on June 3, 2012
If I had known that every few pages I would have to see passages underlined by Oprah I would not have bought this edition. Not only does it bump me out of the narrative, but it deprives me of experiencing the book on my own; instead forcing me to think Oprah's underlines are the important parts. It makes what could otherwise be a beautiful story feel like a cheap used textbook. I should at least be able to hide the obnoxious underlining and get to experience the story on my own.
I love the story, and I love Oprah, but I hate having her perspective forced on me as I read. I'll never buy an Oprah digital book again.
There is a vast amount of trail literature, a type of writing that is uniquely American. I am not aware of any other book in this genre, however, that has received the public acclaim accorded to Wild, Cheryl Strayed's recent memoir of her life on and before her hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. Wild is one of the top selling books of the year and will become a classic of trail literature in the future.
But why is Wild so successful? It helps, of course, that Strayed is already a critically acclaimed author. A grant from the Oregon Arts commission to write the book certainly improved the text. Unlike many trail memoirs, this is a polished affair and clearly not composed as an afterthought to the day's work. But the main reason this book is so successful is the story of redemption it tells. Strayed's life fell apart when her mother died while she was in her early 20s. Unable to deal with the grief, she first cheated on then divorced her husband (I was unable to stop feeling bad for Paul throughout the book), took heroin, and went through some gut wrenching events while slowly trying to self destruct. But when she began to hike, her life began to change. She forced all her material concerns out of her life, helped in part by two overaged boy scouts who removed many items from her pack, and focused on the immediate activities that allowed her to survive in harsh conditions. And conditions were tough in 1995. My wife and I began hiking the trail together that same year and like Strayed, we made the decision to avoid certain sections. But Strayed perserved and by the end of the trail was a changed, more confident person. She went on to start writing, got married and had children.
People like redemption stories, and this book will remain popular for a long time to come because of how well this one is told. But I worry that this book's very popularity will prevent people from seeing the bigger picture. As one prominent long distance hiker noted to me, most hikers are not messed up when they begin a trail, nor fully healed when they end. But hiking itself, especially for long distances, does profoundly shift one's perspective on life. Almost everyone who writes about the experience feels the need to say how they are changed by the trail experience, and yet in almost every case, including this one, words do not seem adequate to describe what has happened. Strayed herself has changed, but after 250 pages of reflection on how miserable her life was before the trail, a few pages on how nice forgiveness (of oneself) and settling down in life after the trail seem almost like magic. Strayed has substituted listing the differences in her pre and post trail life for explaining them.
But it is not magic. Trail life is a form of modern mystical discipline. Hikers do not have words to adequately express how their lives are transformed because our society, with its focus on material wealth and abundance, lacks the language necessary to convey the experience. Nevertheless, mysticism is a common, albeit minority experience in the human condition. It changes perspective and leads to balance and peace. Strayed's book details how dramatic the change was to her life, but truly, this sort of experience is available to anyone. You don't need to divorce your husband, shoot heroin, or try to self destruct first. All you need to do is lace up your boots and go.
on August 9, 2012
I had mixed reactions to this book.
As a disclaimer, I would like to point out that I am not in the target audience for this book. I am 58 and male. I read the book because I am a backpacker. The book sells mostly to young, slim (probably athletic) women. Why do I make this assertion? I went to Cheryl Strayed's event and book-signing. 95% of the large audience (Ms. Strayed is a rock star) fit this target market. The other 5% probably came for the electronic, new-age musician.
If I were in the target market, if I had identified more strongly with Ms. Strayed (or her 24-year old self), I would probably have loved this book. If you can identify with Cheryl Strayed, then you may love this book.
If you cannot form this bond, you may dislike the book because of the follow reasons:
1. The language and metaphors are fairly pedestrian. I kept thinking, I have heard that analogy or phrasing in many books (often self-help books, no accident that Ms. Strayed was a self-help columnist). The author usually avoids obvious cliches, but if you reflect upon media discussions that focus on personal growth, you will recognize most of the language. For example, the author loves the adverb, "profoundly." She also uses some obvious tricks to make the writing seem compelling: sexual obscenities (not an objection for me, but more of an author tic) and exaggerating verbs -- "destroyed" for tired and "shattered" for distraught or depressed. Not terrible, but not Joan Didion or Dave Eggers.
