I’m pretty sure that at some point in college, maybe in an expository writing class, I was asked to read Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer. The proof of this is that the book is on the shelf in my living room as I write, though I’m not sure I ever cracked the cover. In fact, I have no idea what it’s about, which makes me sure I’ve never opened it. Oops.
As a teacher I’m annoyed at myself, as a student I know that reading a book just because you’re assigned to doesn’t always work. My book reading strategy as an adult is that if it doesn’t catch me in the first few pages, I don’t continue reading. Actually, I don’t even take it home from the library if I’m not interested in the first few pages. There are too many good books to read to waste time slogging through something I’m not interested in. Not to say all the good books are easy, as Anna Karenina can attest to, but sometimes I just have to pick up a book when I’m ready to read it. My library list would show that sometimes I check out a book 2-3 times before I actually read it.
So though I’ve left the first Jon Krakauer book on the shelf for probably 6 or 7 years now, a few others of his have kept me up reading late into the night. First I read Under the Banner of Heaven with a friend’s book group. I think I’ve written about it before on the blog, probably mentioning how closely the actual story resembles a South Park episode.
Lately though I’ve been drawn in by Into Thin Air. Blame it on the Discovery Channel, but I’ve been on an Everest kick lately. It started with Everest: Beyond the Limit, accidentally taped by my oft befuddled TiVo. I was hooked after the climbers on the episode hiked past a dying man, leaving him to expire in the snow. I started reading more about Everest and the debates about ethics on Everest, which led me to Krakauer’s book.
In 1996, Krakauer and a few other teams tried to summit Everest and ended up losing almost half of the people who started the climb. The story itself is fascinating and baffling, and I can’t even begin to comprehend what would make someone want to climb Everest with the possibility of death being so close. What I like about Krakauer’s book, and him as a nonfiction writer, is that he balances so well the need to keep the story moving, and the way he explains background and creates characters. Often in nonfiction I get annoyed because the writer so clunkily rambles on about one or the other, story or narration, but rarely intertwines them in a way that keeps my attention. I think Krakauer strikes a good balance. He keeps my interest with the story, but I also feel like I got to know some of the characters and moral debates he describes.
I actually have liked his books so well I’m thinking of fishing Into the Wild off the shelf for my last minute trip to Minneapolis this weekend. And maybe writing my thoughts about his other books will be penance enough for never having actually read it in college.