- Paperback: 315 pages
- Publisher: Vintage Books; 1st edition (March 26, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0307476073
- ISBN-13: 978-0307476074
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars See all reviews (12,894 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #693 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail Paperback – March 26, 2013
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From Author Cheryl Strayed
I wrote the last line of my first book, Torch, and then spent an hour crying while lying on a cool tile floor in a house on a hot Brazilian island. After I finished my second book, Wild, I walked alone for miles under a clear blue sky on an empty road in the Oregon Outback. I sat bundled in my coat on a cold patio at midnight staring up at the endless December stars after completing my third book, Tiny Beautiful Things. There are only a handful of other days in my life--my wedding, the births of my children--that I remember as vividly as those solitary days on which I finished my books. The settings and situations were different, but the feeling was the same: an overwhelming mix of joy and gratitude, humility and relief, pride and wonder. After much labor, I'd made this thing. A book. Though it wasn't technically that yet.
The real book came later--after more work, but this time it involved various others, including agents, publishers, editors, designers, and publicists, all of whose jobs are necessary but sometimes indecipherable to me. They're the ones who transformed the thousands of words I'd privately and carefully conjured into something that could be shared with other people. "I wrote this!" I exclaimed in amazement when I first held each actual, physical book in my hands. I wasn't amazed that it existed; I was amazed by what its existence meant: that it no longer belonged to me.
Two months before Wild was published I stood on a Mexican beach at sunset with my family assisting dozens of baby turtles on their stumbling journey across the sand, then watching as they disappeared into the sea. The junction between writer and author is a bit like that. In one role total vigilance is necessary; in the other, there's nothing to do but hope for the best. A book, like those newborn turtles, will ride whatever wave takes it.
It's deeply rewarding to me when I learn that something I wrote moved or inspired or entertained someone; and it's crushing to hear that my writing bored or annoyed or enraged another. But an author has to stand back from both the praise and the criticism once a book is out in the world. The story I chose to write in Wild for no other reason than I felt driven to belongs to those who read it, not me. And yet I'll never forget what it once was, long before I could even imagine how gloriously it would someday be swept away from me.
Echoing the ever-popular search for wilderness salvation by Chris McCandless (Back to the Wild, 2011) and every other modern-day disciple of Thoreau, Strayed tells the story of her emotional devastation after the death of her mother and the weeks she spent hiking the 1,100-mile Pacific Crest Trail. As her family, marriage, and sanity go to pieces, Strayed drifts into spontaneous encounters with other men, to the consternation of her confused husband, and eventually hits rock bottom while shooting up heroin with a new boyfriend. Convinced that nothing else can save her, she latches onto the unlikely idea of a long solo hike. Woefully unprepared (she fails to read about the trail, buy boots that fit, or pack practically), she relies on the kindness and assistance of those she meets along the way, much as McCandless did. Clinging to the books she lugs along—Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Adrienne Rich—Strayed labors along the demanding trail, documenting her bruises, blisters, and greater troubles. Hiker wannabes will likely be inspired. Experienced backpackers will roll their eyes. But this chronicle, perfect for book clubs, is certain to spark lively conversation. --Colleen Mondor --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
Nothing was exciting. I read some other "bad reviews" and generally agree that it is boring, full of ego and uninspiring. I read some reviews about how she kills a horse, well I am glad I did not get to that portion of the book. UGH what a waste! I just had to share a bad review because I hate wasting my time and I hate people with huge egos and nothing real to say.
The hiking scenes were very well done, and as someone who has done my share of hiking (though no large scale hikes like the PCT or Appalachian Trail) I could readily identify with so much of it. That stage where you're just plodding along, putting one foot in front of the other, is well-known to anyone who hikes. When you're out in the middle of nowhere and you'd like to just quit, you realize that you can't. No helicopter is going to swoop in and pluck you off the trail just because you're tired of doing it.
Her relief at the end of the day, getting rid of her heavy pack and getting off her feet, is also familiar. At the end of the day, no better feeling than getting this bitch off my back"! Her appreciation of little things like wildflowers and the animals she sees are what hiking is all about.
In short, you feel as if you're with Cheryl every step of the way. Yet she blends the hiking and the battle with her demons in such a way that neither part of the story overwhelms the other.
Hiker or not, this is a must-read. It's very well-crafted and engaging. You'll find yourself reading far into the night!