The Book I Read (correction)

A typo has been brought to my attention in the previous post, found here.

A very important wasn’t, was written as a was.

The corrected version reads:

It would be unreasonable to argue McCandless wasn’t flawed in many of his actions, but it would be equally unreasonable to overlook that we are all flawed individuals…


The Book I Read

I think I first read Into the Wild in 2007. To say I enjoyed it is to confuse it with saying I read it quickly and continued to think about – perhaps too much – long after I’d put it back on the shelf. It’s hard to “enjoy” a story like the one that book tells. It’s quite another thing to be moved by it, which I suppose is the closest I can come to describing the daze it seemed to put me in for the few days after turning its final page.

The difference between a good book and liking a book wasn’t something I was fully aware of until I joined the Peace Corps and was given more time to read than I’d ever encountered in my life. Struggling my way through The Sheltering Sky was when I had the realization. Paul Bowles’ book is no doubt quiet good, but I really didn’t enjoy reading it.

Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 is another interesting if not more complex example. At nearly 1000 pages it has its share of parts that are highly enjoyable and parts that you’d wish you could erase from your memory. A masterpiece surely, but “enjoyable”, definitely not.

Neither of those two books I’d comfortably say have had the audience amongst my peers as Jon Krakauer’s telling of a young man from Virginia who decided to see if he could make it on his own in Alaska and failed. That readership is probably why it comes as close to any other book I can think of to garnering the amount of strong opinions people seem to have about it. (Case in point: this post).

To me though, the synopsis above misses the larger part of the story. The process by which he met his ends, the realizations along the way and why we as readers – comfortably (or not so comfortably) sitting in our homes – find the need to pass a mark of success or failure upon a complete strangers endeavor.

Like the good book argument the discussion about Into the Wild in general seems to revolve around only part of what’s on offer. The main concern being the liking or hating of Chris McCandless. After a second read (something I’m not sure I’ve ever done – when you read as slow as I do, it’s really an investment) I maintain my original stance: disliking Chris and his decisions is not at the detriment of the story or the much larger themes it contains. It’s still a good book. And it’s still a great story.

The problem arises because it’s very hard to be neutral about where you ultimately stand on Chris’ decisions. You can either see why he did what he did, or you cannot. It would be unreasonable to argue McCandless wasn’t flawed in many of his actions, but it would be equally unreasonable to overlook that we are all flawed individuals – in McCandless’ view, many of us for the reason that we chose not to live out the convictions we tell ourselves we hold.  Where you come down on that decision seems to speak volumes.

The Book I Read, pt.ii

Finished What is the What by Dave Eggers about a month ago – just before I moved into my own house. I had a lot I wanted to say about it when it was all fresh in my mind, but most of that has fled. What remains though, is that it is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. I think I may have a tendency to say that, but this time it’s true. The story, although at times drawn out and arguably sensationalized, is, when boiled down, nothing short of incredible. It is the account of one of the “lost boys of Sudan” and his experiences over twenty years time, first walking from his burnt village in southern Sudan to Ethiopia and later to Kenya and then living his life in a refugee camp before being chosen to be “resettled” in Atlanta. It’s the kind of thing that after reading any of your difficulties seem to pale in comparison.

The writing seems choppy at first. Almost overly-simplified sentences. Until you realize it’s written in the exact tone of a Sudanese speaking English as his second or third language. Stories of war and refugees are something most of us would rather not hear – mainly because they have a tendency to be a little depressing – but this one is worth the read. You won’t be disappointed – until the pages run out and you realize the next thing you read won’t be nearly as good.

Aside from the power of the story itself, the history and timeline it covers of Sudan is fascinating. Darfur has reached a kind of pop status at this point akin to Tibet: everyone seems to know of it, and of course what’s best for it, but no one really knows the slightest beyond a sound bit they heard once, a university newspaper article they found on the bus or a bumper sticker they saw last week. Their chances of finding it on a map would be even slimmer. What is the What isn’t about Darfur – the story predates it’s chicness – but it is about Sudan and to the outside world the two have become one in the same.

I wish I’d taken notes on some of the stats because some of them are pretty incredible – almost as incredible as that a civil war lasting 22 years and claiming 1.9 million lives is chronicled in a novel (or even a bumper sticker), rather then on the nightly news.


The Book I Read

A few of you have asked in conversation about books – what I’ve read that’s good, what I brought (was bringing) here to read, etc. All though it started off kinda slow, it`s looking like I`m gonna be able to get a good bit of reading in over the next 23 months  I figure this is my chance to try book critic – we’ll see how it works out. It`d be crazy (and probably pretty boring for all you) for me to give every book a review, so we`ll just go with the good ones and keep track of the others up top on the new Bookroll tab.

Since I’m such a slow reader and all that free time I thought I’d have down here didn`t materialize until just a little bit ago, I’m gonna cheat and use a few books from the past year or so to start out. Today’s feature: What Should I Do with my Life? By Po Bronson. I know, I know… The title reaks of self-helpdom – a genre I usually avoid at all cost (although I’ve gotta hand it to that Dale Carniege fellow).


A friend of mine gave me this book back in early spring. I was contemplating that question pretty much daily at that point so it was right up my alley. It tells about forty stories compiled by the author as he set out about the US (and a few other far-flung spots) interviewing folks, finding them solely on word of mouth, over the course of 2 or 3 years.

All those folks asked the same question and at some point, in some way, decided to act on it. Some in grand life and location changing ways, others in simpler get-off-your-duff kind of ways. Some it worked out for, some it didn’t. Some found what they’d always been looking for, some went right back to where they started.

One chapter that sticks out for me was actually about the author himself and his realization of the importance of being around like-minded people. I’d imagine this is pretty important when you depend upon writing for a living. It sounds stupid to a point in how overly simple it is, but the stories behind people reacting to such realizations really does make for some interesting reading.