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Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

March 6, 2020

“The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.” — Chris McCandless

Christopher Johnson McCandless is a gifted and talented young man who has a good life set up before him and never wanted anything else— until he does. When he decides he wants to “live off the land for a bit,” he graduates from college with honors, and he hops in his battered, yellow Datsun and makes his way across the country from Atlanta to California (with his car breaking down in Arizona.) Then he heads straight up to “The Last Frontier” in Alaska where his decomposed body is found four months later by a group of moose hunters inside of an old, abandoned bus.

How did he survive hitchhiking across America? What drove him to do what he did? In Into The Wild author Jon Krakauer reports this unique adventure in third person, narrating McCandless’s journey while using his personal journal, where he wrote in during his trek, to make a story out of McCandless’s life. Krakaueralso throws in stories from his own life that connect with what Chris was feeling. Along the way, he includes interviews with the different people who accidentally got in the way of McCandless’s cross- country trek while going on with everyday business.

The plot isn’t that fast paced, but at the same time it’s informational and interesting to get a glimpse of how successful McCandless was before he went into the wild. Krakauer explains where his journey took him and how many good people he met along the way, who cared for him and tried to convince him to call his parents and not run away once they found what kind of person he was underneath that hair and dirty clothes.

I loved how Krakauer carefully pieced this story together using McCandless’s journal and the many interviews that Krakauer did to properly make McCandless’s true story come to life on paper and on television and be heard by millions of people who wondered what happened to the young man who ran away from home and a good life to live his own life on the road.

Krakauer has published many other non-fiction books, some that I have not read yet but one I have. It’s just as good as this one and is called Into Thin Air. It certainly changed my perspective on the sport of mountain climbing (especially on Everest) and how fast weather can change from good to bad.

I rated Into The Wild a ten out of ten for its amazing diction and storytelling. This book is a must-read for any person who likes the outdoors, and I am positive that this book will give readers some insight and advice for living out in the wild.

Jack

Anchor Books, 207 pages


Eager by Ben Goldfarb

March 3, 2020

Beavers are basically natural chainsaws— ecological engineers capable of building structures that can change whole landscapes. But beavers can do more than just that. Worried about water pollution? They can tackle that. Alarmed about climate change? Go to a beaver. Sacred about salmon runs, erosion, and wildfires? Leave it to the beavers.

This is where the book Eager: The Surprising Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter by Ben Goldfarb takes the stage. No other books like it exist. It is the only volume that combines humor, ecology, biology, and history. It sums up all of the topics into one giant “neatly written essay with a spine” giving a lot of information, and at the same time all while keeping the tone light and humorous and giving the centuries-old credit to beavers that they deserve. 

This book does not have much of a plot, so one would think: how does Goldfarb keep the reader interested? Well, he effectively adds a good amount of humor to the book, keeping the tone lively and bright. Sometimes the hilarity is subtle, but it always pops up at the end of a chapter, drawing the reader into the next chapter.

Another feature Goldfarb added effectively into this book–to keep the reader interested– is he spaces out information that is alike (not the same, but alike) evenly. For example, there are two or three parts about beaver deceivers, which he does not clump together into one giant chapter. He separates them into two or three chapters and describes all the differences in detail. The reason that this makes the book more interesting is because he gives the readers a chance to actually see the differences between all the different companies’ solutions and products.

The last trademark that I thought that Goldfarb effectively used in this book was the diversity of topics that he chose to describe beavers. One of the most interesting was history. The reason that this was interesting is because one would think that beavers are quite a modern animal, but actually the first beavers appeared over 201 million years ago ( they looked nothing like the beavers we know today). Now that’s an interesting fact. Another topic that Goldfarb incorporates is ecology. He states how beavers improve water quality, help stop climate change, improve salmon runs, and halt wildfires (all in like…. five different chapters).  Goldfarb has not written any other books. However, he is a journalist and has written many articles for a variety of websites, magazines and newspapers. I would rate this book a ten out of ten and would recommend this book to anybody who likes history, comedy, biology, ecology, and/or nonfiction books. This is a book not to be missed by anyone, nonfiction or fiction readers alike. Eager is so engaging that it will bring readers who favor different genres together. 

Marcus

Chelsea Green Publishing, 304 pages


The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel

February 29, 2020

In 1986, twenty-year-old Christopher Knight decides to venture off from his home in Massachusetts and live as a hermit in the woods of Maine. He does not bring food, so he has to steal from other cabins around his hidden tent to survive. During this time, he has only one human encounter in the woods—with a hiker, and that is just to say hello. Otherwise, Christopher has been in the woods for twenty-seven years without having to leave, until now.

In The Stranger in the Woods, journalist Michael Finkel tells the story of the last true hermit, and how he survived in the woods without death, or being officially found out for twenty-seven years of living in the wilderness.

