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Finlandia University has announced a Campus Read Initiative for the spring 2012 semester. Faculty are invited to consider using the work, or part of the work, in their classes. The selection is Jon Krakauer's 1996 non-fiction book, "Into the Wild," which chronicles the itinerant adventures and ultimate death in the Alaskan wilderness of a young adventurer named Christopher McCandless. I would suggest that "Into the Wild" may be put to a wide range of uses. Here are just a few:
- As a curious blend of investigative journalism and memoir, the book offers a chance to talk about objective reporting, field and archival research, and the utility of personal interviews.
- As a literary work, the book may be studied in terms of its structure, themes, and generic characteristics. The writing might be studied for its detailed descriptions of the natural world. It also deals with the effects literature (particularly great literature) can have on the individual. Christopher McCandless was a great fan of Tolstoy, in particular, and it might be interesting to consider how good a "reader" he was of that writer.
-There is the question of the mental health of Christopher McCandless, which could lead to studying issues of psychology, social phobias, personality disorders, adjustment issues, and so on.
-McCandless was very interested in living off the land, and studied books on edible plants while he traveled. His death was caused by a misjudgment regarding the edible portion of a particular plant. His knowledge (or lack of knowledge) regarding botany might be a useful access point for science classes.
-Business classes might consider the way that both the book "Into the Wild," and the idea of the "wilderness" in general, are marketed by tourist boards in various states and towns. For example, many people now travel to visit the site in Alsaka where McCandless died. Just as many people are now traveling to the slot canyon where Aron Ralston spent 127 hours trapped with his arm pinned by a boulder (as detailed in the film "127 Hours).
-There are questions about the ethics of risk, as well as social or family obligation that McCandless's journeys raise.
-There is the concept of the "wild" itself as a feature of a number of different cultural perspectives on the environment and our relationship with it. Films like the documentary "Grizzly Man" might be wonderful supplementary material here. Our students all have specific perspectives on things like recreational activities, resource extraction, conservation, and so on, and "Into the Wild" offers an entrance point for engaging with these questions.
-The actions of Christopher McCandless also provoked a lengthy debate at the time of his death about responsibility and respect in the wilderness, and there are many who claim that he was both irresponsible and disrespectful in his disregard for a basic level of outdoor preparedness. Others argue that he knew exactly what level of risk he was taking, and was willing to live (or die) with that risk. Again, this is a possible debating point for exercises in rhetoric and oral communication, as well as a potential paper topic.
-There will also be an opportunity to look at the process of adapting a literary work for the screen, since we plan to show the film version later in the semester.
-Finally (for now), in the realm of philosophy and ethics, there is the ethical question of turning the life of one young man into a series of teaching points, and the dangers of objectifying any aspect of his unique human experience and identity.
The list goes on. I hope you will consider using the book in your classes. Please feel free to e-mail me with any thoughts, questions, suggestions, and so on. A certain number of copies of "Into the Wild" will be available free for all instructors. If you're interested in using the book for your class, please let me know or contact Alana Nolan at North Wind Books (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Watch for additional details about this Campus Read very soon.
-Mark Lounibos, Assistant Professor of English