BookCrossing

RunningBook33RunningBook33RunningBook33RunningBook33RunningBook33RunningBook33I cannot believe it has taken me this long to write about my hobby BookCrossing. I have been BookCrossing since 2009 and this blog has been around for almost a year, so it is high time that I spend a few words explaining what BookCrossing is and why I like it so much.

As a BookCrosser, you register books on BookCrossing.com and then release them into the wild. The idea is that the finder of the book will then go to the website and make a journal entry telling you where and when he found the book. Hopefully the finder will read the book, tell you what he thought of it, and set it on its way to another reader again. As a BookCrosser, you have to have an account with BookCrossing.com (otherwise how could you track your books in the wild?), but you can have total anonymity. Wild releasing merely means that you leave a book somewhere where another person can find it. I have wild released books in trees on my way to work, in hospitals, on subway trains, in buses, in malls, in parks, etc. Lately a favourite release spot of mine has been the Book Exchange Box at our local train station. “Catches” are when someone journals to let you know that they found your book. Catch rates for wild releases are not very high, mine is about 12%, but there is definitely a thrill from getting a journal on a book you released years ago.

Apart from wild releasing books, there is a host of other things a BookCrosser can get involved in. On the website, there are several very busy forums ranging from people discussing books, hosting challenges where you have to release a certain type of book or a book in a certain way/place, and a place for people to offer their unwanted book as a Random Act of BookCrossing Kindness (RABCK). There are also sweepstakes to be won and there are usually some exchanges around the holidays (Christmas, Easter) where people send packages to one another.

And then there are the OBCZs or Official BookCrossing Zones, a dedicated spot where BookCrossers may leave their books. These can be in pubs, cafes, restaurants, and they are usually in a bookcase or on a bookshelf. There is usually a BookCrosser who manages the zone and makes sure the books are rotated often and replenished when necessary.

BookCrossers form a tight community. Apart from sending books as RABCKs, BookCrossers often send other small gifts to other BookCrossers, strangers with nothing else in common than BookCrossing. Especially during the Christmas season postmen and -women across the globe are being kept busy delivering RABCKs. BookCrossers also support each other through difficult times by way of encouraging messages, post cards or other outpourings of support.

And best of all, it is free. There is no fee to join BookCrossing, you just make an account, start registering some books and away you go. BookCrossing runs solely on very discreet advertising and the donations of members. It is a great place to be if you love books. The only downside is that instead of getting rid of books, you probably end up accumulating more as you start winning Sweepstakes, receive random books from other BookCrossers and when you decide to buy books just for BookCrossing.

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Welcome to guest blogger (and writer) Michael Cairns

I am very excited to have a guest blogger on my blog today.  So without further ado, I give you…Michael Cairns.

Introduction

Michael-Cairns-headshot-low-resChocoholic Michael Cairns is a writer and author of the real-world epic fantasy trilogy, The Assembly and science fiction adventure series, A Game of War. A musician, father and school teacher, when not writing he can be found behind his drum kit, tucking into his chocolate stash or trying, and usually failing, to outwit his young daughter.

The Spirit Room (The Assembly Trilogy, book one)

Michael’s new book, The Spirit Room was just launched yesterday and is available at amazon. The Spirit Room is the first book in the Assembly Trilogy, an Urban Fantasy/ Sci-Fi book.

‘It’s supernatural conflict on a global scale. Action, adventure, The Spirit Room Book Coveraliens, magic, mayhem & modern day super-heroes…

An ancient cadre of magicians

A select team of extra-ordinary warriors

An unseen foe

As two ancient forces battle for control, reality as we know it is being torn apart. Caught somewhere in the middle, and tasked with ridding the world of the insidious alien intelligence are The Planets. Neptune hails from Rio, the gay daughter of strict catholic parents. Mars, from Ireland, still missing the sister he lost years ago. Uri grew up on the streets of New York, and Venus… well, no one knows and she isn’t telling. Imbued with extra-ordinary powers, these highly trained individuals take the fight across the globe. With startling and unnerving revelations at every turn, the depth of deception is only now becoming clear…’

Bonus short story!