2. Cheryl Strayed likes metaphor as the primary tool in story-telling (call it approach A). She made this comment in the event that I attended. Many authors, however, focus upon precise, sensory detail to show depth of character, point of view, voice and story development. For these authors (call this approach B), focusing upon metaphor creates overwrought story-telling. Approach B is not a law (no laws in story-telling). I, however, like approach B. If you like approach A, then read the book. To be fair, the author did use a lot of good detail, but it was not the primary driver for the story.
3. Almost all of the flashbacks to Strayed's last few years (of her drug-use, frantic-sex, relationship-destroying period) were linked to the on-the-trail narrative through metaphor. In addition to liking approach A, Strayed did not have much chance to really reflect or think about her mental or social problems on the trail. As she wrote, she was surviving -- wrestling with some incredible discomforts or worrying about some big problems (enough water or possibly woman-eating mountain lions). To weave her recent life problems into the narrative, Strayed, the writer, needed her thematic or metaphorical links. For example, coming upon a long, snowed-over section of the trail gives her an image and loose theme (snow and hardship) to write about how she had to shoot her beloved horse in the snow to euthanize the poor creature. That description would have stood better on its own; it was perhaps the most powerful mini-story in the book. It did not gain as a flashback from her trail problems. Moreover, the trail flow was broken unnecessarily by the horse story. She switched back and forth, through metaphor, repeatedly. Chopping up the PCT trail narrative this extensively diffused the trail tension. The metaphors were not strong or original enough to overcome the structural problems.
If you, however, feel a deep, powerful identification with the author, this structural point will probably not be a problem for you.
4. While focusing upon metaphor, the author avoids some obvious problems and explanations: Her pre-trail use of heroin ballooned into an almost daily habit for months. People become strongly addicted when using heroin at this frequency. Ms. Strayed never mentions withdrawal after stopping the habit almost cold-turkey. If she had suffered withdrawal, it would have been a horrific experience. Why did she avoid mentioning that issue?
Likewise, when she takes a serious fall, dropping down a rocky trail with her impossible-to-carry pack, she writes about the aftermath as if she had suffered a painful but superficial knee-scrape. Reality check: when I have suffered falls that severe on a trail, I have torn ligaments or cartilage, effectively ending my trip. It seems that Cheryl Strayed is blessed with extremely good luck after a number of ordinarily crippling events (high frequency injections of street heroin, falling hard down rocks with a 50 lbs. backpack crushing her, almost getting raped by some lunatic, getting her feet so blistered that most skin peeled off...). Are all the escapes and endurance-of-crippling-pain possible? Yes. If you are a Navy Seal. Memory is subjective, and any of us can enhance a story from repeated retelling.
5. The author's pre-trail behavior (extreme impulsiveness) fits borderline personality disorder (BPD). This impulsiveness suggests much more than just Strayed's explanation -- grief. Grief could have triggered this mental illness, but not explained it. I can understand that Strayed did not want to crimp her character's possibilities with a psychiatric diagnosis. BPD, however, is a serious and real mental illness, and its treatment almost always means a much longer ordeal than a three month hike. Although a three month wilderness journey can be life-changing, it is almost never a cure for serious mental illness. Again, the author endures almost unbelievable mental and physical hardship, and never slows in her forward motion.
Finally, what kept me reading was not the description of the wilderness (which was interesting), but rather my curiosity about how Cheryl Strayed would tie together all of her themes and potential solutions. She did it, characteristically, with some metaphors. (Crater Lake was a mountain with a heart torn out, that eventually healed -- like her.) As far as how she got herself together enough to stop life-threatening impulsiveness: inexplicable trail-magic transformed her -- somehow loosening the grief inside of her. (She wrote that the trail was not just a journey outside, but more of a journey inside. I think of literary types advising: show, don't tell. The words "inside" and "outside" are lackluster figures of speech and poor substitutes for "showing" descriptions of the internal or external.) I came away thinking that Strayed was waving some magic wands of metaphor, and not telling the whole story -- perhaps in many ways.
The Kindle format -- one final point:
The quotes from literature under the section headings on my Kindle (a new, basic version) are garbled. These same quotes in the print version are right justified, and are readable. The quotes in the Kindle version are crushed as a one-character column on the right margin and continue, scrambled, for multiple pages. They are unreadable.
