Middle of August, we had the opportunity to visit Portland, OR for the first time. I had just came back from Taiwan, still severely jet lagged. Some of Portland was hazy though most was memorable, including a stop at Powell Bookstore. It is the largest independent bookstore in the U.S. – it is the size of a city block with 4-5 floors and a section of rare collection of books. It was an ultimate “treasure” cove for a bookworm like me. We had many items on the itinerary and limited time in Portland. We only had about an hour to visit Powell, which was definitely too short. However, as I strolled past isles, isles and isles of books. I came upon “Into Thin Air”. The cover of the book got my attention.
“it was early in the afternoon of May 10, 1996. I hadn’t slept for fifty-seven hours. The only food I had been able to force down over the preceding three days was a bowel of ramen soup and a handful of peanut M&M’s. Weeds of violent coughing had left me with two separate ribs that made ordinary breathing an excruciating trial. At 29,028 feet up in the troposphere, so little oxygen was reading my brain that my mental capacity was that of a slow child” (pg. 6 “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer)
I was hooked. The description was vivid as I could see and feel the pain that Krakauer’s words painted. Sold. I walked out of the door with this book – and gladly so. It has been ages since I bought an actual book from a bookstore. Amazon has creep into almost every aspect of our shopping life.
This was the beginning of my love affair with reading about Everest and few mountaineer’s biography. However, this post was actually about the most recent book I read by the same author: “Into the Wild” This book definitely got me even more perplexed at first and then into a more reflective mode by the end of the book. “Into Thin Air” was superbly written and I equally loved it. “Into the Wild” had more impact because it was very unimaginable to me that Chris McCandless, a young man shortly after graduating from college embarked on the journey and adventure of his life that ultimately took his life away.
When I finished reading “Into Thin Air”, I was very impressed with Kaukauer’s writing that I picked up “Into the Wild”. When I was reading the summary, I was perplexed that the story seemed so simple and the ending was right there – there was a young man who ventured into Alaska and died there. On surface, I could not really identify with the story line – I was thinking – someone wrote a book about this? At least with “Into Thin Air”, I could see the “drama” and “ambitions” of climbing Everest.
Because Kaukauer is such a good writer who can paint picture with words as well as invoke feelings and sympathy from readers, Chris becomes a real person and almost a hero. The most memorable part of the book for me was the different (real) people with whom Chris had encountered during his nomad traveling/hitch hiking. Through the descriptions, I could see Chris was a passionate about truth, nature, and had an independent spirit. For the lack of better words, I felt that everyone Chris came in contact with “loved” him and had real impact on them. One of them was this older man named Ron who began to treat Chris like the grandson he never had. Ron was genuinely devastated when he found out that Chris had perished in Alaska.
As I closed the book (haunting ending of how Kaukauer described Chris’s end), I was very impressed with the courage that Chris took to leap into the wild, into the adventure, and into what he believed was the right thing to do for himself. Some people criticized that Chris was “just a stupid kid” who was “arrogant” and ill-prepared for the Wild West of Alaska. I could almost sympathize with this point of view, however, one could not help but to at least admire the courage. Chris did what 99% of people would not do, in the larger sense, to pursue the dream at the ultimate price. That conviction has earned my respect for Chris. It was very unfortunate that he did not get to tell his side of the story.
I definitely want to watch the film adaptation of “Into the Wild” directed and written by Sean Penn. Visually, even though Kaukauer has painted a good picture, seeing the movie will complete the full circle. “Into the Wild” is a classic and I highly recommend it!