Monday 18 March 2013

Review: - Wild by Cheryl Strayed

From Goodreads: -

A powerful, blazingly honest memoir: the story of an eleven-hundred-mile solo hike that broke down a young woman reeling from catastrophe—-and built her back up again.
At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother's death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—-and to do it alone. She had no experience as a long-distance hiker, and the trail was little more than “an idea, vague and outlandish and full of promise.” But it was a promise of piecing back together a life that had come undone. 
Strayed faces down rattlesnakes and black bears, intense heat and record snowfalls, and both the beauty and loneliness of the trail. Told with great suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild vividly captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her
This, I think, is the first book of 2013 that I have given five stars to on Goodreads. Thus it will be on my list of most awesome books ever for the rest of time (or at least until my blog is lost or deleted). Quite a high honour.

I’d read a little about Cheryl Strayed before I requested Wild from the library. It took four months from when I requested it for it to come in, and I had to read it and return it pretty quickly as there was a waiting list of 25 other people in the county of Kent who wanted to read it. As it turned out, reading it quickly was not a problem – I think it took two days in the end which, post – baby, is some kind of a record for me! The book was beautifully written, almost heartbreakingly honest at times, and dealt with some seriously difficult issues while still managing to be really uplifting and inspirational.

Pretty much my favourite kind of non-fiction at the moment is what they call ‘stunt memoirs’. I find them really absorbing and interesting to read. Also, I love walking memoirs. Since childhood I’ve always fantasized about going off to some remote place and walking for miles and miles. I still have a far off in the distance dream of walking around the coast of England, Scotland and Wales, but the reality is that today, when I tried to walk up a hill at the White Cliffs of Dover, I nearly had a heart attack. For somebody who’s doing a 10k next week, I’m seriously unfit, so reading about it is obviously the next best thing, and pretty much counts as training. Or so I tell myself.. Anyway! Basically, Cheryl Strayed is hugely messed up by the death of her mother and in the wake of that and a few other questionable life decisions, she breaks up with her husband and decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Because I’m a huge geek (and because of the hiker fantasy), I went and looked up the Pacific Crest Trail and it made me sad because we just don’t have anything like it here in the UK (reading about it made me both sad for the same reason and at the same time want to stick Benji in the baby sling and go off to America. Obviously I am not advocating hiking a trail full of bears and mountain lions with a baby strapped to your chest, just to clarify). So here we go: The Pacific Crest Trail (hereafter and in Wild referred to as the PCT) is 2,663 miles long and runs from California to the Oregon- Washington border. I did some research, and from Southampton (pretty much the bottom of the UK) to Durness in Scotland which is pretty much the top is about 550 miles. I know it’s a straight line and not along the coast, but still, that is all we have, people. ALL WE HAVE. I suddenly feel very restricted.

God I’m tangenty (totally a word) today! The idea of Wild is that Strayed went off from pretty much as low a point as a person can reach, unable to recover from her mother’s death, having pretty much pressed the self-destruct button on her marriage, and decided out of the blue to hike the PCT on her own in hopes of being able to change back to the person she used to be before her mother died. I loved the idea that by totally getting away from her life, to the point that at one point she literally only had two pennies to call her own, she gained freedom and strength. I can’t imagine having the courage to do something so challenging alone, and I have to admit to having a bit of a hero-worship thing going on.

This was my absolute favourite quote from the book:

“Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me. Insisting on this story was a form of mind control, but for the most part, it worked. Every time I heard a sound of unknown origin or felt something horrible cohering in my imagination, I pushed it away. I simply did not let myself become afraid. Fear begets fear. Power begets power. And it wasn’t long before I actually wasn’t afraid.” (p 51)

I feel like I learned a lot from this book, even if only about the kind of achievements that can be accomplished purely by making yourself do something inconceivable. Also, this:

“I’d loved books in my regular, pre-PCT life, but on the trail, they’d taken on even greater meaning. They were the world I could lose myself in when the one I was actually in became too lonely or harsh or difficult to bear.” (p105)

In true tradition, this review has been incredibly tangentional and rambling and not at all coherent, but that is all that I have to say. I loved Wild, and if you’re into memoirs you should read it. Like, now. 


  1. I posted a review about this today too! Wasn't it a wonderful book? I loved it. That was a great passage you quoted, somehow I missed that one. She had so many little nuggets of wisdom, didn't she? I could have written down probably twice as many as I actually did.

  2. I'm seriously DESPERATE to read this (have you read Strayed's Dear Sugar columns? HER WRITING IS SO WONDERFUL IT MAKES ME CRY!) and I'm so glad you glowingly reviewed it, otherwise I would be all sad and let down by an unread book... Because I'm insane.

    Have you ever read A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson? I think that's the only walking memoir I've ever read, and I LOVED it (obvs, because, you know, Bill Bryson.) But in it, he hikes the Appalachian Trail (or, AT) and I was totally like 'WHY DON'T WE HAVE THINGS LIKE THIS OVER HERE?!'

    Finally- I will totally walk around the British coast with you sometime. As long as we take books :)

    1. YAY! Of course we'll take books!! How could we possibly not? Although, if we didn't that would be an excuse to buy some along the way... Yes! I read A Walk in the Woods and that also made me sad about the lack of walking awesomeness. And Bill Bryson is so great. I think I read one of the Dear Sugar columns where she was talking to a girl who had a really late miscarriage and I was literally in tears through it. Her writing is so beautiful, I have all the hero worship, I want to be her a little bit. She *might* be my new Caitlin...

  3. Bex, honeybunch, I loooove this review and now I'm even more determined to read this book soon. Even though I don't have it. COME ON LIBRARY, HAVE A COPY SOMEWHERE!

    'A Walk in the Woods' was the first Bryson I ever read and made me want to strap on my hiking boots there and then (well, lace 'em up... you know what I mean), so if this book got you the same way then BRING IT ON. Also, I am crap at long walks, but if you and Laura and Benji are gonna be there then I reckon it could completely revolutionise my opinion of steep hills and climbing over stiles in a very clumsy manner. COMPLETELY. :D

  4. I really like your review! I agree with the other commenters...A Walk in the Woods is also a great book about a long, long hike.