I picked up Krakauer's Into the Wild at the South Orange Public Library's annual sale yesterday, and read it last night and today. It is a great read, hard to put down: it takes you into McCandless' world and into various historical frames with remarkable clarity. I have always admired Krakauer as a journalist; what he is doing here is not so much journalism as memoir -- he is examining himself through the lens of the research he did into McCandless' life and death. I wrote at the time I saw the movie that I found it sappy and that I expected the sappy qualities were Penn's additions to the story rather than Krakauer's writing. But they're not, or not precisely -- the book is an exercise in romanticization. What keeps it from being sappy is Krakauer's clarity about what he is doing in writing the book, about why he is romanticizing McCandless' life. The reflexive element of Krakauer's authorial voice was missing from the movie, so the problem was not additions by Penn but rather omission. Anyways: I found myself crying on the last pages of the book, and it came as something of a surprise how emotionally invested in the story, in the author's voice, I had become.
Another beautiful thing about the book which was (as best I can recall) missing from the movie, is the epigraphs. Every chapter is headed with excerpts from the books McCandless was reading at the end of his life, and from other books Krakauer finds relevant to the case. His judgement is superb.
I find this kind of idealist (McCandless) sad but ultimately worthy of respect. The most extreme form of romantic monasticism. Appreciate your book review.
There was a definite thread in the book of argument against those who consider McCandless worthy only of contempt.