Saturday, July 27, 2013

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

I started reading Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail for my family reunion book club (yes, my family is enthusiastic about having a book club at our family reunion...I'm so lucky), but after I'd gotten partway through it, we decided to change books. I finished it anyway, and I'm mostly glad I did...

Here's a brief synopsis, for those who may not have heard of it (written by yours truly):

Wild is Cheryl Strayed's memoir of her hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. After her mother's death, a difficult divorce, a seriously messed-up relationship, a stint with heroin, and her life basically falling into a million pieces, Strayed decides on a whim that she's going to hike the Pacific Crest Trail and find herself. So she hikes it, thinking she's prepared, although she most thoroughly is not. She gets into numerous scrapes, meets some nice and interesting people along the way, acts stupid, and manages to come out of it alive.

Okay. I realize that that was very sarcastic. I hope you enjoyed it.

I have a love/hate relationship with books like this. They seem to be extremely popular these days. You know the kind of book I'm talking about: Woman has crappy life, realizes she has some serious issues, and decides to solve those issues by doing something really random and crazy.

You can probably tell from that brief description the "hate" part of my relationship with these books, but I also love them, in a weird way. I love them because we all have issues, we all make bad decisions, and we all find ourselves at a fork in the road where we need to decide whether we want to stay home, keep on keepin' on, and try to patch up our lives. Or...we can take the other road. We can do something daring and crazy. It could lead us to danger and even death...or it could lead us to a better life. The life we've always wanted, which we know we won't ever get if we keep living the way we're living.

Sometimes, these kinds of memoirs are done really well. I loved Eat, Pray, Love. But there was a difference between Eat, Pray, Love and Wild, and that was that in Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir, she actually made good plans, acted smart, spent her money and time wisely, and knew what she was doing. She might have made some unfortunate mistakes before starting out, but you could hardly blame her. Cheryl Strayed, on the other hand, is so unbelievably reckless and stupid that it was almost impossible for me to like her.

A list of just a few of the stupid things she did:

  • She was horribly under-prepared to even start her hike. She didn't train at all. She didn't even try to fit everything in her backpack before she actually got to the trail. I'm not an experienced hiker by any means, but even to me, this seemed so awfully stupid. 
  • She had no idea what she was getting into. No. Idea. She read one single book about the trail (which she apparently didn't read carefully enough, since she discovered things in it later that she couldn't remember), talked to a few people at REI, and that was that. 
  • She had very little money to spend, and she always spent it recklessly. Okay, I can understand that after eating trail food for several days, a hamburger and fries is going to sound insanely delicious. But she didn't even try to hold back. She didn't even have an inner debate about it. And then she was always so sad when she was down to sixty cents. 
  • Possibly the most annoying of all: She was so disgustingly obsessed with sex. She thought about having sex with literally every man she met. It was just gross. I know that not everyone is as goody-two-shoes as I am, but seriously? She brought like, 15 condoms. Yes, she was actually expecting to sleep with at least one (or fifteen!) total strangers while on a journey of self-discovery. Blech. 
The last point brings me to the main thing I didn't like about this book: Strayed was supposed to be on a journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance, but it just didn't seem like she was willing to go the distance. She figured that if she put herself on a difficult hike, everything would just resolve itself. 

But then, there was some remarkable self-discovery that happened in this book, whether it actually happened on Strayed's hike like she said it did, or it happened years later while Strayed was writing the book. And it was lovely. It honestly was. Strayed was able to come to terms with herself and learn to deal with her problems instead of dismissing them. And I was genuinely happy to learn that she had made something of her life after her big adventure. 

Would I recommend this book to friends? Probably not, if for the sole reason that there was a lot of language and some sexual content. But if the pretense sounds interesting to you and you're okay with all the things I've mentioned, you might enjoy it. 


  1. I'm not a huge fan of "change your life" books, whether its about others changing their own lives, or someone telling me to change mine. So yeah... you've confirmed my decision not to read this.

    1. There are definitely a lot of disappointments out there in the "change your life" category. I keep reading them, but it's just personal taste. Mostly, they just confirm to me that nobody's life is going to be changed unless THEY want to change it.