Sunday, October 07, 2007

Book Review: Into the Wild

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

With the release of the movie, I thought it worthwhile to read the book before the movie possibly ruined it for me. I have to say that I expected more from the book. Krakauer has a prominent name, the book did well, but I was less than impressed with the writing. It bore traces of padding, as if he was looking for filler to make the book longer. The book is filled with other, shorter narratives concerning other adventurers, including some of Krakauer's own experiences, but none of these seemed to address what more interesting to me, the character of Chris McCandless.

I don't know anyone who hasn't had that urge to skip it all and walk out on society. My own past is filled with those sorts of plans. I don't find McCandless unique in this. Where I find him most interesting is in his dealings with others. He seems to have had a profound effect on most of the people met. I know that in non-fiction the author is limited in how he could draw out these sorts of things. Krakauer left it mostly to direct quotes. That may be compelling but not explicit.

On the issue of McCandless's recklessness, I too am a little torn. I understand how the whole idea would rile Alaskans who understand the challenges and requirements of the wild. To shirk preparedness is to disrespect it. Or maybe he thought it was easy, when others knew how damn hard it was. I understand this, but I don't think there was any willful disrespect. I think he was a victim of his own idealism.

Krakauer's writing is sloppy and flawed. He needlessly repeats himself or steals phrases from his own quotes. And then other times he tries out some more creative sentences using words that are striking and out of place. The book doesn't even seem to progress in any cohesive way. The only thing that keeps you reaching is to find out the circumstance of McCandless's death.

As much as I disliked the book, I am looking forward to the movie, if only for a real dramatization of McCandless's story.


  1. Sorry to hear you didn't like the book. I must admit that I've never read the book from a critical perspective, so I can't really speak to the quality of Krakauer's writing. (However, like you I did notice some "padding", especially when he wrote about his own reckless youthful adventuring.) It could very well be that my love of the book comes entirely from the powerful allure of McCandless' life story, which for me would easily trump any negatives of the author's writing. Once I see the film I'm sure I'll be reading the book again, so I'll check back with you on my latest impressions of it.

  2. Pete, I saw the movie over the weekend, but I won't say anything so as not to spoil it for you.

  3. just to let you know i don't like the book so far either and I can get past chapter seven how on earth did you get through the book?

  4. Truth be told, I had someone very dear to me tell me she loved the book. I don't hold it against her, but that was enough to pull me through. I was also curious to see how Krakauer would moralize the ending. See what you think

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