The history of literature about escape into the wilderness is long and plentiful. Author Gary Paulsen, famous for Hatchet and The River, reportedly lived his life in attempted solitude. That solitude has shaped his writing for decades. Paulsen is among a brave group of people who recognize the inspirational power of isolation and connection with nature. Some have taken their desire to go off the grid to the extreme, pushing themselves to venture into some pretty dangerous spaces.
Are you curious if getting off the grid is right for you? We have a few books to help satiate your curiosity and give you some insight into the real experiences of those who leave society in search of something deeper.
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
This classic book was turned into a 2007 movie of the same name, so if reading isn’t for you, there is the option of just watching the movie. But trust when I say that the movie only covers a fraction of the fascinating story from the book. The book details Christopher McCandless’ disappearance into the woods of Alaska and eventual death. Author Jon Krakauer manages to track down information on McCandless’ last days and paints a portrait that is both inspirational and cautionary. In a particularly poignant chapter, Krakauer manages to follow what happened to McCandless’ car after he, having run out of gas and money, abandoned the vehicle on the side of the road. Into the Wild highlights the ways the tiny moments in our lives make huge impacts far beyond our awareness.
Huerfano: A Memoir of Life in the Counterculture by Roberta M. Price
The 1960s was a fertile time for those interested in “dropping out” of society, which was just what Roberta Price did when she and then-boyfriend David joined Huerfano. The commune was founded in southern Colorado and Price lived there for seven years. The memoir, Huerfano, explores the determination needed to live off the land and make a countercultural community. She doesn’t lean into sentimentality. Instead, Price presents the love she had for the community as well as the tough realities she dealt with living in rural Colorado for seven years.
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
A classic of the genre, this story has been read by many a high school student but is worth a reread. The work is a mix of personal declaration, spiritual journey, and social experiment. “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately” he begins, mirroring the sentiments of many as they work to disconnect from their digital vices. While the book is written in older prose, taking the time to read it can help prime you for living like people did before the invention of Google to find easy answers.
North of Normal: A Memoir of My Wilderness Childhood, My Unusual Family, and How I Survived Both by Cea Sunrise Person
Cea Sunrise Person’s family aimed to escape society when they moved to the Canadian wilderness in the 1960s. This memoir details her childhood in this pot-loving, clothing-optional world and the factors that lead her out. Unlike many on this list, Person’s story begins in the wilderness. The extreme choices were mostly made by her grandparents. It is her personal quest to find stability and happiness that drives her through the story. North of Normal celebrates the power—and danger—of choice.
The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel
This book explores the strange character of the man who gained notoriety after his arrest for burglarizing houses to sustain his isolated lifestyle. Michael Finkel’s writing delves into the man who inspired sensationalist headlines about his 27 years alone in the woods. Throughout Christopher Knight’s time in isolation, he reportedly only had two conversations, and only one of them verbal. The Stranger in the Woods explores both the mental illness Knight dealt with as well as the society he ran from. Painting a portrait of a complicated man, this book also explores the ways men like Knight are handled in other countries.
Road to Heaven: Encounters with Chinese Hermits by Bill Porter
And speaking of other countries, Road to Heaven explores the tradition of Zen hermits in China. Though the book was initially released in English in 2009, it won the 2018 Thornton Wilder Prize for Translation. Bill Porter, who goes by Red Pine for his translation work, spoke with about 20 hermits, male and female, in order to write this book. Road to Heaven explores both the lifestyles of these hermits as well as the religious philosophies which lead them to their lifestyles. It also delves into how the Cultural Revolution caused irreparable damage to the ways of these Taoist monks.