Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

Posted 20 January, 2015 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 32 Comments

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tiny beautiful things

Title: Tiny Beautiful Things
Author: Cheryl Strayed
Published: 2012; Pages: 353
Genre: Advice/Memoir/Self-Help
Rating: And then my heart burst with all the feels

On Amazon | On Indiebound | On Goodreads | On Audible

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?

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32 Responses to “Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed”

  1. I haven’t read anything by Cheryl Strayed, mostly because they don’t call out to me. But this one sounds like a gem. I love reading “Dear …” columns, and some columns are obviously better than others. Strayed’s messages sound very eloquent, so I’ll probably enjoy this one a lot.

  2. I never picked this one up for the same reason you originally didn’t….I’m not into self-help books and find them kind of tiresome. But, after reading so many reviews that swear it doesn’t feel like a self-help book, I’ve now added it to my TBR list! I might save it for 2015 Nonfiction November.

  3. I agree with Sarah, in that what originally turned me off (not into self-help) has faded. I loved Wild, so possibly the only thing holding me back is lack of time…

  4. I go back and forth on this one, obviously I haven’t read it, but I tire of self-help columns (“Dear Whoever”) but YOU keep loving it so much that I am tempted (to add it to my list.)

  5. You are so right, Trish. Tiny Beautiful Things is such a fantastic book that just resonates with readers. It’s not the letters, but Strayed’s responses. She’s loving, honest, and doesn’t judge. It’s as if she knows the letter’s writers, but she doesn’t.

  6. Meg

    I listened to this one on audio a few weeks (months?) ago, mostly because I fell in love with Wild (the book — still need to see the film) and wanted more from Strayed. I found it eloquent and gut-wrenching, beautiful and tough. There were times I could not continue because the relentless vulnerability was hard to hear. But her responses were so thoughtful and often unexpected — I couldn’t help but think about how I would respond to the questions! And my answers would not have been anywhere near as beautiful, that’s for sure.

  7. Your rating is exactly the way I feel every time I think about this book. I punch right in the feelings! But it was a beautiful thing to read and then to convince everyone around me to read it with some tissues next. I should’ve thought of keeping chocolate near by, like you did!

  8. I enjoyed Tiny Beautiful Things more than Wild because it was so different and surprising. You make a good point that some topics will probably have more resonance depending on what you are going through in life at that particular moment.

  9. I can’t say this one appeals to me even after your glowing review. I can, however, agree that some books hit the right note at the right time and are worth exploring even if they may not be a genre you typically read.

  10. I honestly have no idea why I haven’t bought this book yet. It’s one I *know* I’ll love. Ana and Chris have both told me so. And now you’re in love too…so yeah, I can’t go wrong. I did hint to Rich that it would make a good birthday gift (if actually sitting down and making a physical list of things I’d like counts as as “hinting” :P ).

  11. I have it but haven’t started it yet. I have one long book to read after the book I’m currently reading so I’ll try to start it to break up my long book.

  12. I don’t know if you ever listen to podcasts, but Dear Sugar is one now. With Cheryl Strayed and Steven Almond. I’ve only listened to one so far, but it was basically the same format as the column. Just with, you know, voices and stuff.

  13. I was pushed back against this book for so long, but I’m so glad I finally gave in. I definitely agree it’s not for everyone, but I do think most people will find something in many of the pieces that resonate with them (and some of us will just sob through everything every time week pick it up).

  14. I’ve never read a self-help book, I think mostly out of pride. As you said: honky. But I joined Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge and one of the rules is to read one self-help book. I’ve been looking for a good one ever since. I’m leaning more towards business advice and so-forth, but if the idea of the challenge is to get me out of your comfort zone, a book like this would do much better.

  15. I am going to move past my intense loathing of Wild and read this book this year. Mostly because you all just won’t shut up about it. ;-)

  16. I’m right in the middle of this one right now. I’m completely carried away by the honesty she uses about herself in these columns. By letting herself be so vulnerable even her harshest advice has a tender feel. I’m glad you mentioned that you shouldn’t try to plow through them quickly. I’m trying to just listen (I have an audio version) to a few at a time. I do think they have a bigger impact that way and they are pretty intense.

  17. I bought this one shortly after finishing Wild, but it’s lingered on my shelves now for over 2 years. I know it’s one I’ll love, so I’m not sure why I’m waiting. I didn’t even read the passages you included, since I want to read them in the context of the book. I haven’t read any nonfiction this month, so as soon as I finish my current book (The Girl on the Train), I’ll grab Tiny Beautiful Things. Thanks for the nudge! :)

  18. Sounds like one that might be perfect for my nightstand where I keep books that I can read in small bits and might not even pick up for days.

  19. After seeing Wild, I’m super interest in Cheryl Strayed. I love books like this and the quotes that you shared are awesome. I’ll definitely be keeping my eye out for this book.

    Thanks for the review.