On Friday the fifteenth of March, Greta Thunberg proclaimed another #FridaysForFuture—a day when students skipped school to protest for responsible energy usage and a cleaner, greener planet. I watched videos of thousands of students out on the streets, holding up signs and shouting things like “You’re killing our lungs!” The same day, I accompanied a friend as he passed out flyers at our legislative building. It was easy to believe that we could have some impact on what lawyers and legislators decided. And yet—what if you were the only voice? Would you be lost in the opposition?
I sat in the back of the classroom, sketching the enormous vase of flowers in front of me. A girl walked in and looked over my shoulder. She was maybe eight years old, and Asian—probably Chinese, since they taught Mandarin as well as art here. After a few minutes of conversation, the girl announced, “I bet my parents are stricter than yours.”
“I bet they are,” I said blandly.
The girl blinked. “My mom,” she said, unfazed, “made me stay up and study for a test that the teacher didn’t even tell us about.”
I gave her a second glance. She was an eight-year-old living in the United States. What kind of eight-year-old would study for a test? Just how different was the Asian method of education from the American way?
My friend and I clambered onto the picnic table. The damp wood felt unsteady underneath me; I shifted my feet. Then, flashing my friend a grin, I began to sing: “Pardon me. Are you Aaron Burr, sir?”
“That depends. Who’s asking?”
And so it continued—us standing on the picnic table, singing as loud as we could, and the other campers staring at us with slightly horrified expressions. Hadn’t everyone gotten over Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton: An American Musical? No—we would keep the flame burning. I loved Hamilton because it brought the Founding Fathers to life. So when I received a request to review the book behind the musical, an irrational fear clutched me: what if this book put Alexander Hamilton, who had become so real to me, back into a coffin?
I have always loved trees. Whenever my siblings and I would go to the large park near our home, I would find a tree to sit in. I liked sitting in the large, sturdy pine next to the playground, but often I would clamber into one of the three small Judas trees at the other side of the park. The feeling of the rough bark underneath my fingers and the sight of the branches reaching up into the endless blue sky always entranced me. A year later, when I started a biology course, I realized that trees are not slow and sleepy, but awake and working. And when I read The Hidden Life of Trees—well, I was just blown away.
I shifted in my seat and stared out the car window. Outside, tall pine trees rushed by, a dreamy green blur on the edge of the monotonous asphalt highway. My eyes half-closed, I pictured the highway as a thin grey line running through an endless sea of trees. What if there were no lonely malls, no housing complexes, no power plants, only dense green forest? I opened my eyes once again. Beyond the blurry pines I could see a cellphone tower silhouetted against the sky. The pieces of my shattered fantasy fell about me. No, this was still America; only much farther north could my fantastical forests be found.
Into the Wild is a nonfiction book written by the journalist Jon Krakauer. An expansion of a 9,000-word article that Krakauer wrote for Outside magazine, it tells the story of Christopher McCandless, a young man born in California in 1968. McCandless traveled all over the country, but his true goal was to live in the Alaskan wilderness, living off the land. Through dramatic imagery and extensive research, Krakauer manages to patch together a vivid picture of McCandless’s adventures—a difficult feat, considering that once Christopher McCandless entered the woods of Alaska, he never came back to tell his tale.
Chris McCandless was a complex young man with an intensely idealistic way of thinking. A devoted follower of the writings of Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, and Jack London, McCandless believed the only way to find the true self was to return to the wild. Many people remark that McCandless was a foolish, arrogant young man who underestimated nature. However, McCandless was experienced and knew that the wilderness would not be kind. But did he really?
Jon Krakauer brings the story of Chris McCandless’s adventures to life. He evokes a sense of yearning for the forest; he captures that feeling of restlessness that occasionally stirs and stretches within the self. Perhaps this is because Krakauer experienced it so acutely—he scaled a mountain in a fit of such yearning. Why is it that some feel this need to get away from society? Are they melodramatic romantics? Are they searching for some form of truth? Are they looking for a dream?
Into the Wild is a tragic and compelling book. A haunting, revelatory volume, it captures the delicate story of Chris McCandless, the young man who rebuilt his shattered fantasy—just to have his life shattered.
As we were driving home from piano lessons one day, my mother (with my siblings’ eager consent) decided to play a podcast about the history of light, from candle wax to light bulb fixtures. The podcast cast a spell on us. As we were listening to the acknowledgments, a name of a certain book caught my mother’s ear. This book was afterwards given to me to read, and truly, the book is as interesting as the podcast itself.