This non-fiction piece is written effectively in first person, showing how Finkel found the amazing Maine hermit and the challenges of interviewing a socially awkward criminal. The true-story masterpiece is also well written when Finkel focuses on explaining the life of Knight and how he knew his life’s purpose at the age of twenty.

Finkel describes the living conditions of Christopher Knight perfectly: what he ate, how he got it, where he lived, quiet hiding spots that only he knew about, what he brought into the woods and how he made his supplies effective in his challenge of staying alive, and the exciting adventure that came with his time in hiding.

Finkel also describes why Knight ventured off into the woods and abandoned lots of his belongings in doing so, including his own loved ones. All of this proves why this story will keep readers turning the pages forcing them not to put this exciting tale down, which makes for a very fast-paced book.

Another element that made this book effective was how it changed my views about people in general—for the better. I couldn’t understand why someone would venture off into the woods, knowing that their only relationship with anything was the wilderness. After reading this book I found the true meaning of why hermits live the way they do.

I have learned through this book that I should be less judgmental if someone like Christopher Knight thinks outside the box and goes out and does something new and unique. Now I know that there is always a meaning behind every human’s actions. In Knight’s case, it was to get away from the problems of humanity, which after reading this story, made a lot of sense. This book will forever change the reader’s perspective. It explains how rejecting society for a large amount of time affects a person.

Another book by Michael Finkel is True Story: Murder, Memoir, and Mea Culpa, which was made into a 2015 film. Michael Finkel also worked for National Geographic, Rolling Stone, GQ, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, and Vanity Fair.

If readers like gripping true stories and the challenges of effective reporting, while wanting to try something new and read a ten out of ten story, then this amazing book is made for them. This piece of non-fiction will forever change their thoughts on hermits and possibly people from their everyday life, and the brilliant ideas hidden within them.

Owen

KNOPF, 203 pages


The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

February 6, 2017

Enzo is not an ordinary dog, and he knows it. When Denny Swift, a professional racecar driver, adopts him, Enzo moves away from his life of standing apart from other dogs. From paying close attention to his beloved owner, Denny, and watching endless television, Enzo teaches himself more than the average person knows—about car racing, humans, and our confusing way of life.

As Denny and Enzo spend more time together, their trust in each other grows deeper, so Enzo is taken aback when Denny falls in love with Eve. But time goes on, and eventually Enzo grows to like Eve, as well as the couple’s newborn daughter Zoe, even though both of them seem to have edged in on his spot in Denny’s heart.

When Eve gets very sick and her parents try to take custody of Zoe, Denny gets into trouble, and Enzo can do nothing but stand back and watch as his family is ripped apart.

I liked how Stein balanced characters with completely different personalities, making readers feel like they were seeing the world through Enzo’s point of view: right with the family as they celebrated, crying with them as they cried, and suffering as their world fell apart.

At first, I thought that it was strange, or at least different, to be reading from this dog’s perspective that Stein had chosen, but as the novel progressed, the observations that Enzo had about being a human, or having the soul of a human, taught me a new way to think about our everyday lives.

It was interesting how Stein included obstacles for their family to face, while keeping the story realistic at the same time. This made the plot much more effective, because the characters resolved some of their problems, while others just couldn’t be fixed. These mixed outcomes created a heart breaking, yet much more believable story.

I also appreciated how Stein incorporated humor while writing this novel, because, even though at some points it felt like everything was crashing apart, the mood was lightened by Enzo’s powerful ideas and positive way of thinking

This book was an incredible blend of joy, despair and anger. It made me think about life differently, and I believe that anybody who reads this book will feel the same mix of emotions as this family is brought to life on the pages. Any reader who wants a convincing novel that will change the way he or she thinks about the world, will not be able to put this book down.

 

Oscar

Harper Collins, 321 pages

 

 

 


Life of Pi by Yann Martel

February 13, 2016

Life-of-PiPiscine Molitor Patel is in the same “boat” as many others his age: he deals with religion, family, and even moving. But when his immigration to Canada goes horribly wrong, he finds himself orphaned and in a completely different boat—one with a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan, and a tiger.

After spending his first night aboard dangling from an oar, Piscine realizes he must stake claim to his territory. The hyena is a constant threat, and Piscine has no control. But as the animals die off, soon all that is left is the most dangerous: the tiger. Filled not with the desire to survive, but the aim to die comfortably, Piscine sets out to create living accommodations.

To summon the will to fight through to the end would be barely believable right off the bat. Piscine’s urge to die comfortably may seem like a way for Yann Martell to create a realistic character, but I see it as an intentional choice that adds to the theme in a way I am still understanding. Piscine himself describes it with this matter of fact statement: “With a tiger aboard, my life was over. That being settled, why not do something about my parched throat?”

