Jack London, and writing what you know

Just read a review in the Wall Street Journal of a new biography of Jack London. I’m sure many, perhaps even most, of us have read at least one Jack London novel or short story. Call of the Wild is a fabulous book and one that I first read as a kid about the age of ten. And his short story To Build A Fire is unforgettable.

I knew a bit about London already — that he had spent a lot of time in California (and lived and died in Sonoma County), had travelled a lot in the Yukon, and had worked as a journalist before achieving fame as a writer, especially with Call of the Wild in 1903.

Until reading this review, however, I didn’t fully appreciate his amazing life and all the adventures he experienced. It’s pretty clear from reading his work that he knew — and knew intimately — life in the wild and especially life in the Yukon. He obviously wrote what he knew. The most incredible thing to me after learning more about him is that he managed to live as long as he did, even though he died young at the age of 40.

This inspired me to re-read To Build A Fire  from the World of Jack London website. The tension builds from the very first sentence: “Day had broken cold and gray, exceedingly cold and gray, when the man turned aside from the main Yukon trail and climbed the high earth-bank, where a dim and little-travelled trail led eastward through the fat spruce timberland.”

The man is never named. Keeping him anonymous seemed to add even more to the tension, perhaps because it helps pull the reader into the story and even imagine being that man. And the way London describes the setting and the man’s actions and fate was brilliant.

What is your favorite Jack London work? (I’d create this as a poll but haven’t quite figured out how to do that yet in WP.)

  • Call of the Wild
  • White Fang
  • To Build a Fire
  • Other:
  • Never read him


Filed under On Writing

2 responses to “Jack London, and writing what you know

  1. “To Build a Fire,” definitely.

    That new bio sounds like something my brother my like for Christmas.

  2. Call of the Wild …and White Fang. I can’t choose!

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