Author: Cheryl Strayed
Finished on: 31 August 2015
Where did I get this book: Borrowed from a friend (I know, I know… I am hopeless. Following this, I have started another book lent to me now too – there is a whole post brewing here on how this blog has become a self-defeating endeavour).
I had reservations about reading a book with Reece Witherspoon on the front. It does seem one step away from reading a book with a pink neon cover and gold embossed writing. I love trashy, disposable films. But I don’t love trashy, disposable books. A book takes much longer to read than a film takes to watch, and especially with so many wonderful volumes waiting to be read, I couldn’t waste that much time. (I’ll be honest, I used to love a guilty pleasure Jilly Cooper, but the one of hers I read most recently was so bad it made me cross, so that is the end of that.)
But Wild was lent to me by a friend that I like very much, and whose taste I trust, and also recommended to me by one of my best friends in the world (who, come to think of it, I adore despite, or perhaps even a little bit because of, her penchant for books with pink neon covers with gold embossed writing!) So I dove in.
I don’t often read books about ‘finding yourself’, which Wild clearly states that it is. I expect things like Eat, Pray, Travel, Find Yourself are actually great, but they don’t appeal to me. I don’t know why, but maybe because to me finding fulfilment and meaning in life can only be achieved through a long, hard look at myself. How other people do it seems irrelevant.
Books often help me understand the world around me, and my place in it, better. But these perspectives can rarely be the same for any two people, let alone universal. We all have different passions, tastes, things that make us happy and unhappy – and the real insights on how to live a better life in books are usually stumbled upon. Trying to find meaning in your life by reading about how someone else has found meaning in life is surely like following directions in Swahili. Unless you also happen to be a Swahili speaker, they just won’t be helpful.
But there was a lot I enjoyed about reading this book. It tells the true story of Cheryl Strayed’s epic hike up the Pacific Crest Trail following the breakdown of her marriage and the death of her mother. She has an engaging and honest voice – I loved how open and unapologetic she was about the fact that she is attractive, and her sexual promiscuity. It’s refreshing to hear. Maybe that dates a lot of my literary choices. I’m sure it can’t be that unusual in this day and age to have a female character who revels in her own allure and sleeps with whoever she wants whenever she wants, but there aren’t many of them in the books I read! And I would like to meet more of these ladies.
I identified with her decision to go on a long walk in order to cope with, and process, her troubles. There have been times in my life, going through the worst, most heart breaking things that have ever happened to me, when all could do was go on long walks up hills. I am fortunate enough to live in the Peak District, with wonderful walks on my doorstep. And genuinely, I’m not sure if I would have made it through with sanity in tact without those walks. Nothing on the scale of her 1,100 mile hike up the west coast of America! But the physicality of walking, especially when it’s hard work, is one of the few ways I know of getting outside of myself, when I can’t bear to be inside.
Strangely, despite the enormous differences in style and content, this is really a book about the same thing as The Goldfinch. How can you cope, and rebuild a life, when your mother has gone? At least Cheryl finds a less destructive answer to this question than Theo did (but not before she tries some of the same, more high risk, options).
So, it is not trashy and disposable. And there was one moment of such bordering on Wuthering Heights gothic brilliance that it made me gasp. And I think I will follow that particular example whenever someone I really love dies (although unfortunately probably not to the extent of then walking 1,100 miles!)