Review: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Featured imageThere was a recent discussion on Twitter about whether or not you avoid reading popular books.  Is the fact that the book is popular and “You just got to read it” a turn on or turn off.  Whether a book is popular is not really a selling point for me but I’m not going to avoid reading it if it is.  Unless it’s an Oprah book. Now bear with me.  Oprah’s Book Club has done so much to get people to read and for that I applaud her.  It has also been a boom for the publishing industry, it has promoted authors that probably would never get exposure or that level of exposure but as a former bookseller, it made my life difficult.  I know, it sounds weird but ask any bookseller.  For years, Oprah wouldn’t announce her new pick until she did it on her show.  People would immediately come into stores asking for the new Oprah book and we wouldn’t have a clue what they were talking about since we were working and not watching Oprah.  And rarely would people who watched the show know the title of the book they must read and would come in with no information.  Now, it’s a little easier.  Oprah works more with publishers to make sure her picks are ready to go with her sticker already on the book when she makes her announcements.  Also, now with the internet, if customers come in for her books and we were left unaware, they could look it up more easily but yeah Oprah.  Also I found that a lot of her picks were the same.  Different authors but all carried the same theme and that didn’t appeal to me.

Why bring this up? Wild was the first book in Oprah’s book club 2.0 and quickly became the “You just have to read” book.  It’s also a memoir and  I think we have established I don’t read much non-fiction.  So I had no interest in reading it.  I still had no interest in reading it when  Kate assigned it to me but I’m glad I did.  I was truly touched by Cheryl’s story.  I was in tears when she was describing the death of her mother.  I don’t even want to think about losing my mom and I think I could understand her downward spiral.  To decide to go on a three month, thousand mile hike by herself is not only crazy to me but unbelievably brave.  To do something like that when you are not really prepared to so is even more crazy and brave.  I laughed through her struggles with “monster” aka her pack.  I was anxious for her when the reservoir was out of water and she hadn’t brought enough.  With every new person she met, I was just as nervous about meeting as she was but most were nice and helpful.  As a woman alone, meeting strangers, particular men can be dangerous but the danger was mostly from the trail itself and Cheryl’s own mistakes not from people she met.  I enjoyed reading her journey and could see as the hike went on how much she grew.  By the time it ended, I knew she would be ok.  Not just because I know that Cheryl has had a successful writing career but because through her hike, she was able to see truths about herself, admit the ugly truths and accept things about herself that are unpleasant but all of that, everything that happened, led her to that moment and made her who she is today.  Maybe we all should take a break from our lives and go wild.

This Month in Reality…and the Oscar Goes to…

When Beth and I talked about what to do for this month, I got really excited about travel memoirs. But, then, everyone in the Northeast is probably dreaming of warm beaches and sunny locales. (Although, it has been sunny this week. I love the look of the sun on clean, white snow. It makes the world so bright and beautiful. Of course, this beauty has also been accompanied by dangerously cold temperatures and wind. Win some, lose some.) But, then we got to talking about something that has always been a fun night for us: The Oscars. It is fun to watch people win, the speculate and to discuss the films that we saw (and didn’t see). We’ve been known in the past to drink a lot of wine, make and eat a lot of food and be pretty irreverent in our cheering and jeering (which, this year, we’ll be doing over FaceTime.)

In honor of this glorious night of fancy dresses and finger food, I give you the low-down on three books that inspired Oscar-nominated films. All of these books I listened to rather than read and all of them came from the Buffalo and Erie County Public libraries. Go, Library Card!

12 Years a Slave

This is the tale of Solomon Northup, a free black man from New York who is kidnapped and sold into slavery. Written by Northup after he was rescued and returned home this memoir is a painful inside look into the institution of slavery. It is every bit as harrowing as you expect it to be but that is what makes this such an important piece of history. Slavery was very real and it destroyed many, many lives and we still live with its legacy. The audio book was read by Louis Gossett, Jr. Northup’s strength and courage are inspiring but the situation that he finds himself in is utterly despicable. This book is totally worth the read.

A Beautiful Mind

I wasn’t sure I was going to like this when I picked it up because I remember being only a little into the film. This biography follows the life of John Forbes Nash, Jr., a brilliant mathematician who had a promising career ahead of him until he fell ill with schizophrenia. The first part of the book details his early life and schooling. He’s great at math, he gets scholarships and it becomes apparent that he’s good enough that he has a serious shot at a prestigious academic career in mathematics full of groundbreaking research and accolades. He works for the Rand corporation. He fathers a child. He has homosexual encounters that cause some upset in McCarthy era America. He gets married and fathers a second child. He holds a position and almost receives tenure at MIT. He is, like most geniuses, a lot a bit arrogant and kind of a dick. He’s a possible candidate for the Fields medal ( which is like the Nobel of math). And then his illness strikes. Much of the rest of the book chronicles the harrowing struggle that is schizophrenia and how he, and the people around him, worked to manage it, manage him, or sometimes, failed to manage either. This was a terrible tale of losing ground, gaining ground and then losing it again. Towards the end of the book, when Nash’s work in game theory was being considered for a Nobel prize, it was also a tale of how people tried to use his illness as an excuse to not give him the prize. This was a harrowing picture of mental illness and how the mentally ill are perceived. It did have a small light at the end of the tunnel, though. Nash seems to have had a long remission from schizophrenia later in life which allowed him to return to his work and he did receive the Nobel memorial prize for Economics in 1994. This is an important book for how it sheds light on schizophrenia and perceptions of the mentally ill.

Wild

This book broke me open put me back together and then broke me again. A memoir of Cheryl Strayed’s 20s in which she gets married, loses her mother, graduates from college, does a lot of drugs, gets a divorce and hikes the Pacific Crest Trail had me laughing and sobbing and laughing again. I spent a lot of time texting and calling my mother after reading this book, so grateful I was to have that opportunity. I like hiking memoirs (and travel books in general) so I enjoyed the descriptions of the hike and her monster backpack. This story was beautiful and poignant and I’m so happy to have read it. Unlike the two previous books, I feel like I can say that I enjoyed this one. (The other two I’m happy to have read but I can’t really say that I enjoyed them.)

We hope that if you have Oscar plans that they are enjoyable and that your favorites win!