Nonfiction Nagging- Into the Wild

[I have the movie cover. Gross]
It's been almost three months since I read something besides a novel- I've overdue for some reality, apparently. I just finished Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild, the story of Alex/Chris McCandless who ends up dying in the Alaska wild. It was turned into a movie several years ago and while my husband actually has it I haven't seen it. Interestingly, I think it may cross into the "I think the movie is slow and boring but I liked the book" categories. Anyway, I thought Into the Wild was interesting, but it had absolutely nothing on Into Thin Air, which I literally couldn't put down.

The premise itself is fascinating- putting together the pieces of a man who disappeared from his upper-middle class home and moved out West with the goal of living off the land in Alaska. McCandless hitchhiked and "tramped" around Arizona and Southern California and slowly worked his way North. He picked up odd jobs and made friends with his honest, kind personality. People appreciated his intelligence (he was college graduate) and determination to be independent. McCandless represents what we all wish we could do (at some point in our lives)- the ability to take off and just go. He gives away the $25,000 he had saved, burns his money, abandons his car, and carries minimal material goods. McCandless eventually finds his way to Alaska and dies (this is no spoiler, folks) alone in a bus, cause of death likely from starvation (or from consuming moldy seeds). Krakauer uses his journals, pictures, and interviews with those he touched along the way to piece together his story.

It's not all a romantic story that Walden, Thoreau, London or whoever would be proud of, though. McCandless makes a lot of stupid mistakes that cost him his life. First of all, he doesn't carry maps with him, nor does he make any sort of effort to carry any sort of gear besides a few guns. This part really frustrates me; I understand not wanting to form attachment to material goods and to truly get in touch with the land, but unless you're a trained naturalist or a super hardcore Boy Scout it's a mistake. He leaves a family behind that is desperate with worry, including a sister he is especially close to (I found myself getting really angry and upset picturing my younger brother doing something like this). I had to remember that this wasn't fiction; Krakauer didn't create him, he was just reporting on what had happened.

Speaking of Krakauer, I felt a few parts of the text were unnecessary. A whole section is devoted to Krakauer's experience in Alaska when he was younger- I wanted to read about McCandless' life, not his. I know he viewed his research as cathartic, given the parallels he drew between his life and the wandering Alex/Chris, but they were just plopped in at the end in a self-centered insertion. He also includes background on other Alaskan adventurers that I thought were not needed- at 203 pages it seemed that perhaps he was just trying to stretch his word count a tad.

All in all, this was a really interesting, quick read. It wasn't quite what I expected, but I still definitely recommend this (although if you haven't read Into Thin Air read that instead). 


  1. I also read this book as a follow up to Into Thin Air. Like you, I couldn't put down ITA, but I almost had to force mysef to read Into the Wild. I just couldn't get into it as much. I kept thinking I'd discover something about Alex at some point. That he was suicidal that something magnificent happened to him. But it ended up being very straight forward and drawn out. There just wasn't that much to say that couldn't have been said in a magazine article. Womp womp.

  2. I have seen the movie, Into the Wild, and I really liked it. I guess I like slow and boring movies.

    1. Maybe you do, Claudia, haha, but given the narrative of the book I'm just hesitant to see how it's translated into movie form. I think 90% of movies are slow and boring, though...

  3. I agree on the book. The movie "Into the wild" though is nothing like this book. It´s a wonderful, beautiful narrative of the story of McCandless made by Sean Penn, who was inspired by reading an article about the destiny of MacCandless. So it doesn´t have anything to do with this book really (which makes the cover of the book kind of weird). I thought the book was interesting, but nothing special. The movie though is one of my all time favorites.