Amazon and readers need to do something about shoddy publishing products. We are paying $12.99 for this e-book. Readers need to demand more -- have an old iPad for example to buy a clean version if it is available. Also, protest when publishers deliver this crap. Likewise, Amazon needs to get publishers to deliver well-formatted ebooks. Or, in the long run, writers need to bypass these publishers.
on December 9, 2014
I lost most of my respect for Oprah Winfrey years ago, but I was thrilled two years ago when I learned that she was starting up her "Book Club" again. I haven't read all of the books she's picked over the years, but the ones I have I've very much enjoyed, and she's brought a lot of attention to some contemporary authors I respect and admire. When I learned that Cheryl Strayed's "Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail," Winfrey's first pick for her "Book Club 2.0," was being made into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon, it moved quickly to the top of my reading list.
I'm not going to abandon my faith in Winfrey's literary tastes over one lousy selection, but it's fair to say that "Wild" represents everything I loathe about the Cult of Oprah, full of a feel-good narcissistic spirituality in which genuine introspection is sacrificed on the altar of self-esteem. "Wild" isn't content merely to inspire its readers to adopt Strayed's entitled brand of faux empowerment, however - this book could get someone killed one of these days.
When Strayed was 22, her mother was diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer. A few weeks later, she was dead: so begins "Wild." They'd been close, and I accept that grief does strange things to people, but Strayed uses the loss of her mother to justify giving in to every self-destructive hedonistic impulse that crosses her mind over the next four years. (I've known people who lost a *child* and fell apart less.) She compulsively sneaks around behind the back of her kind, devoted husband. Even after she confesses her affairs, he remains loving and supportive, and she still loves him but decides to go through with a divorce anyway because, I dunno, *reasons*. She flirts lightly with heroin addiction (is that even possible?) and gets knocked up by a junkie. When the pregnancy test comes out positive, Strayed realizes she's come to a turning point in her life: "I was crying . . . over the stupid existence that had become my own. I was not meant to be this way, to live this way, to fail so darkly. I had to change . . . back to the person I used to be - strong and responsible, clear-eyed and driven, ethical and good." So, of course, she makes an appointment with a psychiatrist, spends some time in rehab, buys a sturdy crib secondhand, and starts knitting little caps and booties.
Just kidding! She doesn't do any of that stuff. Instead, she decides the solution to all her problems is to spend three months backpacking on the Pacific Crest Trail in California. She doesn't know the terrain at all, and she's literally never been backpacking in her life, but she browsed a guidebook once when she was standing in line, and she's a pretty outdoorsy person, so she figures she can hold her own on an endeavor plenty of experienced backpackers wouldn't attempt without at least a year or so of directed preparation and training.
She buys the guidebook and reads it "a dozen times" in the months leading up to the trip (although when she actually gets out on the trail, she realizes there were "things I'd overlooked"). She goes to REI and buys a backpack and a pair of hiking boots and a tent and other equipment. And then there's the *really* necessary stuff: in a sentence that only truly rabid pro-abortion types seem to be able to read without cringing at least a little bit, she informs us, "I got an abortion and learned how to make dehydrated tuna flakes and turkey jerky and took a refresher course on basic first aid and practiced using my water purifier in my kitchen sink."
The reader might be excused for thinking, by the time Strayed arrives in the Mojave Desert to start her journey north, that she's actually taking the rigors and risks of this wilderness trek seriously. Then we learn of all the ways she *didn't* prepare. It turns out that at no point in the last few months did she bother to try out her equipment on a shorter excursion, even an overnight trip. In fact, it's in the hotel room where she spends the night before heading out on the trail that she packs her supplies into her backpack for the first time. She's brought two books for pleasure reading, a fancy camera, a foldable saw even she doesn't know what she's supposed to do with, and (of course) a pack of condoms, but it's not until she has all these packed safely away that she remembers, as a literal afterthought, that it would be a good idea to carry some *water*, too. (Did I mention she was in the Mojave *Desert*? In June, no less.) Finally, she's ready to go - and she's absolutely *stunned* to discover that her backpack is *heavy*! and unwieldy! and uncomfortable! I'd feel a sort of grudging respect that she decided to head out on her three-month trek even after she started to realize how hard it would actually be, if I weren't too busy marveling at her supreme idiocy.
