Keely's Reviews > My Side of the Mountain

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
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Jun 27, 07

bookshelves: childhood, novel, reviewed

I think the best thing a survivalism book can do is help to redefine your connection to the natural world and your reliance on the human. Unfortunately, even reading this book as a child, I found it to be too fantastical to be entirely enjoyable. Though George trades in Paulsen's vomit for pleasant fancy, this book at once made me want to go out and live such a free life and convinced me that such a thing would be impossible.

I read many such books as a child, and also experienced in television and film the way that life was supposed to surprise you with a sudden adventure. So I took long walks. I wandered the woods alone. I called for spirits in the river. I searched the earth for baby falcons to raise. But I never found that magical friend, that spirit, that strange and mystical adventure. Hell, I never even found anyone interesting to talk to.

The sad thing is that I still search, still look and hope, and every time two lifelong friends meet by chance at a brook, I feel betrayed. The fantasy of art has, even in its most minute dimensions, been betrayed by sallow mundanity.

So it seems again I fall to the doom of loving and hating books. Loving the world they represent, but hate failing to find it.
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Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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message 1: by Anna (new)

Anna Very well expressed review - my thoughts exactly!


Ashley Keely, it's never too late.


Keely It's true, but you just can't wait around expecting adventures to happen--it's like sitting around waiting to win the lottery: that's not how the world works. It turns out, if you want to have an adventure, it's not as simple as falling down a rabbit hole or wandering into the dark woods--you've got to find a way to make it happen, and that can take a whole lot of work. I just wish that, as a kid, I had read books that taught me that lesson: that if I want a life of adventure, I have to be active, I can't just be passive and wait for it to find me. It's somewhat harder to learn that lesson later in life, but one does what one can.


Ashley Maybe that lesson was there in the book all along, and you didn't want to see it?? Interesting, I'll keep that in mind while reading with my 6 year old.. we just started reading this book, and it seems to me that this kid didn't sit around, he dropped out of society and made his own way. Now I'm not sure about the natural environment you live near, and how sad not to have had any real adventures in "the wild", imagined or real..I was just interrupted by my two kids and their friend(age 5,4,and 2) who swore they heard a cheetah in the woods of our 1.5 acre lot. Swear. I was quick to point out the incredible power and sensory apparatus of the dogo argentino they are exploring with (family dog) which further excited them -they just left with swords and a dog hunter to find the cat.

When I was a kid I had an uncle that could spot arrowheads on the family's island beach one after the other. I could NEVER find one and was always frustrated at how easy it was for him to see them amongst the rocks. Same thing would happen to me when I went morel hunting with another adult in the woods. I didn't know what to look for and therefore found "nothing".
In contrast- today on my run (in the rural mountains of NC) I "noticed" the spectacle of the cardinals, hawks on the fly, and two stray vaguely menacing dogs that followed my Australian shepherd from a safe distance. Hardly the stuff of novels, but the hour felt rich for the experiences. The lens of my year old dog intensified the event,dogs are great for helping you spot the wildlife)and the sum of my interest in the flora, fauna and minerals of my home has brought out the magic in the world around me. I have "learned" how to see the magic, because it is important for me to do so. I surround myself by others who do the same, and our experiences (panther sighting?!, poltergeists!?, etc. etc..) feed the fire. I seek out oral stories from the elders, herbal medicine classes, historical grave markers in the woods. Life is as rich as you make it and learning never stops! I'm taking our exchange as a rich coincidence, BTW.


Keely "it seems to me that this kid didn't sit around, he dropped out of society and made his own way."

Yeah, but he didn't have to work very hard at it, he just sort of wandered off and then wonderful things happened to him. I've come to find that it takes a lot more work to have an adventure. I mean, sure, I like going on a trail ride or a hike or to go climb the bluffs--it's beautiful and peaceful and pleasant, but it's not exactly an adventure.

I mean, I remember being that kid, out looking for the panther, and if I lived in a book, I would have found it. Instead, I spent a lot of time in the woods which, while certainly enjoyable, wasn't getting me any closer to any panthers. I'd wake up and say "Today, I'm going to have an adventure", and I'd go out and have a long walk through the woods, turn over stones, search through sticks, find grottoes, and eventually come back home, having encountered no one and not much excitement.

It wasn't until I was older that I realized that to really have an adventure tended to involve a lot of work, just to get the thing started.


Ashley oh well, thought I might rock your world. The character did do a lot of research in the library about survival in the wild, same as us modern homesteaders are doing, learning the old ways. I am just totally seeing this differently, so we'll just have to agree to disagree. And I for one, did see the panther on my nature walk (in Colorado, and in Texas where they were very rare) so I believe if you want it bad enough it happens. I'm guessing you thrive in a different environment that suits you better. Good luck!


message 7: by Jo (new)

Jo Self I know exactly how you feel. I recently realized the real reason why I had quit reading fiction for most of the past 20 years, and the realization was unnerving. I am an unapologetic self-help junkie. i had told myself that I simply no longer had an interest in fiction. But a few forays into Oprah's Book Club selections over the years helped me see the Unvarnished truth. I get caught up in the fantasy of the happily ever after, which simply doesn't exist in real life.

Fictional realism-- you know, the stuff with the unhappy endings -- depresses me. But happy endings just make me fantasize about my endless and insatiable desires. Unfortunately, when I traded in fiction for self-help, I also abandoned the medium through which many emotions were felt and experienced most profoundly. Ironically, I feel most fully human in the throes of the emotional responses dredged up by good fiction.

Fiction and I have recently reconciled. Our relationship has not lost all its tempestuous passion, but I keep it on a tight leash, mixing it up with classic literature (something I mysteriously managed to experience very little of throughout high school and college), memoir and spiritual self help. It's like a managed addiction, where you know you are in perpetual recovery, and never cured.


Keely "I am an unapologetic self-help junkie . . . I get caught up in the fantasy of the happily ever after, which simply doesn't exist in real life . . . a managed addiction, where you know you are in perpetual recovery, and never cured."

I actually know people who have an addiction to self-help books, odd as it might sound. They use them to feel positive about themselves temporarily, but it never actually improves their lives. They'd have a bad day, sit and read a self-help book, and then feel better and forget their problems for a bit.

But then, they would slip back into the same old pattern--they might meditate for a few days, or work on their 'investment scheme', but only enough to make themselves feel good. Then it would be left behind the wayside again, and they'd dip back down into the same life problems and patterns that had made them miserable in the first place.

It really was just like a drug: the self-help advice never actually changed the pattern of their life, never helped them to gain control or improve, it was just a distraction for them, part of an endless cycle. Curious how we cope with things.

I actually find fiction, even some dark fiction, to be quite calming and humanizing. I always find Chekhov's portrayal of these small, damaged people to be rather cathartic, for example. However, I've tended to find the Oprah selections don't really work for me--they seem to be obsessed with misery, until it's not actually about the characters anymore.

In any case, thanks for the comment.


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