I’ve joined another book club in Las Vegas, this one focused on reading non-fiction books. While my other book club is fun to get together with people to try new restaurants and talk about travel, we don’t really discuss the books much and at our last meetup only a handful of people had even read the chosen book. At last night’s meeting of the non-fiction book club, we really got into discussing the book, which is great because Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild is one that can create some pretty heated discussion.
Since the organizer of the book group is British, we met at Crown & Anchor Pub, a British pub near UNLV. I had a pint of Old Speckled Hen and the Ploughmans Lunch — complete with English cheeses, bread, tomatoes, cucumbers, beets and Branston Pickle.
For those of you who haven’t watched the movie Into the Wild (written and directed by Sean Penn) or read the book, I highly recommend it. ***Spoiler Alert*** However, while the front cover of the book point-blank tells you that its protagonist Christopher McCandless (aka Alexander Supertramp) did not survive the wilderness, this remains a mystery throughout the movie until the very end.
The premise of the book is that a 24-year-old man from an affluent family in a Washington, DC suburb gives his $25,000 in savings upon graduation to the charity Oxfam (he must have been extremely affluent to have $25,000 left over after graduating from a private college), ceases all contact with his family and travels out West for several years — assuming a new kind of existence as a vagabond. His ultimate survivalist experience is to be a summer spent alone in Alaska living off the land. To aid in this journey, he packs his expensive backpack with books to read and a 10-pound bag of rice, neglecting to bring other essentials such as a map of the area and a knowledge of survival skills that would make a Boy Scout proud. He does manage to survive over 100 days before finally starving to death.
I watched the movie several years ago, and was so impressed with McCandless’ spirit of adventure. I thought the movie was based on his memoir of how he survived over 100 days in the wilderness, so the ending came as a tough surprise. Later, when I told people I had seen the movie, they all said, “Oh, isn’t that the movie about the guy who dies in Alaska,” and I felt like I had missed out on some big news story.
Our book group discussion last night turned into a bit of a bash Christopher McCandless fest. Among the attendees were a former Boy Scout and a US Geological Survey cartographer. They thought he was selfish, ignorant, arrogant, and perhaps not wired correctly. Several commented that it’s always the kids from rich families who think they’re invisible, who would do something like this.
I tend to agree with the above, but I also can relate to his love of writers/philosophers such as Thoreau and Tolstoy, who have been influential in my own life and chosen path. While Christopher didn’t keep much of a journal while on the road and in the wild, I wondered had he survived, what kind of story he would tell of his own transformation. In a letter to a friend, shortly before his journey into the Alaska wilderness, McCandless wrote:
So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future.
Post in Comments: Have you read Into the Wild or seen the movie, and if so, what did you think of it?