wanted to read the book. The book is the true story of the doomed Chris McCandless, a Northern Virginia boy who gives away his trust fund and strikes out into the west in search of life away from the privileged upbringing of his youth. His ultimate destination is Alaska, where he wants to live off the land for a few months and be "in the wild".

I think I picked up and put down the CD's for this particular book 4 or 5 times. It was a similar situation with Heaven. But there literally was just not anything else on the shelves that I could quickly purchase and read. (Those $14.95 books are generally abridged--buyer beware!) So I gave in and decided to read about this kid.

I am not going to lie. I have not one clue about what this kid was attempting to accomplish on his quest. I somewhat understand what he was looking for--I went through a period of my life where I was trying to figure out who I really was and where I was actually going, and I suspect that's kind of what he was working on as he got away from all who knew him and just got to be himself. And there are many days I understand the appeal of getting away from the phone, the computer, the television, the creature comforts and just getting back to a quiet existence. I think this is probably why I love going to the beach so much--we never pack computers, we turn off cell phones, we just go and let it be.

But we always have a contingency plan. There is a phone available, God forbid there's an emergency. We have maps. At the very least, if this kid had just brought a map with him, he would have been able to rescue himself. Many people apparently point to such things as lack of map and inability to cure game as evidence of his stupidity. I think it's merely evidence of his rash youth. I don't think young males consider much of their own mortality, and I'm sure he was pretty well convinced everything would be just fine--he'd eat some moose, hike around Alaska, and have a heck of a tale to tell his grandchildren someday.

I've done some reading up on Chris since finishing the book and the one quote that has stuck with me was someone wrote about him, "Chris may have f***ed up, but he f***ed up brilliantly." I don't know that I even necessarily believe that--I'm not sure I understand what starving to death lonely and scared in the middle of a little used trail proved even unto himself, but his story certainly does continue to fascinate a good 16 years after his death.

What really made Wild and Heaven for me, however, was Krakauer's storytelling. While I had no interest in the subject of Chris McCandless's life and little understanding of his mission, as I have detailed, I scarcely wanted to turn off the CD's. I would get so disappointed when I'd reach a client's house and would have to go in. I ate lunch in the car so I could listen some more. The writing is just that good. Under the Banner of Heaven is about the Fundamentalist LDS church (remember those whacko polygamists in Texas? Yeah, them), and while I had more of an interest in that subject, I'm not big on history, and Krakauer delved deeply into the history of the church and the fundamentalists, framing it in the context of two crimes that occurred at the hands of FLDS men--one the murder of a young woman and her infant daughter, the other the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart. However, Krakauer even made what could have been dry historical fact riveting.

He has written a couple of other books, and I have to say that even if the subject matter doesn't appeal to me, I will probably read them if I can get my hands on them. It makes a nice change from my usual reading fare and leads me to think I can enjoy a little non-fiction now and again, even about things I don't really think I'd be interested in. My "to be read shelf" is heavily fiction--approximately 250 books--while the non fiction side is about 75 books. Maybe I'll work a touch more dilligently to clear some of them off.

(NB: Anyone local who cares to borrow either audiobook, let me know! I'm happy to share)

4 pearl(s) of wisdom:

Lauren said...

I listened to Into the Wild earlier this year, and it really is a fascinating tale.

I'd love to borrow the other one, though. Whenever. :D

Cindy said...

I've read Under the Banner of Heaven and Into Thin Air. Both good reads. And both things I was interested in.

I have a hard time reading non-fiction if it isn't something I am interested in.

I've also never gotten into audio books. Tho I would probably get through a lot more books if I did. Hehe.

Melissa said...

I enjoyed Into The Wild - I have Banner of Heaven on my shelf, that's right I own a copy of it, but I haven't read it.

I have a David Sedaris Christmas CD - Holidays on Ice - he is hysterical....if you haven't read any of his stuff you must...if you want to borrow the CD let me know, I bet we can arrange a meetup or I can leave it in the door and you can swing by if you are in the area.....

Seraphim9 said...

Into the Wild is a good story. I did not read the book, though, but I did see the movie.

I was actually a bit mad at the end. After all the adventures he'd been through he perishes because he ate a poisonous plant.

I mentioned in my blog that a friend's son disappeared over a year ago and a copy of the book was found in his car. That has had a lot of people wondering if he'd done the same thing - faked his death and then went on a long adventure.

Another spooky thing - I was watching the Rockin' New Year's Eve show and as they scanned the crowd I swear I saw him. I backed up the DVR, then ran and got the camera and recorded a video of this scene and emailed it to his mom's cousin, who is also the private investigator working on this case. They said it wasn't him, but the resemblance to this person was uncanny. I was praying SO hard that it WAS him.