Author Gary Paulsen of award winning novels and wildlife books such as Hatchet, Brian’s Winter, and the Tucket Adventures, wrote a sort of autobiography titled Guts. Guts was meant, according to Paulsen, to convey the true stories that inspired Hatchet and the entire Brian series. The closing paragraph of the foreword best iterates Paulsen’s intent, “So much of what I did as a boy came to be part of Brian – all of it, in some ways. I hope that Guts satisfies those readers who want to more about Brian and my life.”
The book is speckled with insight on survival in both the wilderness and in life but really uses these as lead-ins to amazing true stories from Paulsen’s life. Arranged in six chapters covering the type of event, Guts has an excellent flow from story to story.
Chapter 1 – Heart Attacks, Plane Crashes, and Flying
Stories in this chapter are, in my opinion, some of the most graphic in the entire book as well as the most memorable. These cover Paulsen’s encounters with death first hand when he sees people die from heart attacks as a volunteer paramedic to a gruesome plane crash in the Pacific. It ends, however, on an up note about his dream to fly and how he passed it up. Really sends a good message aside from the vivid details.
Chapter 2 – Moose Attacks
Surprisingly, this entire chapter is filled with just that: moose attacks. Each encounter and how Paulsen evolved his understanding, or lack thereof, of the moose. Included in this chapter are some fantastic tales from his days of racing the Iditarod.
Chapter 3 – Things That Hurt
Yes, yes they do. Main topics in this chapter are the less obvious “things that hurt”: mosquitoes, deerflies, and malnutrition. Paulsen creates painfully vibrant images of how these three nemeses can break a man down instantly. I caught myself, even, with an upturned nose and odd tasting saliva when I read of mosquitoes attacking a man as they did him.
Chapter 4 – Killing to Live: Hunting and Fishing with Primitive Weapons
This chapter really starts to hit on Paulsen’s life as a child growing up quite neglected and fending for himself… literally. Paulsen created an entire bow and arrow arsenal with less than three dollars using scraps as much as possible. Better yet, this tale speaks to the human spirit and what a person can accomplish with determination. This is truly great chapter in the inspirational department.
Chapter 5 – Eating Eyeballs and Guts or Starving: The Fine Art of Wilderness Nutrition
Paulsen heads back to the ghastly details of living in the bush in this chapter. The tales here really touch on what it means to have nothing and still survive. Furthermore, readers get a sense of people that have stretched beyond their normal limitations and survived. This chapter, most of all, speaks to intestinal fortitude.
Chapter 6 – The Joy of Cooking
Paulsen ends on more of an upbeat note as he describes, in detail no less, exactly how he cooks in the wilderness. From the type of wood to use to pots and fat dressing, Paulsen hits ideas that the reader feels like they should’ve asked for ages ago had they not been distracted by the eating of squirrel organs (see chapter 5).
Overall this book is fantastic. Any reader of the Brian series, or even just Hatchet, would enjoy giving this a run for its money. The book is also a smooth read and at 148 pages is a quick read that leaves you feeling just as satisfied as if you read all of Hatchet again.
Guts. Gary Paulsen. Scholastic Inc., New York. 2001.