Michael has graciously contributed a short story to be published here, which takes place before The Spirit Room.

Neptune in London – before the Spirit Room.

A short story by Michael Cairns. Author of The Spirit Room (The Assembly Trilogy, Part One)

She was a surprisingly good-looking mark. The intel had conjured up an image of a dowdy, office-bound bureaucrat, all dodgy perm and flats. Instead, Neptune found herself staring at a young, fine-featured and well-dressed hottie. If she wasn’t a puppet, devoid of any of the things that made her human, aside from the admittedly well-made exterior parts, she might have tried it on.

Instead, she sighed wistfully, and kept watching. The routine had been the same for the last three days, but it paid to be sure, and sure enough, today she passed Costa with nary a glance, and headed straight into the office. Well, that was that idea out of the window. To be fair, as far as plans went, drowning her with her own coffee was both unpleasant and didn’t exactly fit into the ‘subtle as possible’ remit of the operation.

That she had to kill the woman was bad enough. Of all the Planets, Neptune was probably the most squeamish, though she chose to refer to herself as ‘sane’. She hadn’t spent a lot of time with the others, and to be fair, none of them seemed particularly bloodthirsty, but still, they went out and they killed. She worked very hard on not-killing, unless it really was unavoidable. Even knowing that this woman no longer really existed, that the shell walking around and lobbying parliament was just that, a vessel for the Unseen, didn’t make it easy.

She reached out blindly with one hand, found her hot chocolate and raised it to her mouth, taking a sip without ever taking her eyes from the front entrance of the building opposite. She’d been in London almost a week, and that was long enough. It rained here, a lot, and for all that she loved the statues, and the fabulous nightlife, for a girl from Rio, it was entirely too cold and miserable.

The woman re-emerged, and flagged down a black cab. For the past few days, Neptune had stayed put, content to watch her and plan something based around the office building where she worked, but her patience had run low. She stood, leaving the hot chocolate behind and began to walk quickly down the pavement, muttering into her comms.

“Hey, Luna, any chance of a lift?”

Moments later, a chrome Audi R8 pulled out of the traffic and rolled up to the pavement. The doors popped, and Luna grinned up at her. Neptune grinned back, admiring the car.

“Damn, girl, where did you find this?”

“You like it? It’s my new toy, my ‘welcome to London’ present.”

“When do I get one, where’s my present?”

“Hey, I bought you a hot chocolate this morning, that’s pretty good.”

“Ok, so hot chocolate, really sexy car… I not sure why, but this doesn’t feel all that balanced to me.”

She walked round to the other side and clambered in, grateful for the combat suit that maintained her modesty. Then she turned to Luna.

“How about a ‘welcome to London’ kiss?”

Luna shook her head in mock sadness.

“Alas, my heart is promised to another. By the way, where are we going?”

“Oh, sorry, umm, follow that cab?”

“Which cab would that be?”

Neptune blushed, then pulled a wafer-thin screen out of her suit, and touched it. The tablet sprang to life, and with a couple more touches, she had a flashing light in the middle of the screen, the tracer she had planted a few days ago tracing the route the taxi was taking through the streets of Holborn. Luna glanced across, then without even checking over her shoulder, pulled straight back into the traffic, cut across three lanes, and headed off down a side street. Neptune realised she had one hand up, gripping onto the suit handle above the door, and let go, forcing herself to relax. This lasted until they came to what looked like a dead end, at which point Luna turned the car far faster than entirely necessary, taking it down an even narrower street at an even faster pace. That was the point at which Neptune opted to stop looking at the road and focus instead on the tablet.

The taxi had stopped at the bottom of Trafalgar square, and her mark was proceeding on foot up toward the National Gallery. Seconds later, Luna screeched to a halt, parking across double yellows with a wilful disregard for the law that had Neptune feeling a little flustered, and regretting again the strange fates that had made Luna straight, when she was so clearly made for her.

The fountains were on, and Neptune saw her chance. She scrambled out of the car, giving it a thump once she was clear, then jogging slowly across the square until she caught sight of the woman. Her luck was in; the mark had stopped, talking on her phone whilst dodging the pigeons that seemed intent on taking her out. Maybe it wasn’t just The Assembly who could recognise puppets.

