HWS Health Professions and Fellowships Adviser Scott MacPhail will present a discussion, “Life and Death in the Last Frontier,” with sophomore Elizabeth Lunderman on March 25, from 1 to 2:30 p.m. in the Geneva High School Library Media Center. Their discussion is part of the 2014 Community Read, sponsored by Geneva Reads, the theme of which is the outdoors and self-reliance.
MacPhail uses Jon Krakauer’s “Into the Wild,” one of the Community Reads books, in his First-Year Seminar. Lunderman spent last summer in Alaska and visited the region in which the book’s subject, Christopher McCandless, spent his last days. Together they will raise questions such as “Why did Christopher turn away from his friends and family to embrace a life in the wild?” “What is the allure of living alone in the wilderness?” “Why did Chris die?” “How should we balance the potential benefits and dangers of the choices we make?” “What is an individual’s responsibility to his family or to the communities he is a part of?” “How much is an individual responsible for his fate?” and “Why do so many people who never met Chris have such strong opinions about his decisions?”
In the book, Krakauer tells the true story of how McCandless gave up most of his possessions in April 1992, donated $25,000 in savings to charity, and traveled throughout the American West and Southwest before his fateful journey to Alaska.
“‘Into the Wild’ is the first book we read in my first-year seminar ‘Wilderness and the Wild,'” explains MacPhail. “I don’t know how many times students have told me that this book was unlike anything they have read for school before, and they were excited to read to the end.”
He describes the book as a compelling mystery, an exciting adventure story, and a travel book that takes readers to some of the most beautiful landscapes in North America.
“But most of all, it is a book that asks fundamental questions about identity, and the relationship of the individual to his or her family, his society and his natural environment,” says MacPhail. “Why did Chris McCandless make the choices he did? How and why did he have such a significant impact on so many people during his travels, and even after his death?”
The first-year seminar course prompts students to reflect upon their own places in and responsibilities to the natural world. They investigate how a number of thinkers have defined and valued wild nature.
“‘Into the Wild’ is the perfect book to begin this investigation, and to also begin the big adventure that is college,” explains MacPhail. “The author interviewed everyone he could find to learn about what happened to Chris McCandless. But much of what Krakauer knows about Chris’ thoughts and motivations comes from the notes that Chris kept in the books he carried with him on his adventures. So, in addition to offering a start to thinking about how we define our identities in relationship to the natural world, ‘Into the Wild’ also asks readers to consider what role our readings and our education can and should play in defining who we are and what we should do.”
He also sees the book as dividing students in productive ways, noting reasonable people can disagree about the merits of McCandless’ decisions, and can also disagree about the value and impact of Krakauer’s choices in how and why he chose to represent McCandless’ story in the ways that he does.
“These disagreements make for lively class discussions that prompt students to more clearly articulate their own values and goals. It’s a great way to get started on the college-long and hopefully life-long process of learning about ourselves by better understanding and connecting with others,” says MacPhail.
Other events planned as part of the Community Read program include:
• March 29: Book Fest, 12:30 to 3 p.m., at the Geneva Community Center on Carter Road. This annual event features dozens of community booths, each featuring a reading-related activity for young children.
• March 31: “Wild Inedibles,” HWS biology Professor Beth Newell will talk about poisonous plants at 7:30 p.m., in the South Parlor of the Presbyterian Church in Geneva at 24 Park Place.
Community Read month is co-sponsored by Geneva 2020. Books for the Community Read and Book Fest are provided by Geneva Reads, with grant money from the Wyckoff Family Foundation. Support for this year’s event is also coming from the Geneva Public Library, The Smith Center for the Arts, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and WEOS (Finger Lakes Public Radio, a service of HWS). Finger Lakes Federal Credit Union is the lead sponsor of the Book Fest. For more information, visit https://sites.google.com/site/genevareads/
The photo above features Scott MacPhail.