This book got me riveted in the tragic story of Chris McCandless, a young man who left his family and friends, abandoned most of his material possessions, went to the Alaska wilderness and perished there. The author does a great job of portraying McCandless complex personality through meticulous research based on interviews, letters and journal entries. The writing is so engaging that although it is already clear from the beginning how McCandless' story would end, I was hooked till the last page. Krakauer only digresses when discussing his own high-risk undertaking and those of ill-fated adventurers similar to McCandless - these parts offer comparison to McCandless' character but I found myself getting impatient and wanting them to end quickly, to return to the main story itself which is much more compelling.
Readers have been divided with regard to this story. Some admire McCandless' daring and idealism; some others say he was stupid, reckless and arrogant enough to have gone to Alaska without sufficient preparation. I think he was a human being with faults and merits, but I have to admit I felt something stirring in me when I read this passage, taken from a letter he wrote to a friend:
"...make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt. 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 conservation... The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure."
The passage resonates with me because my life has been filled with stagnation and inactivity. I am the queen of conventionalism. I don't consider myself unhappy, but I'm always afraid of moving outside the comfort zone, of expanding further than my own comfortable little shell. I often don't exert myself to my best capabilities because halfhearted efforts seemed good enough. When I read about McCandless, I noticed that one of his admirable traits is if he wanted something he went out and did it. He was not afraid of challenges, the greater they are the better. Jason Mraz says "live high, live mighty, live righteously". I think that was what McCandless did: he lived up to his ideals.
One the other hand, the greatest tragedy of McCandless' life, in my opinion, was his conflicting feelings toward human intimacy and relationship. He clashed with his parents and others who didn't share his beliefs to the point that he spurned humanity and sought nature and the wilderness instead. But even during his solitary journeys he met a lot of people and connected with them, touching their lives as well as his own. His final odyssey in Alaska had probably made him realize, more than ever, the raw need for companionship, but he didn't survive that trip - causing endless grief to his family. So in the end, if there is something I can take from McCandless story, it is this message: Be bold. Get out there. Do something. But don't forget those who love you.