Title: Tiny Beautiful Things
Author: Cheryl Strayed
Published: 2012; Pages: 353
Rating: And then my heart burst with all the feels
In Short: “Advice on love and life from Dear Sugar” (Dear Sugar was an advice column on The Rumpus and was originally anonymously written by Strayed as Sugar).
Why I Read Tiny Beautiful Things: I had heard this book mentioned here and there but I didn’t really take much notice of it until Shannon of River City Reading raved during Nonfiction November last year. After listening to a brief podcast about the book I immediately bought a copy and started it as soon as I received it. Rare form for me!
Thoughts in General: Self-help books can be so hokey. Sometimes what we really need is a swift kick in the pants and that’s exactly what Strayed delivers in Tiny Beautiful Things. There are dozens of letters in the book that she answers–some seeking advice on love and sex, relationships with siblings and parents and children and friends and lovers, lost souls trying to find their way, others looking to forgive themselves and others. Some who are mourning very deep and horrific losses. Some who are just wondering WTF “as it applies to everything every day.”
Strayed takes these incredibly difficult questions and answers them with such honesty and clarity and gorgeously spun words that often my heart ached reading her responses. She talks about her own life and her own challenges (making this book as much a memoir as an advice piece) and she asks her readers to take a hard and deep look within. Sometimes we don’t want to see the answer that is staring us directly in the face, but Strayed squares us by the shoulders and locks into us that impossible gaze of honesty.
There were some articles that I could relate to more than others but in almost every article there was a nugget of truth that applied to anyone and everyone. And sometimes the letters themselves were as touching and heartwrenching as her response–there were a few that left me with tears streaming down my face. Tiny Beautiful Things is one that I will be looking to again and again and I have a feeling that with each reading I will garner something new depending on where I am in life.
But as she says in the book, if you’re going to read this one you must “let yourself be gutted. Let it open you.”
My pencil worked in overtime while reading Tiny Beautiful Things, but here are a few snippets that spoke to me:
“What’s important is that you make the leap. Jump high and hard with intention and heart. Pay no mind to the vision the commission made up. It’s up to you to make your life. Take what you have and stack it up like a tower of teetering blocks. Build your dream around that” (123).
“…all right is almost always where we eventually land, even if we fuck up entirely along the way” (129).
“Be a warrior for love” (147).
“There are so many tiny revolutions in a life, a millions ways we have to circle around ourselves to grow and change and be okay. And perhaps the body is our final frontier. It’s the one place we can’t leave. We’re there till it goes. Most women and some men spend their lives trying to alter it, hide it, prettify it, make it what it isn’t, or conceal it for what it is. But what if we didn’t do that?” (182).
“The reality is we often become our kindest, most ethical selves only by seeing what it feels like to be a selfish jackass first” (334).
“When it comes to our children, we do not have the luxury of despair. If we rise, they will rise with us every time, no matter how many times we’ve fallen before” (348).
“Be brave enough to break your own heart” (351).
Bottom Line: While I would love to shove this book into everyone’s hands, I don’t think everyone will have the same experience reading Tiny Beautiful Things. Strayed is brutally honest, is quite progressive, and uses the F word quite liberally. I can see how some of this might turn off the more timid reader. Listen to the Literary Disco podcast I linked to up above, or listen to the first Dear Sugar podcasts (recently released), or read through some of the columns on The Rumpus to get a feel. My only advice is to read it slowly–don’t try to plow through all these letters in just a few days or they might grow tiresome.
But I certainly hope you’ll take the leap. There is so much beauty in this little book.
Have you read Tiny Beautiful Things? What was the last book you read that really spoke to you?