Today I have a book review over on lip about Wild:
Adventures are transformative. Especially if they are difficult and involve travel. They’re particularly good after a tricky divorce.
It’s common knowledge now. It’s like Freud’s five stages of grief – when you lose something or someone special you have to go through denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and finally acceptance. The problem is that Freud’s theory is based on nothing but a hunch. There is no evidence. And yet, the way we think about grief and about the way we deal with challenges in life is embedded in his five stages.
The ‘adventures are transformative’ narrative has also pervaded our lives. Perhaps only in this moment of time, where going on big adventures and taking time out of the normal grind isn’t prohibitively expensive, has this idea grabbed our consciousness. Bad break-up? Go to Europe. Need to take some time out to ‘find yourself’? Go to Europe. Don’t have that much money? Go to Asia or something.
Wild is a worthy and enjoyable read but despite its brutally honest descriptions of grief, guilt, and gratitude it doesn’t considerably distinguish itself from the grand narrative of transformative adventures. This is fine, because the narrative is compelling, pushing readers to embark on adventures of their own. I’m not so certain that they will always find the reawakening these books say they should, or maybe they will simply because life imitates art.
I still have a few questions about this genre, which I didn’t get to ask in my review.
1. Why do journeys have to be so self-centred? I loved Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell, for instance, and it wasn’t all about him. It was about the people he met and their life and their suffering. Why is the reader constantly asked to feel empathy for the narrator? Why isn’t anyone else let in? Can you find yourself by telling another’s story? Why/why not?
2. Do people really change like this? How do people change? If I become addicted to heroin, is the only way out hiking a trail? I presume not but recognise that bad habits form in bad contexts and sometimes going to the new place is the only way out. Can you just change ‘cold turkey’ or do you need some buffer space?
3. If you can’t get away, what is your alternative? Anne Lamott promotes the virtue of the kitchen and nature as paths past emotion. Where else can you be found? Does it have to be big? Is it actually aesthetically nicer to find yourself somewhere close?
4. (I touched on this in the review) Is it arbitrary what your adventure is, or can you make a bad choice?