Into the Wild

I’ve spent the last semester encouraging non-readers to enjoy and engage with literature. I find it difficult to explain why reading is important. It’s something to which I’ve always applied inherent value.

How does one inspire an interest in reading? It doesn’t necessarily have to be Chaucer or Austen or Eugenides. In fact, most people spend more time reading than they realize. Jackson Bliss makes a relevant observation in an article he wrote for the Daily Dot: due to the increasing availability of digital information, “we have become both reading junkies and also professional text skimmers.”

*skims skims skims* tavern *skims skims*

To be fair, skimming can be useful, especially when searching for a specific piece of data or trying to get through 60 pages of an anatomy textbook between work and daycare pick-up. But how to adequately communicate the importance of deep reading?

It’s more than just that immersive sweet spot where the text becomes all and the rest of the world drops away – that feeling of heightened senses and lowered blood pressure. Deep reading does more than offer the reader an experience. Fiction builds empathy. A biography brings history to life, which itself gives the reader a clearer understanding of society and his place in it. Science writing shows us the astounding in the everyday phenomena that we take for granted.

Deep reading enhances comprehension, which allows a reader to get the most out of the material. I felt this intuitively years and years before I could articulate it.

I don’t feel qualified to teach reading classes. I know how to explain the importance of reading. I know how to explain context and show students how to break complex selections down to their smallest parts to improve understanding. But how does one teach others to recognize that immersive sweet spot? How does one motivate others to find it?

Into the WildInto the Wild by Jon Krakauer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m not sure what made me read this book. I, like many others, did not have a very charitable view of Christopher “Alexander Supertramp” McCandless prior to digesting Krakauer’s sketch of him. McCandless seemed like a spoiled trust fund kid who arrogantly tripped up to Alaska to live out his half-baked ideals built on a post-adolescent misunderstanding of philosophy 101.
Now I have a bit more admiration for the guy. He still sounds like a pain in the ass with an inflated ego and a penchant for melodrama, but he was intelligent and fairly brave (though it’s difficult to tell how much of his behavior is based in bravery or in a failure to comprehend his own mortality). In short, I like the guy, but I wouldn’t want to have a lengthy conversation with him.
What the book really gave me was a deeper understanding of the nature of the wanderer and how far a person is willing to go in search of something they themselves can’t define. That’s what makes McCandless a sympathetic character, ultimately. We can see ourselves in him, in how he can’t go long without scanning the horizon. You even get the sense that he was on the right track in his search; his journals give you the impression that he was starting to understand the virtue of roots. While he always would have had the travel bug (or “itchy feet”, as he called it), if he’d made it out of his predicament in Alaska, he’d probably be another family man with a steady job and we might never know his name or story. Instead of being known for his wandering, he’d be the one interesting guy in someone’s office who everyone hopes will come to the company Christmas party but who probably won’t because he’ll be on a plane to Japan.
Interestingly, all of the wanderers Krakauer mentions are men. Are men more prone to wandering? Or maybe it’s just that no one pays any attention to the women. That seems more likely, actually.

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