By Amelia Jacob, Film & TV Digital Editor
When I type ‘wild’ into google, it spits out the following synonyms: natural, native, indigenous. In January, I often find the deluge of self-help books in shops overwhelming and useless. Forget Atomic Habits, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck and Big Magic – even the new trend towards ‘non self-help’ self-help books is just a slightly altered version of exactly the same thing.
My recommendation this month is therefore a read I find inspiring as opposed to deliberately helpful; a story that reminds me to disentangle myself from my phone and appreciate the outdoors this new year, and help myself in an alternative way.
Into the Wild – Jon Krakauer
Jon Krakauer’s biography of Christopher McCandless – a name iconic in my household growing up, but one I haven’t heard very often with other people – originated in Outside magazine, a picaresque adventure story I have been quietly obsessed with for many years.
It was also made into a film directed by Sean Penn, which was, incidentally, Kristen Stewart’s film debut, though the book is far more intricate. Into the Wild documents Christopher McCandless’ evolution from an idealistic college student who donates $24,500 of his savings to Oxfam, all the way up to his ill-fated trip across the Stampede Trail in Alaska as a seasoned adventurer.
McCandless was an unusual man, staunchly individual and possibly plagued with mental health issues (depending on who you ask). He changed his name to Alexander Supertramp and became an urban legend, hitchhiking and foraging his way across America like the heroes of the novels written by his favourite authors.
The book was criticised upon its release, as many debate whether McCandless’ story should be viewed as inspiring at all, given its unhappy ending. However, regardless of the ethics of his departure from traditional society, it is undeniably inspiring to take control of your own life, choosing an unconventional path out in nature, on the road ‘less travelled by’.
In an age where smartphone addiction and reliance on the Internet to complete daily tasks intrudes on mental health more and more, it seems like even more of a radically political decision to turn your back on modern life now than it was for McCandless in the 1990s.
Jon Krakauer’s personal observations of McCandless’ journey contribute to the quality of the book, particularly as Krakauer is an accomplished climber and adventurer himself. Not only does he describe McCandless’ journey with immense sympathy, but also includes stories of other young men inspired to return to the wild.
His writing style is compulsively readable, the correct mixture of journalistic and descriptive, making for a story that has followed me closely ever since I read it. It isn’t a traditional self-help book, but try not to feel inspired after reading McCandless' story. I dare you.
Featured Image: Courtesy of Jon Krakauer, @krakauernotwriting on Instagram