If you’ve been following my reviews, or you know me, you know I’m teaching American Lit this year to juniors, and I’m starting with Into the Wild. This means I’ve been reading all kinds of relevant materials. A co-worker brought me her copy of Wild, thinking I might find something to use in class. I read it within a few days, as I found it really resonated with me.
I’m not sure how many people know this about me, but when I was 17, I decided I would thru-hike the Appalachian Trail by myself after graduation. I have no idea what put the idea in my head or why I thought it was a good idea (maybe it was reading too many Emerson essays), but I knew I didn’t want to go to college right away, and I felt like I needed to say something to people who asked what I was doing after high school. Needless to say, I lasted barely 3 weeks on the trail before I came home, dejected and feeling like a failure. I did hike most of the Maine portion, though, and I did learn a little bit about myself in those days on the trail.
Strayed’s book delves into the why of her going on her journey on the Pacific Crest Trail (the western version of the AT, but, much more treacherous), but also the how of it. Her trip was only two years after my own failed attempt, so I felt a certain kinship for this time period–no cell phones, no email, and a moment when she finds out Jerry Garcia had died (I recall where I was when this happened…sometimes I wonder if for my generation this is like hearing about John Lennon’s death?).
What I really enjoyed about this book was Strayed’s honestly about what a hot mess she was after her mother died and she divorced her husband. I liked that she was willing to be brutally self-reflective and consider all the choices she made. I also liked that she was strong and brave and fearless, even when she was not feeling strong or brave or fearless. Her descriptions of the trail, and some of the history of the trail were spot-on, but for me, it was her description of the excruciating pain of her feet when she was hiking. I owned a similar pair of boots to the ones she had (only mine had green laces, not red) and they ripped my feet up similarly to the ways hers were trashed. Her writing recalled that painful hobble of hiking in them in a really visceral way.
I also found a great passage to use as an excerpt–from the prologue, where one of her boots has gone over the side, and from the middle of the book, when we catch up to that exact time in her story. It is a chapter that begins by telling us “It was a woman who first thought of the PCT. She was a retired teacher from Bellingham, Washington, named Catherine Montgomery.” It was 1926. Strayed thinks about Montgomery and being in the wild right before she loses her boot. And then tosses the other one and just keeps on going.
I believe the movie adaptation of this book will come out in early December. The trailer seems like it will stay true to the book, and it has some of my favorite quotes/scenes portrayed fairly accurately. I will definitely go see it, since I like Reese Witherspoon, and I enjoyed the book. Happy trails to you all as you start you school years, and happy reading!