At the time of this writing, this book is the #1 seller in Amazon's "Hiking & Camping Excursion Guides" category. I cringe to think someone might actually buy this book expecting to learn about the Pacific Crest Trail. I cringe even more to think that there are going to be Oprah-cultists and young "feminist and artsy and political" types who find this book (or the film adaptation) inspiring and decide to head out on the trail themselves. Several experienced backpackers, including PCT thru-hikers, have questioned the veracity of Strayed's account, but even if every word is true, what she did was dangerously reckless. Even readers with the sense not to follow Strayed's example, however, should steer clear of this book if they're actually interested in the Pacific Crest Trail. Strayed has plenty to say about the small towns and "resorts" she passed through on the way to pick up supplies, and she recounts the discomforts of the trail in exquisite, sometimes gruesome, detail - but the beauty of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Ranges are rarely given more than a general mention in passing.
Strayed's favorite subject is herself, and not in a good way. She wrings every drop of insight out of her grief, her fatigue, her memories, her trailworn body, and then she goes back for more. This kind of self-absorption is a little immature, but not unpardonably so, in a woman of twenty-six, but Strayed wrote "Wild" more than fifteen years after her journey on the PCT, and she still seems to believe she's living the most important life that anyone's ever lived. (So do we all, perhaps, deep down, even if we know better, but most of us don't expect the rest of the world to agree.) It seems that everyone Strayed meets on the trail is immediately taken with her and wishes to bend over backwards to make her life easier, and she accepts this basically as her due. Those few individuals who don't fall under her spell - the camp hosts who (because it's their job) insist that she pay for the use of a space in their campground (like everyone else staying there), a hippie she speaks to for five minutes who has the audacity not to recognize her when they cross paths again a few days later - are beneath contempt. Nearly every man she meets wants to have sex with her, even when she hasn't bathed or changed her clothes in a week. It takes several weeks before the trail humbles her enough to admit to experienced backpackers that she doesn't know what she's doing and could use their expertise. I might give Strayed credit at least for unflinching honesty in self-examination, but I'm not sure she's being honest about her faults so much as she is simply unaware that they're faults at all, just as it never seems to occur to her we might not actually care to (or might even actually care not to) read about "the coarse hair on [her] pudenda." (What kind of feminist uses the term "pudenda" anyway?)
I couldn't help feeling as I read that Strayed left gratuitous destruction in her wake everywhere she went. Her marriage, her unborn offspring, the tired old horse her mother had loved (but which she couldn't be bothered to find a veterinarian to euthanize properly) - all are burdens to be shucked aside lightly at Strayed's convenience. Particularly wrenching to my bibliophilic heart was the way Strayed lightens her literal load by burning the books she read on the trail. She claims that, as a book-lover herself, she hates having to do it - but she certainly gets used to it quickly. There were several occasions when she could easily have given a book away, or even left it for another hiker to find (maybe it would be ruined by exposure to the elements before someone happened along, but there's at least a chance it wouldn't), but didn't. So eager was she to lighten her load that she burned her copy of "Staying Found: The Complete Map and Compass Handbook" without having actually mastered the use of map and compass. The only book she carried all the way from the Mojave Desert to the Washington border was one she actually opened only twice the whole three months she was on the trail, because it was a longtime favorite and she had it practically memorized. She admits she had no reason not to burn that one too, but she didn't, because, I dunno, *reasons*, dammit! In the back of the book, after the Acknowledgements, Strayed includes a list titled "Books Burned on the PCT" - not "Books Read on the PCT," which would have been more accurate since it includes the one book she carried all the way and one that she traded for another book (which she did burn). It's almost as if she's proud of having consigned Faulkner, Nabokov, and Joyce to the flames. So casually does Strayed admit to destroying so much that is beautiful, I'm shocked she actually managed to hike over a thousand miles without starting a forest fire.
Fifteen years after her summer on the PCT, she went back to the place where her journey ended, with her second husband and their children, and it was "only then that the meaning of my hike would unfold inside of me, the secret I'd always told myself finally revealed." Surely she means to share this secret with us, who have vicariously made the journey with her for 300 pages? But . . . no. Instead, she tells us that on the day she finished her trip, all she knew was "the fact that I didn't have to know" what it all meant, that "it was enough to trust that what I'd done was true. To understand its meaning without yet being able to say precisely what it was . . . ." Apparently, that should be enough for her readers, too. Oh well, at least I don't have to go on a three-month hike of my own now to understand that if I did, it would *mean something*, even if I couldn't tell you precisely what.
