Classic Krakauer: an escape to the rugged outdoors for couch-bound students

Yesterday, I flipped through the newest book from Jon Krakauer, Classic Krakauer: Essays on Wilderness and Risk. As usual with Krakauer’s prose, I was once again transported to the far reaches of possibility. With Krakauer as my guide, I rappelled down 1,000 feet into Lechuguilla Cave in New Mexico; I walked along the sulfur-scented volcanic rim of Mt. Rainier; I climbed beneath an overhanging “bulge of glacial ice” in Mt. Everest’s Khumbu Icefall.

In short, I was taken far away from my couch on yet another day at home during the month-long break my school is taking to control the spread of COVID-19. True, since I teach in a rural school, many of my students are fortunately able to get outside. Social distancing is easy to do out in the country. Still, Krakauer’s adventures allow readers to experience exotic sights and destinations they might never expect to see beyond their local environs.

I wish each of my students had a copy of this book to read at home during the break.

I’ve been a fan of Jon Krakauer ever since I read Into Thin Air, his eyewitness account of the 1996 Mt. Everest tragedy where eight climbers were killed in an unexpected snowstorm on their descent from the summit. Since then, I’ve read Into the Wild, the story of Chris McCandless and his fatal journey into the Alaskan wilderness; Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith; and Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town.

Krakauer’s latest book, Classic Krakauer, is a 181-page compilation of ten essays and articles that he wrote early in his career as a freelancer for The New Yorker, Outside and Smithsonian magazines, and New Age Journal. I haven’t read them all yet, but here are those I have read so far:

  • Descent to Mars, the story of NASA research in Lechuguilla Cave
  • Death and Anger on Everest, an account of the 2014 tragedy that highlighted the dangers sherpas endure
  • Living Under the Volcano, a story about the prospects of living beneath Mt. Rainier
  • After the Fall, an account of the liability issues that have arisen with the rising popularity of mountain sports

Any one of these pieces would be excellent — and I mean EXCELLENT — readings for my junior and senior English students. Each is a riveting mix of narrative and expository prose packed with compelling digressions that build thick, meaty tales that can be consumed in one — okay, maybe two — sittings.

Even studying Krakauer’s vocabulary would be beneficial for my students. While much of the book’s vocab is domain specific to, for example, mountaineering (such as belay) or geology (such as lahar), Krakauer also employs a healthy dose of rich Tier 2 words that my students need to read and hear (such as discombobulated or pique). Many of my students think writers use “big words” just to confuse readers; Krakauer’s sophisticated semantics are an essential and useful component to his prose.

I’m thinking about requisitioning a classroom set of this book for next year.

Any one of the writings within it would spark robust discussions not only about the subject matter, but also about the writing moves Krakauer makes. Yes, I see great potential in Krakauer’s latest offering.


Thanks for reading! Do you use any Krakauer books in your classroom? What has been your experience? Placed any orders for next year? It seems so far in the future to be thinking about next fall, but once the corona virus chaos is over, it will be back to normal before we know it. Leave a comment with your thoughts about your wish list for 2020-21.

Published by marilynyung

Writes | Teaches | Not sure where one ends and the other begins.

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