I typically don’t get around to reading new or bestselling books until they’ve been out for a while and fairly well covered by the blogophere. I used to try to make reviews part of our content, but unless the book is topical to what we normally cover, I always figure you probably won’t be interested. My reads are kind of all over the place sometimes and there is absolutely no rhyme or reason to my choices.
A few months back, I read Chrissy’s review of Wild, by Cheryl Strayed. I’d seen the book pop up in a few places, but after reading her review (she has great taste) I added it to my list to read this summer.
For me, Strayed’s Wild is cut from a mold somewhat similar to that of Into the Wild and Eat Pray Love. There is a cataclysmic event that prompts and extreme reaction, subsequently in all cases, a departure.
For Strayed, the death of her mother and unexpected disintegration of her family and marriage prompted a lapse into careless sex and drugs. After hitting somewhat of a bottom, she decides to start hit the reset button with a 1,100 mile solo backpacking trip on the Pacific Coast Trail. For those of you unfamiliar with the trail, it starts at the US Border with Mexico and runs all the way to Canada, criss-crossing the Cascades and the Sierra Nevada mountains. It’s a hike few are privileged to complete, as it takes several months.
As Chrissy mentions in her review, Strayed’s inexperience in making the decision to not only hike the trail alone but pack and prepare in ways that can only be described as “inadequate’ and “precarious” both helps and hurts her. For example, the painful physical consequences of packing too much and wearing ill-fitting shoes actually serve to aid the healing process of both her mother’s death and divorce from her husband through distraction. And while her inexperience with hiking and backpacking puts her in a lot of risky and flat-out dangerous situations, it also enables her to seek out and meet people who change her life. Had she been more independently capable, she might have overlooked them.
As I did in Eat Pray Love with Elizabeth Gilbert, I found myself going back and forth with how I felt about Cheryl. There were times she absolutely frustrated me and I found myself wanting to quit the book, but as the pages turned, I grew to respect and admire her, probably more so than I was able to with Gilbert. Strayed is brutally honest in her writing, both about her experiences on the trail and in the events leading up to her hike.
Without giving too much more away, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. It was a little slow (and very sad) leading up to her hike, but her beautiful memories of her mother, her experiences on the trail and the people she meets along the way are a worthwhile reward. I finished it in a day and spent a few hours watching interviews and catching up on her life after she finished the hike.
It feels so good to be reading more regularly and finishing books in less than 3 months. Since changing jobs and working at home, I’ve been able to kind of structure my own day, leaving me with more free time and a lack of coworkers “in-house” that erases any apprehension I used to have about taking random reading breaks between project work.
A few things I came across after reading Wild:
- TEDxConcordiaUPortland – Radical Sincerity
- Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association – Interview
- Pacific Crest Trail Thru Hike – What’s in my pack
Read any good books lately?
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Whew! So glad you liked it. I’m always a little nervous when recommending things, because I would hate for someone to have a bad reading experience because of me!
You do bring up a good point about memoir, though – how hard it can be to get into a book, no matter how well written, if you don’t like the voice of the author, or the way she acts/the decisions she makes. It’s harder in this case, I think, because Strayed is writing about a difficult time in her life, bad choices she made, and getting frustrated with her is easy to do, especially from our distance. But I’m glad you stuck with it, and that the Cheryl at the end of the book is someone you ended up liking. I felt the same way. 🙂
I’ve gone back and forth on deciding to read this. So far I will likely stay away from it. I thru-hiked the AT and Florida Trail in 2010 and 2011 and dream of one day doing the PCT and CDT but I almost feel like her book is going to be what A Walk In The Woods is to the AT. And for some reason I’m also bothered by the fact she didn’t finish her hike, but that’s just my bias.
I think she did the hike in the 90s, right? backpacking equipment has come a long way since then, so even experienced hikers then would not have had the light-weight items that are available today. I’m actually surprised she didn’t end up on the AT instead of the PCT since the PCT was definitely not nearly as well known then as it is now.
I think she mentioned she chose her stopping point because she planned in settling in Oregon after. I think her bypassing a good portion bothered me most, not the overall distance. I understand the snow, and that at some points it would be inevitable that weather would force her to bypass, however I just can’t get past some of the unnecessary time away from the trail.
Equipment definitely has come a long way and it would be interesting to do a side by side of her pack then vs what she could assemble now, just by shopping with REI. She definitely brought some stuff she didn’t need though, and that would have easily made her load a lot lighter.