Neptune got closer, then sat down and leaned against one of the fountains. On the other side of the wall, she could feel the water, trace it from the clear, blue-bottomed pool, down through the pipes, then up, up and out into the bright morning air, leaping high. She lost herself for a moment, then sighed, and stared again at the mark. She didn’t know what it was that stopped her taking the easy route. She could drain her; suck the moisture from her body leaving only a withered husk. But memories of her mother, of what she had done to her, always stopped her.

She reached out to the water again. She could feel it breathe; trace the lives that had passed through it. It swirled and shifted beneath her touch, then rose like a tower into the air. A bolt as thick as her arm shot across the square and collided with the woman’s face. She shouted in surprise as her was phone ripped from her hand and her sunglasses went tumbling. The next blast was considerably harder, and the mark, already unbalanced, was knocked off her feet. She sat up, wiping wet hair from her face, and fixed her eyes on Neptune.

The woman clambered to her feet, and staggered across toward the Planet. How did she know it was her? She hadn’t been told anything about the puppets being able to recognise them, so what the hell was going on? It could be the suit, but hey, this was London, she looked pretty normal compared to some of the people she’d seen. The puppet stopped before her, glaring down.

“You are one of them. We know about you, scum, you are not long for this world, for soon it will be ours.”

The voice, alas, didn’t match the appearance, sounding closer to the girl from the Exorcist, than the sultry siren Neptune had imagined. She imagined far too much. She had spent much of the last six months imagining, since Natasha left, helped on by as much alcohol as she could consume. It hadn’t helped, and now she was comparing voices, instead of preparing to be attacked. The woman was still staring down at her, but didn’t seem inclined to do much else, which was fortunate, all things considered.

Neptune spoke to the water, and it listened, and the next arm that emerged from the fountain wrapped around the woman like a snake. She was lifted, hoisted into the air, then over Neptune’s head and sent crashing down into the fountain. Neptune stayed where she was as onlookers rushed over to see what had happened. There must have been hundreds who had seen the water arm, yet so few people actually believed what they saw, most of them talking in amused voices about how she must have fallen in.

What it took them a while to realise was that despite her kicking and thrashing around, she seemed incapable of getting to the surface, despite it being only a couple of feet deep. Neptune could feel her through the water, holding her there whilst she listened as her heart beat faster and faster, then slowed down. A couple of the bystanders had jumped into the fountain and were trying to help her. Neptune used the water, catching their ankles and dragging them off their feet, until they too were thrashing about.

The heart stopped, and finally she released the body, letting her poor victim rise to the surface. She bobbed there for a moment, then sank back down, waterlogged, and free. Whatever the Unseen had done to her, it didn’t matter now, she was beyond any further harm.

Clinging to that thought, and not looking back to see the corpse, Neptune walked away from the fountains and the screaming crowd, and the square, and met Luna on Piccadilly Circus. The doors slid up and she slipped in, dropping into the chair with a big sigh, and glancing across at Luna. She was calm, as always, but the slight twitch of her eye made it clear to Neptune that Luna liked what had been done just as much as she had.

Still, it was a sunny morning in London, her mission was done, and she was in a truly gorgeous car. Life could, she reflected, be considerably worse.

———————————–

Cairns Writes Website details:

At http://cairnswrites.com you can download a free copy of my first novella Childhood Dreams (A Game of War, Part one), find podcasts, free short stories, info about me, and of course, links to where you can buy my books.

Social Media:

You can connect with me on twitter http://www.twitter.com/cairnswrites

Feel free to ‘like’ http://www.facebook.com/cairnswrites (I talk about chocolate mostly, and a bit on writing as well)

Enjoy some of the comic art and inspiring images I repin on http://www.pinterest.com/michaelcairns.

Book links:

A Game of War parts two and three are available on Amazon, Smashwords and all good e-retailers. (Amazon & Smashwords links below)

https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/michaelcairns

http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=michael+cairns

Book review: Welcome to Rosie Hopkins’ Sweet Shop of Dreams by Jenny Colgan

On Saturday I responded to an ad on freestyle to pick up a box of romance novels for free. I really just intended to use them for BookCrossing, as I am not a huge fan of romance novels,  but to my surprise and delight they turned out to be chick lit books. Now, I am not a huge fan of chick lit, but the recent summery weather has me in the mood for summer reads, and chick lits usually fit the bill.