All of this is really too bad, because "Wild" could have been an amazing book. I can't honestly say that I didn't enjoy the time I spent reading it. It's a well-paced, entertaining narrative about a remarkable experience. Strayed can actually write, too, at least when she's actually writing instead of showing off to the reader how well she can write. Unfortunately, there was just so much about this book that was upsetting and offensive and pretentious and ridiculous that it was hard to tell how much of my pleasure in this book came from enjoying it, and how much from the perverse, guilty thrill of loathing the woman who wrote it.
on March 17, 2013
Cheryl Strayed is a capable writer and as I finished the first few chapters I became a fan. I began recommending the book to my friends and family. Her description of her mother dying of cancer was beautifully written and hit like a gut punch. I thought, wow, this writer has potential.
But as I progressed through the book I felt a gnawing sense that this was not a work of pure fact, and prone to flights of fancy and embellishment. The dialog seemed contrived and wooden at times as the book wore on. Her apparent desire to saddle up with just about any guy she bumped into seemed curious at first, began to wear thin later, and was off-putting by the end. Some encounters read like more a cheap Harlequin romance novel than reality. By the time she encounters bow hunters on the Oregon Crest Trail, she lost me. They admire her sinewy legs under her tight jeggings (I'm embellishing for effect here). They're hiking for the day but they're carrying huge backpacks. They've each consumed a six pack of Pepsi but they're dehydrated and disoriented. They leave but one of them returns to leer at her and accuse her of lying about where she was going to camp. As I read the scene I felt like I was watching Burt Reynolds in Deliverance, "You got a nice mouf". Like someone that's told you a string of faintly troubling white lies, the stink of poor credibility finally overwhelmed me. I got the sense that she created plot devices and embellished stories as a means to punctuate her experiences north of the California border.
I've hiked much of the Oregon and Washington Pacific Crest Trail system. So I'm familiar with what it's like to be on the trail for 3-4 weeks at a time. And there are elements of Strayed's book that resonated. The contrast between what you *think* you'll be doing - sleeping soundly under the stars, and constantly staring in wonder at spectacular vistas, versus what you actually do - stare at the trail or your trail-mate's boots as you watch for every root and rock that threatens to trip you up. The monotony of long distance hiking. Spending the day slogging to the top of a ridge, only to immediately lose the altitude dropping down the other side. The morning ritual of hoisting "The Stone" ("Monster" for Cheryl) up onto your still-sore shoulders. The curt efficiency with which you learn to set up and break down camp each day. The day to day management of your feet. The search for potable water.
But her account does raise questions too. How do you hike the length of the Oregon Crest Trail and not mention mosquitos? Why is it that Strayed primarily discusses the parts of the trail that are accessible by car: Crater Lake, Ollalie Lake, Elk Lake, Jefferson Park, Timberline Lodge? How in the freaking world do you hike down the Eagle Creek Trail without a mention of Twister Falls, Tunnel Falls, and Punchbowl Falls?! Holy crap, this is one of the most amazing sections of trail in the Pacific Northwest. Hop, skip, jump and Oregon is done. As if Ms. Strayed was struggling with how to wind this thing down, or perhaps she hitched her way around portions of the trail in Oregon too?
There are about a half-dozen recurring motifs on the trail: her desire for sex, the admiration of others as they heft her Monster backpack or marvel at her bravery, reflections on her childhood, her poor money management at drop-box sites and her abused feet. I've lost toenails to running and hiking, but Cheryl's toenail count and the way that they seem to come off, like Jeff Goldblum's ear in The Fly, began to feel artificially injected. And like the other recurring motifs, seem perfunctory and dropped in to spice up the monotony of the trail.
Only Ms. Strayed knows for sure how much of the book is Pants On Fire and how much is Mostly True. And, in the end, I guess that wouldn't have mattered much if it had led to a compelling conclusion. Disappointingly, though, we never learn how she went from a self-abusive, impulsive life of sex, "Riding the Dragon" experimentation with heroin, and anger at her upbringing, to living in a happy, stable marriage with children in Portland, Oregon. The last two pages breeze through that transformation in the same way the movie, The Abyss, closes (the alien ship rises to the surface, Ed Harris proclaiming that he should've died of decompression sickness but, "it must be something the aliens did" and he's ok. Hooray, the world is saved).
