Wild – Cheryl Strayed

Posted 16 August, 2012 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 26 Comments

Tags: , ,

Title: Wild
Author: Cheryl Strayed
Published: 2012;  Pages: 331
Genre: Memoir
Rating: 4/5

In Short: After the heartbreaking loss of her mother, twenty-something Cheryl sells/stores all of her worldly possessions and sets off to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from Southern California to the Oregon border.

Why I read it: Book club at A Real Bookstore. I wasn’t at the meeting when the book was picked and hadn’t heard anything about it before starting it.

Thoughts in General: I’ll be upfront that I’m a bit on the defensive about this book (see more under “Bottom Line”). I’m a sucker for memoirs, so I found myself quickly absorbed into Strayed’s heartache and grieving and then her healing and growth. Strayed writes with an honest and candid voice, but the writing isn’t necessarily as straight forward as one might find in some memoirs—it is lyrical and descriptive. I was always hungry for more of the writing and couldn’t wait to get back to the book after putting it down.

In Wild Strayed moves back and forth between past and present as she grapples with the choices she has made and where she wants to go with her future. At times I was bothered by some of the decisions that Strayed makes—both on the trail and before the trail—heroin addition, promiscuity, and other means of self-destruction, but I tried to keep in mind that Strayed is so young and ultimately learning from her past and mistakes. The others in my book group did not see this and often even wondered at the validity of the entire book—like another Million Little Pieces. I’d be so devastated if I found out there was anything less than truthful about Wild as I cheered Strayed on every step of the way.

But besides the memoir, finding oneself, love and hugs, blah blah, I loved the outdoorsy hiking kickass part of Wild. Yes Strayed complained about her toenails a lot and was wildly unprepared for her journey (remember that she’s young?), but to hike a thousand miles and so much of it alone simply amazed me. I feared for her and rallied for her, I cheered her on, and wanted to cry when she cried. I felt like I was on the journey with her and it made me want to take a journey as well. I can’t imagine the courage that Strayed had embarking on this journey. This alone was worth the read for me.

Sample of the writing:

“I took one step and then another, moving along at barely more than a crawl. I hadn’t thought that hiking the PCT would be easy. I’d known it would take some getting adjusted. But now that I was out here, I was less sure I would adjust. Hiking the PCT was different than I’d imagined. I was different than I imagined. I couldn’t even remember what it was I’d imagined six months ago, back in December, when I’d first decided to do this” (51). 

“Alone had always felt like an actual place to me, as if it weren’t a state of being, but rather a room where I could retreat to be who I really was. The radical aloneness of the PCT had altered that sense. Alone wasn’t a room anymore, but the whole wide world, and now I was alone in that work, occupying it in a way I never had before. Living at large like this, without even a roof over my head, made the world feel both bigger and smaller to me. Until now, I hadn’t truly understood the world’s vastness—hadn’t even understood how vast a mile could be—until each mile was beheld at walking speed” (119).

Bottom Line: I read Wild before the hype—both positive and negative—so I read with an absolutely clean slate. I admit that I was shocked when I met with my book club and they all disliked the book and felt that Strayed was using a platform to whine. I’ve still been recommending this book but it feels as though the negative is outweighing the positive and I’ve become a bit leery. Bottom Bottom Line—I enjoyed it and hope that you do as well.

Have you read this one? Are you planning to? Also curious of your thoughts on Reese Witherspoon playing Cheryl in the movie. To me it changes the whole dynamics but that’s possibly another post for another day.

26 Responses to “Wild – Cheryl Strayed”

  1. I, too, enjoyed the book. Can’t quite wrap my head around the negatives either. The movie on the other hand …. movies sometimes ruin the book experience and I feel that would be the case here.

