Blame it on the Christmas season, my weakness for mulled wine, or the quarter-long tutorial I did on Charles Dickens, but I get a bit sentimental this time of year. Most, if not all, of us at Girl Friday got into the book business because we believe that books change lives. Not all books, of course (I’ve worked on a few fart books from which I can’t quite take away much value), but many of them, even if they just help one person decide to live their life differently or see their situation from a new perspective. Most of the time, editors and writers—particularly freelancers—work behind the scenes, and by the time a book they’ve toiled over reaches the public, they’re long out of the picture. They don’t get to see the impact a book makes. Recently, I was fortunate to see a book all the way through to publication, and to directly interact with the readers whose lives it touched. The whole story feels like a testimonial to the book business, so I’ll start at the beginning.
The book is The Wild Truth, by Carine McCandless, but the story begins in 1996 with the publication of Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild. In writing about Carine’s brother, Christopher McCandless’s, search for truth and meaning, Krakauer inspired millions of readers around the world to live their lives fully and honestly. Chris gave away all of his money and cut contact with family and friends in an effort to live authentically, though he ultimately died in an abandoned bus in the Alaska wilderness. His story ended tragically, but Chris’s intentions were pure, and his actions were bold. It was the deeply affected readers of Into the Wild who then inspired Carine to write her book, though it took her nearly two decades to do so. She loved that Chris’s example moved so many people, but she also recognized that they didn’t know the whole story. There was an even deeper layer to their family’s history, but she had asked Krakauer not to write about it. She knew that telling the whole truth would have a profound impact. And the truth is that the household that Chris and Carine grew up in was tumultuous, violent, manipulative, and deeply dishonest.
The Wild Truth has a message that is particularly relevant and freeing for anyone who has experienced domestic violence. Carine often speaks openly about her past at high schools and colleges whose students have been assigned Into the Wild as required reading or have just seen the film that was released in 2007. At the end of each presentation, there is always one student who stays behind after everyone else has left. Carine lets him take his time to say what he needs to say, which is usually along the lines of, “This is happening in my household, too.”
When Carine came to Seattle and spoke to a packed town hall as part of her book tour, I saw firsthand how people were affected by her book. Half of the people who asked questions after her reading or who waited in line to have their book signed began by saying, “My upbringing was like yours, and I just wanted to thank you for sharing your story.” Many had tears in their eyes, and some openly cried. One television personality told Carine that reading The Wild Truth is what motivated her to go public about her own abusive upbringing.
I’ve never in my career seen such raw and emotional outpouring for a book, and it would be disingenuous to say that it didn’t make me incredibly proud. But the book is only the first step. Girl Friday hosted a fund-raiser with Carine in honor of New Beginnings, a nonprofit that helps survivors of domestic violence. Because once that student has read Carine’s book and feels ready to talk about what he’s going through, he needs somewhere to go, and someone to help.
Despite what it might sound like, I’m not saying, “Hey, everyone, give to New Beginnings!” (Though it would be cool if you did.) But when it comes time to do your holiday giving this year, think about a book that has affected you, and give to a cause that will take its message beyond the page.