Full disclosure: I did not buy this book. Because I would never buy this book. I mean it. I was quite judgmental about this book when it came out. I didn’t need to read a book about a woman who went out in nature to find herself. I already read Eat, Pray, Love and frankly, would prefer my journey of self-awakening to take place, at least partially, in Italy. Then, the movie came out. Which I didn’t watch. Because I didn’t need to watch a movie about Reese Witherspoon finding herself. I had Legally Blonde. Also, the movie version wouldn’t fit into Daniel’s and my narrow category of movies we watch: action comedies, some classics, The King’s Speech, and romantic comedies made between 1989 and 2003.
I would never have read this book; I couldn’t read this book. Not after all the judging I did in my brain when I saw it. It would have been hypocritical for me. But, then my friend Kathryn bought it for me for my birthday. And she reassured me that while she judged the book too, it was actually incredible. And if Kathryn says a book is incredible and then buys it for me…. I could always read two chapters and stop. Kathryn lives all the way in Germany, so there isn’t much she can do about it.
Except once I got going, I didn’t want to read only two chapters and stop. I wanted to read all the chapters as fast as I could. Because here’s the thing about this book about a woman who goes into the wild to find herself, it’s really good. Bravo Cheryl Strayed, bravo.
Strayed is a fantastic writer. I say that I will read anything as long as it’s well written and here we are, proving that right. Wild is a memoir about the summer Strayed hiked the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave desert to the border of Oregon and California. Her narrative is full of hiking things: tents, boots, toenails falling off, weather. But, it’s also full of her life and how she got to the trail. The book is honest and brave. She writes of her mother’s death, her stages of grief, how her marriage fell apart. None of this is to elicit pity from the reader, but simply to explain. I don’t think I’ve read descriptions of grief as finely wrought as this. You really feel with Strayed. And by feeling her downfalls, you feel her triumphs all the more.
Another thing I liked about the book was how honestly she wrote of the hiking itself. First of all, she is incredibly unprepared for her undertaking, which I know I would be. She doesn’t shy away from explaining what happens to her body in the process, how she deals with her period or how the pack rubs weird callouses onto her hips. She discusses all the nice people she met on the trail and the few not nice ones. Strayed wasn’t in the wilderness for her entire hike. She hiked into small towns and outposts to collect boxes of supplies she mailed to herself. I found this endearing. Her having to stop to rest and restock helped me remember she is a regular human and not a super human. This made her accomplish all the more impressive. She’s not Bear Grylls out there filtering her urine and frying up worms. She’s a normal human who needs normal human things. While hiking, she daydreams of Snapple lemonade and drives herself crazy with her thoughts. She talks of the difficulty of hiking, the boredom, the pure amazement you feel knowing you can push your body like that. She weaves her stories of her past through the hiking narrative so that you never get tired of the trail.
I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone. Hiker or no hiker. I am no hiker and enjoyed it immensely because it’s fantastic and anyone can enjoy anything that’s fantastic. So I think we all learned a couple of things here: you really ought not judge a book by it’s cover and Kathryn rules.