  2. I read this book over the summer and absolutely loved it, for a lot of the same reasons you did. I haven’t started hearing the negative feedback yet, but I can’t say I’m surprise–people did the same thing when ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ became so popular a few years ago. It’s like it’s not okay for a woman to write a personal, reflective memoir that involves her (gasp) feelings! She never said she was trying to bring out world peace here, folks, she’s writing a memoir. If you’re not interested in her emotional journey, put the book down and read something else, but other people will be and there’s an audience for this kind of book, so don’t bash on her for writing from the heart. Seriously, I get worked up about this because if a man wrote the same kind of book it would be perfectly fine, because men are allowed to go on adventures and write about their feelings. Why can’t women without being called ‘whiny’? Sheesh.

  3. I was really interested in this book when I discovered it was a memoir and then all the negativity blossomed out of nowhere and now I don’t know what to think. I’ll probably wait until things settle down before I consider it.

  4. My physical therapist has read this book and was telling me about all the negativity. We sometimes get distracted talking books, that we forget why we are together. But we quickly get back on track! Not sure if I will be reading it or not.

  5. *Sharon – I’m glad you enjoyed it. For some reason I’m really bothered by the negativity surrounding this book–maybe because I know that Cheryl is a real person with real struggles and I want to protect that for some reason? It will be interesting to see how a movie is spun from the story!

    *Beth – I’m glad you loved this one as well! During my book club meeting one of the ladies compared this to Eat, Pray, Love, but I see these books as two completely different things. And you’re right that because of the nature of the book of course she’s going to be exploring some of the negative experiences she’s had in her life. But I didn’t find her whiny (other than about her feet) and for goodness sakes she’s HIKING THE PCT!! ;) I’m with you Beth!

    *Bermuda – The negativity around this one is unfortunate–I do hope you enjoy it when you get to it.

    *Nise – Did your therapist think negatively of the book or were you just discussing some of the negative hype? I think it’s too bad because there’s a lot of positive that comes out of this book–of course there are “woe is me” moments but it’s her memoir, right? ;)

  6. I’ve been considering reading this one, even though another reviewer said she talks wayyy too much about s-x in it. I’ve decided just to give it a try and if it bothers me too much, I can always shut the book!

  7. I want to read this one and it’s usually available from the library as an e-book, but I haven’t quite figured out how to return an e-book early and I keep accepting my holds! I think I have 12 days left to finish the 50 shades trilogy!

  8. *Jenny Girl – Not into memoirs?! Gasp! I love em. ;)

    *Melissa – I hope you will like this one. I think you will but I would have never guessed at the negativity!

    *Linda – Enjoy it! There are definitely lots of things to consider while reading.

    *Jeane – There is a lot of sex talk in the book and Strayed makes a very big deal about it at times but it isn’t graphic. It’s more about her NOT having it than actually having it. I was able to look past it but my book club members were a little more annoyed.

    *Lisa – I can’t figure out how to return books either–I have that problem with audiobooks. Can you decrease the loan time?

  9. I’ve only recently discovered the joy of reading biographies, but er… a memoir is more like an autobiography? I’m not sure whether I’d like Wild (and I guess I’ve missed the hype. Has it gone international?), but perhaps, if my library stocked it, I’d give it a go.
    It must be terrible to find out that a wonderful non-fictional book you’ve read turned out to be mostly fictional :(

  10. I’ve been on the fence about this one – probably because I’m not big on hiking myself! But I do love memoirs, and I enjoyed the passages you posted. Your review just might sway me in the to-read direction.

  11. I had the Million Little Pieces thoughts, too. While I rushed through this in a day, I ended up not liking it. Too much me, me, me. I wanted more trail stories, minus the obsessive thoughts of sex and poor orphan me.

  12. I do love that you are championing this and I did really enjoy parts. I admit, I might have been swayed to look for the negatives as expressed by a few of my admired friends but I still thought she was amazingly naive about hiking. On the other hand, yes – she hiked all those miles by herself. She didn’t give up.

  13. Yours is actually the first review or discussion of Wild I’ve seen, though I’ve noticed it in the “hot titles!” section of the library. It’s always so interesting/vaguely upsetting when we love a book others do not, and I can appreciate where you’re coming from! I have a hunch I would enjoy this one, too, and certainly hope it’s all true.

