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Wild, Cheryl Strayed (2012)

Even with all the buzz surrounding this book, I wasn’t planning on reading it.  I had no particular reason.  I usually do like memoirs and nonfiction, but Wild didn’t make it on my “To Read” list.  Then I learned that Cheryl Strayed will be a keynote speaker at next month’s Pennsylvania Conference for Women , and decided it would be a shame to hear her speak without having read her book. So I picked it up. And read it in about 3 days.

This is the summary from Strayed’s own website:

A powerful, blazingly honest memoir: the story of an eleven-hundred-mile solo hike that broke down a young woman reeling from catastrophe—and built her back up again. At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she’d lost everything when her mother died young of cancer. Her family scattered in their grief, her marriage was soon destroyed, and slowly her life spun out of control. Four years after her mother’s death, with nothing more to lose, Strayed made the most impulsive decision of her life: to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—and to do it alone. She had no experience as a long-distance hiker–indeed, she’d never gone backpacking before her first night on the trail. Her trek was little more than “an idea, vague and outlandish and full of promise.” But it was a promise of piecing back together a life that had come undone. Strayed faces down rattlesnakes and black bears, intense heat and record snowfalls, and both the beauty and intense loneliness of the trail. Told with great suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild vividly captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.

Oprah is OBSESSED with this book.  She picked it as the kickoff novel for her 2.0 book club.  While the novel itself truly does live up to the hype, the only ebook version you can get right now is the Oprah book club version, which includes thoughtful book club questions, as well as footnotes containing Oprah’s VAPID and USELESS feedback.  There weren’t too many of Oprah’s notes, but the content was of those notes was so meaningless that it infuriated me.  Most of her notes were to the effect of “Isn’t that passage just amazing?” I could have just quit reading them, but then I would have felt like I was skipping over parts of the book, so I stupidly read all those stupid little Oprah notes.  (I like Oprah just fine. I do NOT, however, like my book to be interrupted with trite additions.)

This is a book you can really sink your teeth into.  Although my praise does not reach Oprah’s manic level, I can certainly see why she and so many others love Wild so much.  Although I have not faced the struggles and heartbreak Strayed was carrying when she set out on the trail, her journey was immensely relatable.  I saw many parallels between her hike and my marathon training (some 7 years ago) in her struggle to just keep putting one foot in front of another, and losing toenail after toenail, and the progression from “there’s no way I can finish this” to “wow, I’m really doing this,” to “I am going to FINISH this if it kills me.”  Danger and uncertainty are not uncommon on the Pacific Crest Trail, and Strayed kept a cool head and a logical approach throughout her entire trek.  Strayed does not wallow, nor does she wax sickeningly optimistic.  She takes things as they come, and tackles hurdle after hurdle. 

Strayed is also a skillful writer.  Her prose was beautiful and flowing, the novel a delight to read, not only for the plot but also for the language.

Strayed inspires me to go do big things.  I’m certainly not a hiker, but now I want to lace up and tackle some mountains.  Or maybe start a nonprofit project that CHANGES THE WORLD.  Or write a novel that alters the landscape of literature as we know it.  Whatever the harebrained project, Strayed has inspired me that with a whole lot of elbow grease and a little bit of luck, I can make it happen.


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