Saturday, July 4, 2020

Book: My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

Jean Craighead George. 2004 [1959]. My Side of the Mountain. Puffin Modern Classics.

This was one of my favorite books in my tween years, which were a while ago now. It concerns a boy in his tween years who runs away from his overcrowded home in NYC to his family's unused property on a mountainside (in the east coast sense of mountain) in rural upstate New York. He spends a year there on his own, living in a hollowed-out tree, hunting and fishing and gathering with the help of a pet falcon he tames.

The New York Review of Books, as quoted in on the first page, opined back in the day that My Side of the Mountain "[s]hould appeal to all rugged individualists who dream of escape to the forest."

Alas, the book did not appeal to my dear daughter, for whom I purchased a copy a few years ago. She found it dull and did not finish it.

I thought I would reread it to see how the intervening 45 years changed my own view. There is not much plot here - in that sense it is more like a fictional memoir than a novel. There is lots of detail about how to actually get along and survive in the woods, which was interesting to my city boy younger self and remained interesting to me now. The thought of all that loner time continues to appeal.

I was surprised how much of the book came back to me once I got back into it. I was moved too by the lost social world it described, before the overblown (and empirically groundless) freak-out about child abductions in the 1970s and before the rise of helicopter parents. As an example, in the book the young man visits the local town a couple of times and goes to the library. The librarian, rather than calling the news media or the cops, gives our hero a haircut and helps him find books with the information he seeks. Imagine.

I bought this at the Barnes and Noble store in Madison.
Amazon book page.
Barnes and Noble book page.

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