I became aware of Chris McCandless’ heartbreaking journey and tragic end about ten years after it occurred; a deeply disturbing transpiration. Consequently, I avoided reading Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, even forgoing the Sean Penn movie, because the circumstances of McCandless’ life and death are so upsetting. However, McCandless’ story intrigued me, so Into the Wild was slated to be on my 2016 list. And my 2017 list. And I vowed it would be on my 2018 list. Maybe. Then, this past October, while in a bit of a bookish funk, a dear friend encouraged me to read Into the Wild. Something about how he spoke to the work sparked me to stop putting it off. I devoured it.
Jon Krakauer’s personal investment in Chris McCandless’ tragic story and dedication to relating it in a way that provokes empathy rather than judgment makes for a vividly haunting read. Much of what people know about McCandless’ life is really just a sound bite summary of his death: Recent college grad goes on ridiculous adventure alone in the wilderness and meets his fate. Much of what people think of McCandless’ death is that he was asking for it. But, there is so much more to Chris McCandless; and Krakauer paints a multidimensional picture of the last few years of his life through the eyes of someone who feels connected to his story; who understands, on some level, his motivations.
Into the Wild is indeed disturbing, and heartbreaking. It is hard to read at points since Krakauer‘s compassion for McCandless makes you pray for a different ending than the one you know you are going to receive. Into the Wild is a book that will haunt me for a long time.
I applaud Mr. Krakauer for telling McCandless’ story in a way that encourages delving into what we don’t understand, gaining sympathy towards those who are figuring out their lives in ways that are foreign to us, and inspiring one to, say, read a book you’re afraid would be upsetting, because the perspective you gain will make it worthwhile.
I thank my dear friend for doing the same.
Rating: 4.5 Lost Postcards
Every so often, a novel quietly hits you in a way you weren’t suspecting. Keeping you on the edge of your seat riveted to its pages. Though seemingly so simple, it breaks your heart, as you finish it, to know you will never experience its magic for the first time again, that though you may read it 100 more times, that first-time experience will be lost. You savor it. You miss it when it’s gone. It is novels like these that keep us hungry for more.
John Williams’ Stoner delivers that magic.
Stoner, originally published in 1965, rose to popularity and became a delayed American classic in the past 5-10 years. Williams creates a classic Americana vibe reminiscent of Steinbeck, mixed with the air of Hemingway’s simplicity (literally the greatest compliment I could give an author, so you know I am not exaggerating my love for this novel), without being referential. This could be a reason for the delay in Stoner’s widespread popularity – Williams belonged in the generation before his own.
The author’s technique and style as he navigates through the life of our titular character, Professor William Stoner, is so smooth, the realization of how enamored and invested you’ve become in this middle-aged academic’s world doesn’t land until you’re a wreck when it’s over. There are no crazy plot twists, no mysteries to unfold – it is simply the story of a man and his Midwestern life. A story that has earned top placement in this heart.
Rating: 5 Seminars
While I am on track with my reading, I have become wildly and embarrassingly behind on my reviews.
My 2017 reviews will definitely spill into 2018, but I am working on getting them out as quickly and frequently as possible! (AKA I will be invading your inboxes over the next couple of weeks),
My 2018 list and 2017 recap will be posted on the 1st.
Happy Holidays and have a wonderful New Year, everyone!
One of my favorite books from last year, and the inspiration for my end of year personal essay, was Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson. I applauded Lawson for her bravery and wit as she tackles and relates her battles with mental health. She became a hero of mine; up in the ranks of Carrie Fisher. This year I am thrilled to have found another fiercely witty and courageous babe to add to that list: Sabrina Benaim.
I discovered Sabrina Benaim via Button Poetry’s social media (check them out here and here and here, and support up and coming poets) at 2:30AM while feeling anxious and descending the Facebook video rabbit hole. Most things I grow to love during the wee hours of insomnia end up meaning nothing to me after a solid night’s sleep, Ms. Benaim’s words were for keeps. I ordered Depression & Other Magic Tricks the second it came out.
Benaim’s collection beautifully and poignantly captures the day to day realities of living with depression, anxiety, and, well, the general emotional stresses of being human. She is uninhibited in expressing her truth, quirks, and struggles; and does so with a welcoming warmth as if she were saying “these words aren’t just for me – I want you to feel less alone.” While Benaim’s words can break your heart, you can take comfort in the strength that comes from her level of unbridled honesty. It isn’t easy for anyone to speak up, speak out, and create art that screams “this is who I am at my most vulnerable;” oddly enough, society as a whole tends to judge those who openly own their personal messes as weak instead of applauding them for being bold enough to do so. Benaim’s vulnerability throughout Depression & Other Magic Tricks is stunning, sharp, empowering, and, at all the right times, hilarious. She uses her words wisely and purposefully; she uses them to make sure she is heard. To make sure you are heard.
I could go on all day about how brilliant I think Depression & Other Magic Tricks is, and how in awe I am of Benaim’s creativity, pluck, and heart – but, you should experience all that Sabrina Benaim has to offer for yourself. If reading poetry isn’t your thing, I strongly, STRONGLY, recommend watching Sabrina Benaim’s readings. I look forward to witnessing this incredible woman grow into her art even more.
the loneliest sweet potato (watch here)
explaining my depression to my mother a conversation (video that made me fall in love: here)
seven small ways in which I loved myself this week
the slow now (watch here)
Rating: 4 Condiment Aisle Tap Dances