Author: Cheryl Strayed
Published: 2012; Pages: 331
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.