It seems like everyone in the Flavorpill office (and quite a few of our friends outside of it) is reading Cheryl Strayed’s recently released memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, a quick-paced, unputdownable story about grief, self-actualization, and a 26-year-old woman hiking through the wilderness for three months, all on her own. Even the people who don’t like the outdoors — or memoirs, for that matter — are loving it. So it seemed like a no-brainer to pick the book as the second installment in the official Flavorpill Book Club, where we’ll be reading and recommending great books, and opening up the conversation to all comers as any good book club should. So, here’s what you do: pick up a copy of Wild, read it, and then if you have a question for Cheryl or an insight to share with the group, leave it as a comment here or send an email to tips [at] flavorpill [dot] com. We’ll be emailing her our favorite questions at the end of the month, and featuring her responses, along with any choice bits of commentary from you guys, in a followup post.
Wild is the kind of book that people warn you about. The bookseller who hands it over and quips brightly, “have your tissues ready!” The friend who describes it in all caps in a text message. The New York Times reviewer who admits to crying openly while reading it in public. That might, depending on your constitution, either immediately endear you to the book or frighten you off a bit, but don’t give in to the latter. What it means is that this book is so honest, so cracked wide open, that you can’t help but feel irreversibly connected to this fierce, funny woman from almost the very first page, and her despair — and her joy — become yours.
Cheryl Strayed began her hike, which took her from the Mojave Desert up through California and Oregon and all the way to Washington State, to try to make some sense out of the mess her life had become following the death of her mother at age 45 from cancer. “I was living alone in a studio apartment in Minneapolis, separated from my husband and working as a waitress, as low and mixed-up as I’d ever been,” she writes. She had lost touch with the family members that remained to her. She was dabbling in semi-random sex and using heroin, fueled by acute despair and what seemed to be a kind of listless boredom. “I was intrigued,” she writes. “I was unattached. In my youth and sorrow, I was ready to self destruct.”
And she does: her time on the trail is a story of rebirth through destruction, the only way true rebirth can really happen. Not that anything so spectacular happens — although the very fact of this journey, as people point out to her over and over again, is spectacular enough. There’s the physical destruction the relatively unprepared Strayed faced, the feet ravaged by too-small boots, the growing scabs from her too-heavy pack, but that’s not the brunt of it. For Strayed, the trail tears down everything familiar and safe, stripping away every part of her old life, leaving only “radical aloneness,” a woman boiled down to her essentials, which happen in this case to be a defiant strength, a sense of humor even in grief, and a copy of Adrienne Rich’s The Dream of a Common Language.
There are a million funny moments, as you might imagine, many based on the sheer absurdity of the situations Strayed finds herself in. If you’ve ever read her column at The Rumpus, you know she writes about sex and the human condition with a particularly deft and hilarious hand. There are hard times, dire situations, and emotional trauma, but even in her most desperate moments, Strayed is a pleasure to be with, frank and relaxed and deeply human.
So if this sounds up your alley, we suggest you pick up a copy. And then let us know in the comments if you have any questions for this remarkable woman, and we’ll forward them along to her and publish her responses at the end of the month.