After chapters of build up we learn that life is what it is and Cheryl lives happily ever after. The End.
on June 13, 2012
I remember the words well from a friend who had seen the Hannabel Lector movies: "Interesting...but I'm not sure you want this in your head." Don't get me wrong - Cheryl is a good writer, but her subjects are disturbing. This is not so much a book about hiking the PCT as it is her own catharsis: her father brutalizing her and her family, the death of her mother, her herion addition, and the final straw for me: the graphic murder of a beloved horse (it made me ill). And the hiking of the trail? She's lucky to be alive. Don't take notes. She's ill prepared, and with the aid of strangers, who provide rides, showers and food, she "makes it". I was not inspired. Just saddened.
on July 9, 2012
As a vehicle for pure entertainment, this book held my interest a good part of the time. But as true memoir, I have difficulty believing this isn't another "no, really, I swear that's what happened!" kind of story, where Oprah will soon air a condemning reveal of all that was flourished or outright fictionalized in the telling.
The story vacillates from the difficult to believe to the extremely repetitive, and sometimes manages to be both at once: how many times do we need to hear big, strong men tell her how heavy her pack is? Or how pretty she is? How many grueling, life-threatening walks need to be described before we know just how brave and crazy this was? I found myself rolling my eyes on several occasions, and wanting to skim the details through many others. I adored "Eat, Pray, Love" and am a big fan of the "redemptive memoir" genre, but here I found myself liking and trusting the author's voice less and less as I read on.
Finally, in my opinion, the last chapter is a total cop-out (spoiler alert - don't read further if you don't want to know how the book ends). She touches the Bridge of the Gods, and next thing we know, all her intimacy issues have been resolved, and it's 9 years into a stable marriage to a wonderful, wonderful man, wonderful kids and a wonderful life. The notion that punishing physical activity is the panacea for psychic suffering is absurd and possibly dangerous. Such a journey can be a source of strength and esteem, but being alone in one's head while ripping one's feet to bloody shreds is not a reliable path to resolving childhood abandonment and mistrust of/intimacy issues with men.
on November 17, 2012
This summer, I started my hike at Walker Pass, where I left off last year. Even before I got on the PCT, I'd heard about this woman who'd written a book about her experience on the trail, who'd been a heroin junkie and gotten herself straightened out. As my friends and I met dayhikers on the trail, they would excitedly ask, "Have you read that book by Cheryl Strayed? And now, here we are on the P-C-T, JUST like her!!" A thru-hiker who was slightly ahead of me, Mother Goose, was accosted by one such woman, and after they parted ways, Mother Goose caught up to me and spat out, "If I hear another word about that Strayed woman, I'm gonna strangle 'em!" By the time I got off the trail in Ashland, I, too, was sick of hearing about this book - even my co-workers back home had read it. When one of them offered to let me borrow "Wild," a few weeks ago, I thought that maybe reading the book would ease my longing for the trail.
If you are looking for a book that transports you to a long-distance trail, look elsewhere - so far, my favorite has been the Barefoot Sisters' two books. Even though Bill Bryson's book, "A Walk in the Woods," is also a lame attempt to describe a long-distance hike, he has a sense of humor and pokes a LOT of fun at everything. It is not a whine-fest.
Strayed complains CONSTANTLY about blisters and pack sores and the weight of her pack and her missing toenails. EVERYTHING reminds her of her mother, so the reader is forced to re-hash her miserable life, a perfect graveyard of broken hopes. I know that everyone has to start somewhere - certainly my pack was too heavy the first time I went out...and it was still too heavy when I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail. Nearly everyone gets blisters on these long-distance hikes - but complaining about them incessantly is obnoxious. I often hike solo - I am a female - and many times, I wanted to simply throttle Strayed.
Her details about the trail are so sketchy that it makes me wonder whether she actually hiked more than a half dozen short sections. It is obvious that she did a LOT of yellow-blazing (a somewhat derogatory term in the hiking community for hitchhiking up the trail, rather than actually walking it). I wanted her to meet the hikers on the trail and give them personalities and I *really* wanted her to learn from them. I wanted to read about the towns and the places she went to (and be able to say, "I WAS THERE!!!") I wanted her to describe sunsets and views and remind me of how it was to walk up out of Seiad Valley and the effort it took to avoid the poison oak down into Belden Town and what it was like to swim in the Middle Fork of the Feather River and to be back at the great campsite with an unobstructed view of Mt. Shasta, feeling the gravel pressing into my hips and shoulder blades through my groundcloth because I'd given up my leaking therm-a-rest - except I wanted HER stories about her hike, not more reasons for which I felt like I needed to give her ANOTHER dope slap - and I could have used a lot LESS of the shock-value bits: the horse, the swearing, the sex scene on the beach.
