I picked this book up in an airport bookstore. You know how that goes. It's slim pickings for anything other than a NYT Bestseller, Romance novel, or books on improving your golf swing. But unlike most last-minute-airport -purchased books, I had it in my hands at every opportunity until I finished it. 'Riveting' is the word. After you've read it, 'haunting' is the word; I've never entirely escaped it.
This is the story of Christopher Johnson McCandless – a young man with tremendous Jack London and Hemingway ideals that wanders unprepared into the Alaskan wilderness. The rest of the book contains what otherwise might pass as filler – but isn’t; the stories of other young men, their idealism gone awry, who wander into the wilderness on journeys of self discovery and mad attempts to triumph over nature.
Krakauer is qualified, too. He used to be one of these reckless, idealistic young men. He was a central participant in his infamous novel “Into Thin Air”. I’ll never forget his recollection of solo free-climbing (no safety ropes or partner) a very dangerous peak, thousands of feet in the air, with only his ice pick and crampons, feeling like his legs were going to go out from under him, and worrying that he’d faint, because behind his back just out of sight, there was nothing except the great roaring of nothingness and a drop to the ground that no one would witness. Crazier? McCandless or the young Krakauer?
What you’re missing out on are the pictures of McCandless’ journeys. Make absolutely certain to get to a book store and at least flip through a copy. The cover photo sums up the reason why this book continues to haunt me. It’s a picture of a snow covered, abandoned school bus – a bleak landscape, the middle of nowhere; pines, a grey sky, no one in sight – that McCandless used as a shelter, stranded and struggling for survival in the wilds of Alaska.
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