Monday, December 29, 2008
We begin our 2009 discussions with Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer's reflection on the death--and the life--of Chris McCandless, a young man from a well-to-do family who chose to leave the life he was expected to lead to experience life on the road and in the wilderness, ultimately dying of starvation in Alaska.
We should have much to talk about, as McCandless' story has captured readers' interest since his remains were first discovered in 1992. Krakauer published an article about McCandless' death in Outside, but he felt compelled to explore his life in more detail in a book. More than ten years later, Sean Penn created a film based on the book, reviving interest in McCandless' story, although Krakauer's book had already become a classic of sorts. We will compare the difference in narrative approach of the book and the film; we will no doubt debate the wisdom of McCandless' decisions; we will ponder the many ironies of his death; we will consider the American Romantic fascination with The Road, The West, The Wild. But we may find that we cannot resolve McCandless' story in any ultimately satisfying way--the word that most often appears in reviews of both the book and the film is "haunting."
We hope you will join one of our discussions: Tuesday, January 6 at 7:00 p.m. at Main Library in Meeting Room A; Thursday, January 22 at 11:00 a.m. at West Ashley Branch; or here on the blog.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
We ended our 2008 discussions with Maira Kalman's The Principles of Uncertainty, an illustrated journal of a year of her life originally published as a monthly blog for the New York Times. Many of us were surprised that such a whimsically illustrated book could address existential questions. Kalman asks, "How are we all so brave as to take step after step? Day after day? How are we so optimistic, so careful not to trip, and then do trip, and then get up and say O.K." Even more boldly, she asks, "What is the point?" We agreed that her affectionate portraits of the people and things she encountered during that year are her answer to her questions--she finds meaning in the variety of life around her and in the very act of observing and recording that life. A few readers found Kalman's observation of people and things to verge on compulsive collecting. And a few also felt that this collecting and describing took the place of the meaningful personal detail usually found in a memoir. However, other readers appreciated the quirkiness and variety of her catalogs. They also felt that her reticence about the details of her personal life conveyed much about her experience of loss and grief over the death of her husband, Tibor Kalman, and mother, Sara Berman, which she mentions only by insisting that she cannot speak of those losses. The title of Kalman's book asks readers to consider what the principles of uncertainty are for them--the unavoidable facts of change and loss, the possibility of continuing on with hope and humor in spite of these facts. As we face a new year filled with both uncertainty and possibility, we can keep in mind Kalman's closing advice, gleaned from a World War II propaganda poster: "Keep Calm and Carry On."
Thursday, December 4, 2008
If you missed our discussion of Maira Kalman's The Principles of Uncertainty on Tuesday, you can join us Thursday, December 18 at the West Ashley Branch at 11:00 a.m. Kalman's warm and whimsical illustrations and quirky view of life may help brighten a chilly December day. We hope to see you there or hear from you here on the blog!