Monday, December 29, 2014

A related literary genre

In my last post, I forgot to mention a genre that I think of as related to Survival Literature: the I-Hiked-a-Thousand-Miles Confessional. In these narratives, autobiographers challenge themselves by hiking and camping their way across vast distances. The stories are framed by precise geographical coordinates (starting at Official Point A with the plan to reach Official Point B before winter); the threats faced are more often from people (including the authors themselves) than from the great harsh outdoors; and the authors discover great things about themselves and humanity in the process. They are self-absorbed seekers, like Siddhartha, but enjoyably so and, despite their flaws, way less annoying.

The genre includes books like Bill Bryson's laugh-out-loud funny A Walk in the Woods and Cheryl Strayed's recent Wild. I read most of A Walk in the Woods several years ago but, as is also my propensity with peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches, never quite managed to consume it in its entirety. I read all of Wild on a binge this fall, following Alive and Between a Rock and a Hard Place.

I have a friend who has hiked the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail each at least once, and the frequency with which people ask her if (as a woman) her experience is like Wild drives her nuts. I understand why people ask, though. Wild is to literature as a woman is to an academic department dominated by men, asked to serve on more committees than anyone else in order to speak for The Female People. On the bright side, if Wild were fiction, the protagonist would be dead by the end, or at least plain, if not ugly--the traditional literary ways to punish women who have sex and do drugs, let alone hike solo.

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