What I like about picking up free boxes of books (or for a very small price), is that you never know what you will get. I used to get free or very cheap boxes of books a lot when we still lived in Toronto, but Saturday was my first experience here in the UK. I always love coming home with the books and sprawling them out on the ground, sorting them between ones I’d like to read and ones I would pass on. Surprisingly, this box had a lot of books I wanted to read. I never really know what is good chick lit and so I tend to stick with the same authors who I know I will like. But when a book is free…why not try it?

And so it happened that I sat down with Welcome to Rosie Hopkins’ Sweet Shop of Dreams yesterday. I hadn’t expected much from this book, as I said, I am not a huge fan of chick lit. However, I was pleasantly surprised.

Rosie HopkinsThe book is about Rosie Hopkins, an auxiliary nurse who temporarily moves from her beloved city of London to the small town of Lipton to deal with her aunt who broke her hip. The instructions from her mother are clear: sell her aunt’s sweet shop and use the money to get her settled in a good old age home. However, things are rarely that straightforward in life. Before long, Rosie is involved in a few of the town’s issues and as she learns to appreciate life in a small town, she is forced to confront her real feelings for her boyfriend.

Rosie’s tale is interspersed with flashbacks to Lillian’s life (Rosie’s aunt). The reader gets an inside look at why she stayed in Lipton and why she continued to run the sweet shop.

As I said above, this book really surprised me. My experience with chick lit is that it is often badly written with flat characters and a too soppy plot. This book, however, had real flesh-and-blood characters who are true to themselves. The story of Lillian was heartbreaking (it literally made me swallow some tears here and there) and not too sappy where it easily could have been. Which probably has something to do with how strong and hard Lillian is, but that again is due to the writing skill of Jenny Colgan. Rosie’s personal development, while somewhat predictable, did make sense to her as a character and felt very genuine. I also have to give Jenny Colgan props for not making Gerard, Rosie’s boyfriend, an utterly useless and easily unlikeable character, which is a trap that a lot of writers fall into.

Lillian’s story was beautiful too. I am not usually crazy about flashbacks, I am too impatient for those, but Lillian’s story was so interesting and so sad, that I liked it as much – if not more than – Rosie’s story. It also gave the reader a good feel of what a small English town was like during Wold War II, without dwelling too much on the fact. I thought that the story was written very subtly, and it was all the more heartbreaking because of it.

The ending of the book is a bit predictable though. Of course Rosie ends up staying in Lipton and running the sweet shop (it’s even in the title) and of course she dumps her old boyfriend and finds love in the small town. What did surprise me is who she found said love with, I felt a bit like the writer changed her mind at the last minute, as it was a bit abrupt. But it was a good change of mind, as it made it a bit less predictable.

All in all a good summer read and I would definitely recommend it.

Book review – The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Gulag ArchipelagoI have “finally” finished reading The Gulag Archiplelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn only to find out at the end of my book that it was only Part I and II and I still have two more volumes (I believe it goes up to Part VII) before the end of this epic work. I will try to find the other volumes as they seem hard to come by on amazon (and unavailable on the Kindle), but I thought I would let you know my thoughts on the first two parts of this work.

As a bit of background information, Solzhenitsyn wrote The Gulag Archipelago to document the atrocities committed by the Russian government onto its people. His approach is very methodological and he traces the history of the arrests and deportation, the evolution of the mock trials from Lenin to Stalin. He demonstrates how the abuse of the Russian people already started with Lenin, and was interwoven into Russia’s history, rather than being an aberration of Stalin.