As Piscine dictates his story to a writer, he often interjects with the behavior of animals, family, and his hatred of agnostics. Through the dual perspectives of the writer and Piscine himself, his character develops in real-time as well as the past, allowing readers to see how Piscine’s early life affects him in his forties.

Much like Laura Hillenbrand’s nonfiction book, Unbroken, a good third of Life of Pi takes place before the initial catastrophe. And, much like Unbroken, it’s not a part to skim over just to reach the “good stuff.” Watching Piscine mature and grapple with religions is essential and enjoyable. His joint worship of Hindu, Islam, and Christianity, and his involvement in religion hold a key to the major theme of the novel. All the dialogue and description is fundamental to a reader’s formulation of Piscine as a character. If readers are finding it boring, uninteresting, or a chore to read through the first part of his childhood, this most likely isn’t the book for them in the first place.

Piscine himself has a master’s degree in zoology—appropriate as he grew up in a zoo. I found myself learning a lot about animals and gaining perspective on zoos and animals in general. Entire chapters are filled with his theories, both religious and scientific, and Piscine is very opinionated—and therefore easy to disagree with. I have no doubt fans of Blackfish will find it difficult to accept the idea that animals prefer zoos to the wild. But Piscine offers a convincing argument, and ended up changing my view on the topic completely.

All in all, this was one of the most worthwhile books I’ve ever read. I recommend this novel to people who enjoy questioning and debating religion, and think they will find it worth their time.

Lucas

Random House of Canada, 319 pages.


Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel

February 11, 2016

Half BrotherBen Tomlin was an only child for thirteen years. Then his parents brought home a baby chimpanzee. The book Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel takes place in the mind of a thirteen-year-old boy named Ben Tomlin. His mother and father are both scientists and have finally been able to fund their experiment, which involves cross-fostering, where one species raises another. Ben’s parents wanted to cross-foster a chimpanzee named Zan, to see if he can learn ASL (American Sign Language), truly understand what we have in common with chimps, and to discover what makes us different.

The Tomlins teach Zan how to communicate using ASL: ‘up’, ‘drink’, ‘give’, ‘more’, ‘eat’, ‘you’, and ‘me’ becomes Zan’s vocabulary, and, before long, he is regularly signing to get what he desires. Ben sees Zan for who he really is, but Ben’s father, who is opposed to even giving Zan a name, almost never interacts with him and doesn’t want anything to do with him besides write down data. Ben’s mom is acting as Zan’s mother figure, and while she is kind and nurturing, she is also strict and stern.

As Zan grows in both size and strength, and the experiment becomes more difficult to maintain safely, the project begins to spiral out of control. At this point, Ben finds an ally in Peter, one of the student research assistants working on the project. Like Ben, Peter sees Zan for what he truly is – a living being with real needs and emotions. With Peter, Ben attempts to find a way out of what has become a tragic trap for Zan.

Oppel did an excellent job with going into the mind of a teenage boy, and along with the troubles the chimp brings, he also struggles with school and with winning the heart of his crush, Jennifer. This book really shows the love in a relationship between two brothers, or in this case, half brothers. Oppel brought life into a chimpanzee that felt more human than animal, and showed us how close we really are to these apes. I thought this book was well-written and contained incredible insight into the thought and voices of both the humans and the chimps. I would recommend this novel to animal lovers and those who would like to read about family relationships.

Graham
Scholastic/New York, Pages: 375


The Edge by Roland Smith

The EdgePeak Marcello is not your average fifteen-year-old boy. In his short life he has summited some of the earth’s tallest mountains, setting records across the world. After all of these adventures and accomplishments, none of them could have prepared him for his next climb.

When asked to take part in a documentary set on an international peace accent, Peak is sceptical at first because of his recent break from climbing but once his mother and past climbing friends urge him on, he takes the offer. On his second day in the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan, Peak wakes up to find the rest of his climbing crew and his mom and longtime friends have been kidnapped. Peak uses his courage to set off on a journey with just a documentarian and climbing supplies to aid him.

Smith not only keeps an extremely fast moving plot, but he also develops Peak as a character immensely. At the start of the novel, Peak is shy and not very outgoing. As the book progresses, Peak’s anger and worry create an almost completely different character. Peak uses his mixed emotions to fuel one thing: his determination to save his mother and friends.

The only thing I would alter or completely remove from the book is the unrealistic romance that takes place. There is a classic “who’s gonna get the girl”  concept between Peak and two other climbers that, while it may work in other books, had no place in this book. In a book that had many realistic features, this side story did not fit in.

Although this book is very fast paced, it contains poem-like diction. When describing the Afghanistan mountain landscape, Smith creates vivid images in your mind that make you want to never put the book down. These transitions help push the plot forwards without boring you.

Overall this book is an incredible mix of action, mystery, and climbing. I believe that anybody who reads this will be compelled and will not be able to put it down.

Nolan

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 238 pages


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