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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
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.
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!
We feel her pain and her lack of preparation as she starts her journey. The night before she starts her hike, she lays out all the things she’d bought to carry with her. It takes some doing, but she manages to stuff everything into her backpack – then can’t even lift it, never mind sling it on her back and walk. And so begins her journey of hitting obstacles of her own making but pushing through pain and danger to accomplish her goal (mostly).
Throughout her story, Strayed intersperses slices of her life, confessing a litany of her good and bad experiences and choices, some of them despicable. She doesn’t shy away from revealing even cruel or hateful things she’d done in her life. But the one theme she comes back to over and over again is her relationship with her mother and how her mother’s death sent her life into freefall. She’s in agony. She presents an intriguing, gripping self-examination through this ridiculous self-imposed trial. How will it end? What will she learn from her herculean quest?
And then she’s diverted by unexpectedly heavy snowfall and has to bypass 450 miles of the trail. She’s delayed for five days and realizes she’s always wanted to write so why not start now, while she has nothing else to do anyway?
To me, her storytelling leaves the trail here, too, and does not return. She begins telling us about every encounter she has with other people, in detail, using sophomoric dialog. She looses the introspection and keen awareness of her experience that was so riveting in the beginning.
In the end, she begs off the question of what she learned. She claims she doesn’t need to figure out how to express her new understanding. It’s enough for her to feel that it had been right… So I wonder: why did she spend 300+ pages exposing her physical and emotional turmoil in minute detail while on this quest of self-discovery, only to decide she doesn’t need to know what she learned – and, by extension, doesn’t need to tell us?