  14. I’ve had this book on my list for a while, because my aunt told me it is one of her all-time favorites. Since then, I’ve seen nothing but negative reviews. It’s great to find someone (other than my aunt) who loved it.

    I don’t think I’d be bothered by the poor decisions she made. I didn’t use heroin or sleep around when I was young, but I did my share of dumb, self-destructive stuff. I am sure I’ll be able to relate. :-)

  15. *Chinoiseries – a memoir is written in first person so yes, more like an autobiography–but usually focused on one time frame and with a creative lens (though should be truthful!!). I’m not sure if this one is international or not–it will be a movie and Oprah is endorsing it so I can see it gaining popularity.

    *Belle Wong – There is a lot of outdoorsy, feel good type stuff in this book but the hiking is secondary. Or not, I can’t decide. :) Either way I hope if you get to it you enjoy it!

    *softdrink – I really want to argue with you that this is a memoir so we should expect some “me me me” but I won’t. ;)

    *bkclubcare – I agree that it’s easy to look for the negatives when friends are pointing them out. I was really glad to have read this with an absolutely clean slate but wonder how I would have felt if I read it just a month later. And yes–absolutely 100% agree that she was terribly naive. It’s a wonder she made it at all!

    *Write Meg – I think this one has become hot because of Oprah’s taking it under her wing. But I really enjoyed the book and hope that you do, too. I can almost see the points that people are pointing out with negativity but not entirely. I think that the good outweighs the bad with this one!

    *Stephanie Ward – All time favorites, huh?! Well I hope that you enjoy it as well. I found it to be beautifully written and I do love memoirs. It almost reminded me a bit of The Glass Castle–though the subjects vary quite a bit. But one of those literary memoirs. I can see the criticism that people have about the choices that Strayed made but she was young! I definitely don’t want to make excuses for her but I think that folks are being awfully quick to judge.

  16. I enjoyed the book. One of my wild dreams is to one day hike the Appalachian Trail so I loved the idea of a solo woman hiking a similar trail. I loved the hiking stories and I liked the memoir part of it even though it went places I wasn’t expecting. I guess that stuff would happen to you though if you were spending days on a trail by yourself. You couldn’t help but think about those parts of your life and start analyzing things. So, if Strayed left those things out, her memoir wouldn’t exactly be truthful, would it?

  17. As it turns out, I liked this book even more than you did without actually liking Cheryl’s behaviors! :) That speaks volumes for her writing (I think)! Also, I didn’t consider this a whiny book at all like your book club did. I was intrigued and eager to hear more every day!

    • Joy – It’s interesting how time affects your perspective of a book. I’d count this as one of my favorite books of the year and absolutely agree with you that the writing was quite strong and for me carried me through the book. I loved her style and would pick up another book by her again. I’m glad that you didn’t find her whiny–my book club STILL gives me grief over it all these months later. ;) I’m the baby of the group so they love to tease me…

  18. I admired her determination, too. Certainly hope that people won’t follow her example because she really did make terrible decisions. I’m inclined not to excuse her ignorance on her age, but I recognize growing up with backcountry hikers as parents have given me a leg up she did not have.

  19. Rae

    I love reading a book and then coming to your blog and searching for your review on it. :) I’m on a bit of a Cheryl kick right now. As you know, read and loved TBT. I finished Wild earlier this week in tears. I. LOVED. IT. Watched the movie that night and enjoyed it. But the book is just so much more. More about her life. More experiences on the PCT. More relationships with folks on the PCT. And more alone time. I don’t blame you for your defensive feelings. I feel the need to protect anyone saying anything negative about Cheryl. I want to be her friend!

    • We must be on the same wavelength Rach. I watched Wild on Wednesday night and liked it but it had me aching for the book–I loved it so much. There was just so much raw emotion…and I love how she translated that raw emotion to the advice she gives in TBT. So glad you loved this one! :)