Friday, June 22, 2012

Book Review: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Note: I bought this book myself using my Audible.com subscription. At this rate, they should be sponsoring my blog, but they currently are not. If you click on the link to try a free sample audiobook, you will be helping RadioLab, one of my favorite podcasts ever. Some of the links below are Amazon affiliate links, if you would like to help support the blog.



About a month ago, I was attending a conference with a work friend. We were both reading on the way. My friend was reading Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail and said she really liked it. My book wasn't as good, so I was jealous. Later, when Oprah made it the first book in her new book club, I was reminded of it and decided to try it when I had an Audible credit.

The plot of the book is simple enough, and reminiscent of Private Benjamin: Woman finds herself at rock bottom and decides to radically change her life by doing something difficult. Difficult thing turns out to be much harder than expected, and she is much less prepared than she thought. Enlightenment comes through challenges.

The book is fascinating, especially the first half, because Strayed describes hiking The Pacific Coast Trail, a wild and scenic wilderness hiking trail.  She has to carry everything she needs in a backpack she nicknames Monster, with a few supplements from boxes she packed to be mailed to her at wilderness outposts along the trail.  She has never backpacked even one day before, never even tried to lift her backpack fully packed, and she makes some spectacular errors along the way.  She didn't pack the right things, and packed things she didn't need. When she lightens her load, sometimes she leaves behind things (an ice axe, a dromedary water bottle) that she later needs.  She is always desperately short on money.  At times I got angry with her, which was totally irrational, wondering why she wouldn't hang on to the water bottle, which couldn't have weighed much, just in case.

That's the whole point, though. She feels stupid about her mistakes until she realizes that if she had waited to be able to do the trip "right," she might never have done it. As a reader feeling superior to her because I wouldn't have made those mistakes, I realized that I also have never done what she did.

There are a few flaws in the book. I got tired of what seemed like endless mentions of Snapple Lemonade.  I  cursed the editor who let her use the word "pudenda" in the book, a word for a midwife, maybe, but not a normal person.  I wondered why she had to always call her butt her "rump," which seems more suitable for horses than humans. There were times when the powerful emotions the book described gave way to drama and sentimentality.  The biggest flaw, for me, was that Strayed ignored what seemed like a major insight she had about her dealings with men. She says that as a woman traveling alone, she needed to change how she interacted with men:
Being one of the guys meant I could not go on being the woman I'd become expert at being around men. . . The one I'd banked on all through high school, starving myself thin, playing cute and dumb so I'd be popular and loved... The one for whom behind every hot pair of boots or sexy little skirt or flourish of the hair there was a trapdoor that led to the least true version of me.
Despite this seemingly important realization, she seems boy crazy throughout most of the hike, especially the second half.  Every good-looking guy (and most on the trail were going to be fit, if hairy and dirty) seemed to leave her dropping right through that trapdoor to her giggly girl self. She admits to a sort of addiction to male attention, and though it seemed like that hiking alone for so many miles might have changed that, she still seemed to define herself by her relationships in a way that was a little disappointing. I didn't see her change in the way I thought an adventure like that must have changed someone.

Again, though, it's easy for me to sit on the sidelines and criticize how I might have written the book differently, just as I think I might have approached the hike differently. My beliefs about what I would do don't mean much unless I pick up the pack or the pen myself.

The truth is, I could not put this book down.  I made excuses to go for drives or walks or clean my house because I don't like to just sit and listen to audiobooks.  I found the story compelling and loved reading about the author's experiences. I sought out YouTube videos and photos that showed her trip so I could imagine it better. Even with the flaws I mention, I highly recommend this book.

1 comment:

  1. I always love your reviews. We read very different things, but I appreciate seeing what you thought about your books. I put a book collection up on my side bar this week. I put a link to your book reviews (I clicked on your 'book' label and used that for the link). Hope that was okay.

    ReplyDelete

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