The book is gruesome and brutal, there is no denying that. What has happened to the Russian people from around 1918 till 1956 (and later than that even) is too horrifying for words. It is amazing that a country as big as Russia could be so isolated from the world that the Western world did not see – or chose not to see – the large scale holocaust that was happening there. Although I have been aware of the fact that “terrible things happened” under Stalin in Russia, I never realised the extent and the horror and the misery. It is worse than reading about the holocaust perpetrated by Hitler. We commemorate the end of World War II each year and think about the horrible things done by Hitler – and don’t get me wrong, they were horrible – but hardly any attention is given to the millions of victims of the Russian regime. There is not even an accurate estimation of how many people suffered and died during all those years, but because it did not affect us, and we didn’t really lose any of our people, we don’t pay attention to it. I am not saying we need to commemorate every atrocity ever committed anywhere on earth, but I do think it is good to be aware of what happens elsewhere in the world, both in the past and in the present. I don’t intend on this becoming a political rant, I merely wanted to point out that reading this book has really opened my eyes.

And yet. Despite the horror of his subject, and the abject misery of the characters (i.e. real life people) in his stories, Solzhenitsyn is able to write with flair, and wit and even humour in some places. Considering Solzhenitsyn himself had experienced the mock trials, the prisons and the camps, the Russian government – the whole system of dehumanisation – was unable to take Solzhenitsyn’s humanity. It is almost disconcerting to find oneself laughing in the midst of all the misery and yet Solzhenitsyn is able to make the reader laugh, especially by way of his biting sarcasm. The book is technically non-fiction and yet it reads like a novel.

I have to say that this book was very educational (as I mentioned above). It was also gut-wrenching and it definitely made me nauseous in some places – I had to skip the parts where he described the torture. But above all, at the end of the book, I was inspired. Solzhenitsyn’s message throughout, but especially at the end of the book is a sobering one. He urges the reader not to get bogged down in petty irritations, trivial problems and material things, but to savour the simple things in life. After all, as he says (and I paraphrase as I read the book in Dutch, so I can’t really quote here): if you don’t have anything, they cannot take anything away either. And really, shouldn’t we all live like that? Enjoy and savour the things we take for granted, don’t fight with your loved ones, or at least make up with them before you go to sleep, because you never know whether you will be able to tell them you love them in the morning. Reading The Gulag Archipelago made me realise that we truly live in paradise here in England. It is easy to forget how blessed we are with a government who is willing to assist us when times are tough rather than trying to find a way to send us to some camp so they can use us as free labour in order to get railroads finished. We have enough to eat, so much even that obesity is becoming a problem, and we view a lot of material things not as a luxury, but as a basic right.

I know that in the last weeks, as my reading of this book slowly progressed, I have tried hard to remember Solzhenitsyn’s message. Whenever I want to complain about how busy I am with work and studying and the kids, I take a step back and tell myself that at least I get paid well for my job, that my studying will also be rewarded and that I can be with my kids, in freedom and health. I salute Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn for not steeping his book in hatred, horror and misery, but to be able to forge a little clump of golden inspiration out of the furnace that burnt so many innocent Russian lives.

I’m really into Russians again…

Russian writers, that is. Way back in the day when I was still in high school, we had to compile what was called a documentation folder for our Dutch class (I went to school in the Netherlands). Basically, you had to come up with a subject, a few statements about the subject you wanted to investigate and then you had to write almost a very scaled-down thesis on that subject. This thesis would then be backed up with LOTS of quotes from different sources, mostly books, on that subject, which you would have to properly reference. I really enjoyed doing that project. I had to do two, one in each of the last two years of high school. The first one I did about porcelain, which I am still interested in, although I don’t actually own any; and the second about Leo Tolstoy. At 16 I was probably too young to really understand what Tolstoy did and what he stood for, but I did enjoy reading Anna Karenina and (parts of) War and Peace. I also read some of his political writings, although I have to confess I don’t remember much about that anymore. During that time of my life I became very interested in Russian writers, although, again, I think I was a bit too young to really understand and appreciate everything.