She could have easily had this entire experience in rehab - it did not have to be on the PCT. She could have wallowed in her self-pity and lack of preparation in a matter of ten pages and realized her mother crossed the bridge in another two and that would have been plenty. I know now WHY so many hikers this summer disdained Cheryl Strayed and her "hike." If it was the TRAIL that changed her, she would still be more connected to it than just by throwing money at the PCTA every year - she would be back out there every chance she got. This book is just further proof that it is sex, drugs & rock 'n' roll that sells. If it had ACTUALLY been about the PCT, Oprah never would have read it.
on December 6, 2013
I have never written a book review before, but I so intensely loathe this book and author that I felt it was worth doing.
The sad part is, I used to love her. I subscribed to her Sugar On the Rumpus column and really enjoyed reading it. I was very excited to get this book. However, after reading her self-indulgent, narcissistic drivel of a memoir, I honestly can't imagine ever reading another word she writes.
I also have hiked the PCT, and I lost a beloved parent in my early twenties. In fact, I've been through a number of similar traumas to Strayed. What I didn't do to recover was libel my entire immediate family, murder a horse, or wallow in self-pity for YEARS. I also didn't make up my own name to tell everyone what a narcissistic, self-important and consumed human being I am. Further, as a woman who loves long solo-hikes, I have zero respect for people who take them on unprepared. That doesn't make you brave; it makes you stupid and a danger to yourself and others. Also as a female hiker, being alone and a woman does not entitle you to special treatment or some sort of rock-star status. I meet tons of other solo women hiking. I would like to believe that they are all less self-important than the author.
This book is a perfect example of what trash some memoirs can be. Simply because an author is willing to compose a tell-all and publish every one of their most depraved actions, doesn't mean that it's worth writing or publishing. It certainly doesn't guarantee a journey of self-discovery. Unlike a lot of the other 1 star reviews here, I did finish the book. I can honestly say that from first page to last, the author demonstrates nothing other than that she's a terrible human being.
on July 19, 2012
This book came highly recommended by a writer who called it "brave." What rot. I can't believe I spent money on this dreck. The death of the author's mother and the author's subsequent grief is, supposedly, responsible for the author's descending into years of promiscuity and drug abuse. Everyone grieves differently, of course, but the author seems blithely unaware that perhaps her mother's death was not the foundational problem. The horrifyingly brutal murder of her dead mother's neglected horse (which the author herself has allowed to starve) is a cheap purchase on the reader (as these types of scenes usually are--read Richard Wright's "Almos' a Man" if you want to see how such scenes both honor the animal and teach the reader something about human pain). If she and her brother had done this to a person, they'd be in prison (in fact, doing this to an animal will put you in jail). How she got away with it is beyond me. And her utter lack of remorse is depraved. To make matters worse, it's not enough that she starved, tortured and killed this horse; she then realized--all these years later--that she could gain further purchase on it for literary shock-value. So rather than honor the horse and its terrible suffering, she--unbelievably--hacks away at it one more time and uses it as a metaphor for her own psychic pain: "Who cares about the horse? It's all about ME!" (read Linda Hogan's memoir--"The Woman Who Watches Over the World"--if you want to experience a real writer's exploration of the meaning of suffering, both equine and human). As for her "brave" trip: she doesn't bother to educate herself in preparation (aside from what she needs to shop for), thinks incessantly about herself along the way, virtually ignores the natural world (except insofar as it poses obstacles), and trashes the trail as she goes. She learned nothing. Zero. Zip. From the opening page to the end, I distrusted this author's voice. There's something not truthful, and even pathological, about her understanding of the world, and her place in it. Brave? Give me a break. She's merely a self-absorbed hack, who figured out how to exploit sex, abuse, animals, and Nature as a great marketing tool to showcase her own . . . whatever. I'm sure it was cathartic for her. For me, it was an utter waste of time. Save your money.