When I was on holiday in the Netherlands just recently, I watched the movie The Last Station, which is about the last period in Leo Tolstoy’s life. It is a very good movie, with excellent performances by Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren and it really got me excited about re-reading Tolstoy’s work again. When I got home, I first considered reading Anna Karenina, but then I discovered that I have The Gulag Archipelago in my bookcase, which I had not read yet. So I have finally taken it off the shelf and started reading it. It is a very big book and I was a bit concerned it would be dry, as it is essentially non-fiction. However, Solzjenitsyn writes with surprising humour, keeping me very interested in what was quite a horrific time in Russian history. I am not very far advanced in the book yet, as I have also started studying which takes up most of my evenings, but so far I am fascinated, horrified and very interested. And I have rediscovered how much I like Russian history and Russian authors. Next on my list is definitely Anna Karenina and I may even attempt War and Peace again.

And finally, a shout-out to blogger Julian Froment and his blog Julian Froment’s blog where he writes (among other things) about his reading challenges. Those blog posts have inspired me to tackle books that are a bit  more challenging than my normal reading material and so far I am happy I have decided to do so. In due course I will write a review of The Gulag Archipelago, but that may take a while.

Do authors have an expiry date?

That is a question that has cropped up a few times in my reading life. Usually when I find an author I like, I read every book (s)he has written. Especially if there is a series, I like to read all the books in the series. However, this sometimes backfires. I have noticed that some authors deteriorate the more books they write. I will give a few examples of authors whose work I have abandoned.

Wilbur Smith

I used to love Wilbur Smith. His earlier works about Africa, about the Courtneys and the Ballantynes are amazing, spellbinding and real page-turners. Even his stand-alone books are without compare. However, at a certain point his books stopped thrilling me. It was when I read Monsoon that I realised it really did not hold my attention. I was not particularly interested in the story, and I could not bother to invest in the characters. Maybe I outgrew Wilbur Smith, although my mother used to love him, and agrees with me that his later works are not as good. (Let me know in the comments if I have that wrong, mom!) I think that Wilbur Smith got too old and decided to just ride on the wave of his fame, getting sloppy with his research and his writing. After having written so many books, who can really blame him? After all, he is already 80.

Lee Child

Lee Child is the creator of the hero Jack Reacher. Every single book he has written features Jack Reacher. I enjoyed reading those books tremendously, even though they are somewhat formulaic. However, the last book I read by him, The Affair, left a lot to be desired. The book takes place before all the others, explaining how Reacher became who he is. A lot of Reacher’s actions just did not ring true to how he was portrayed in the earlier books, making me wonder if Lee Child had lost the way. Now, I think Lee Child has sold out to Hollywood with the making of the Jack Reacher movie. He lost my support when he stated that Reacher’s height was “a metaphor for an unstoppable force” in defense to Tom Cruise playing Jack Reacher. Has he not read his own books? After that, I have lost the taste for more Reacher books, I think Lee Child is only in it for the money nowadays.

Michael Connelly

I am a huge fan of Michael Connelly and I do not think that he has reached his expiry date yet. However, I think that he better watch out, as something is starting to smell. The last two books I read by him were Nine Dragons and The Reversal, and both were very anticlimatic. They were still perfectly good books, but the edge was gone. Whereas I used to stay up all night so I could finish the book (and be rewarded with a great ending), Nine Dragons did not compel me to keep reading, and The Reversal was compelling only because I expected a good twist, which alas never came. I am not at the point yet that I will stop reading his books, but I am close.

Patricia Cornwell

I have mentioned Patricia Cornwell before. Her Scarpetta books were great as long as they focused on solving crimes. But for some reason Patricia Cornwell decided that her readers were more interested in Scarpetta’s personal life and the life of her annoying niece than in the mystery of the crimes and that was when I stopped reading her books. I think this one is a case of an author spending too much time with the same characters and wanting to delve into their personal lives as a consequence. To give credit where credit is due: although Lee Child only writes about one character, with Reacher it never got stale, as he is a loner always on the move, so the reader does not have to worry about any personal attachments.

Exceptions

Now, of course not every author has a sell by date. I think every book Terry Pratchett writes is as amazing, if not more so, than the previous books. He does not show any sign of complacency or laziness. Each book has been crafted with the same care and diligence as the very first books, where he still had to worry about whether it would sell or not.

The same goes for my favourite writer Wodehouse. Although the man wrote about a book a year, each book is simply amazing. Wodehouse never thought: ‘Well, I am famous now, and people will buy my books anyhow, so who cares that the language is not as wonderfully styled as my earlier works? People are still going to love it.’

And that care and diligence, no matter how famous or best-selling you are, distinguishes the great writers from the mediocre ones.

Into the Wild – A Few Thoughts

Into the Wild is the account of the life of Christopher McCandless as written by Jon Krakauer. Christopher McCandless graduated from university in 1990. After his graduation, he gave away all his money, tore up his credit cards and drove off in his Datsun without telling his parents where he was going. He traveled around for two years, living on the streets mostly, and ended up in Alaska, where he lived off the land for four months before dying of starvation.

This is not a review of the book, or a review of Christopher McCandless actions which led to his death, but more a collection of my thoughts that were provoked in reading the book. Jon Krakauer has done a tremendous job documenting McCandless life after he gave up everything and he has tried hard to keep the book objective. The fact that this book provoked mostly irritation is by no means because of a bad writing style.

I think that Chris McCandless was very resourceful and very brave. I think he was also very selfish and very naive. And he is by no means the only young American man who thought that living on the street would be helping the poor. Giving away all your money (although it is debatable how much of that money was given to him by his parents) in order to know what it is like to be destitute is naive. People on the fringes of society are generally there because of misfortune, not because they choose to be there. Trying to live a non-materialistic lifestyle is admirable, and more of us should do so, but living on the street is taking it a bit too far, in my opinion. If you really are upset about the misdistribution of wealth, and you want to do something about inequality in society, then I don’t think that living on the street, not paying taxes, being dependent on the goodness of other, hard-working people will help much with that. It will only really help you have some sort of soul-searching experience, which may be great for you, but doesn’t really help all the poor and destitute people on the planet.

Most people like McCandless make their decisions based on the fact that they want to live their dream. They have a romanticised idea about the (American) wilderness, about living with very few belongings and next to no money, taking each day as it comes. Apart from being irritated by this book, I also did feel inspired. It is admirable that McCandless just left his cushy life and chose a life of hardship, because that was his dream. Now, I am a cynic. I don’t really believe in living your dreams. At the end of the day, you still need food on the table, a roof over your head and some clothing. And I am not selfish enough to rely on the generosity of other people, who have forsaken their dream in order to be able to afford the basic necessities in life, just so I can live my dream. I also have two young children, who need to be fed, clothed and who need shelter (although I admit they don’t need the playroom full of toys they currently have). So while I certainly admire people who give everything up to live their dream, I also think that if everyone did so, the world would fall down.

One of my favourite movies, Office Space, has a scene where the characters ask each other “If you have a million dollars, what would you do?” The idea is that whatever you would do if you did not have to work for a living is what you should do for your job. One of the characters rightfully points out that this is stupid: if everyone did the job they dreamed of, you would never get garbage collectors, as no one would want to do that job. It was certainly never my dream to be a tax accountant, but I have a good job, nice people to work with and a paycheque at the end of the day that keeps my life comfortable. If you’d ask me what I would do if I didn’t have to work for a living, I would say “write and edit”. I find I like the writing part, but even though I am still plodding through the editing, I do not enjoy it and at the end of the day I wish I had more energy to actually sit down and do a proper job. As it stands now, it is probably going to take a year before my book is properly edited and rewritten, but that is okay. I work full time, so the rest will just have to trail along according to my energy levels.

So…in writing all this I think I have identified the source of my irritation with Into the Wild. I think that there is so much emphasis on following your dreams, and doing the things you want to do irrespective of how that will affect others. I am not saying we should all be stuck in a miserable existence and we should not ever endeavour to rise above it all, but we have responsibilities, and other people to think of. (Unless of course you are absolutely alone in the world, in which case, poor you.) Even Chris McCandless realised in the Alaskan wilderness that happiness is not real unless it’s shared. I couldn’t justify giving up a good paying job and moving into a trailer with my family just so I could follow my dream to become a writer. For one, my dream does emphatically not involve a trailer and two, I couldn’t expect my family to also give everything up just so that I can live my dreams.  But maybe I am too practical and responsible and old, or maybe I am too attached to my comfortable life. Or maybe I am simply not passionate enough about being a writer.