Friday, June 14, 2013

Book Review: "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed

Wild Cheryl Strayed
Published: March 20, 2012
ISBN-10: 0307476073
Genre: Memoir
Source: Library
Highly Recommended

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 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 a 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.

My Thoughts:
There are a couple of reasons why I should not have liked this book.  First of all, it was spectacularly hyped by the time I got to it--Strayed is a local author, so we heard a lot about this book in this neck of the woods.  And it was an Oprah book.  And it is going to be a movie soon.  That alone probably could have kept me from the book except that one of my close friends, whose taste in books (as long as they are not Russian novels) is similar to mine, raved about it.

Second reason: it falls into a category in my mind of books about women overcoming personal demons and difficult histories that women love and I hate.  I grouped it together with The Glass Castle and Carry On, Warrior and, worst of all in my mind, Eat, Pray, Love.  Wild definitely shares characteristics with these books, in my opinion, but I guess I'm a slow learner and decided to read it anyway.

The third reason became apparent as I started the book.  Strayed, at least at the beginning of the book, is incredibly unlikable.  This is usually the kiss of death for me when reading memoirs, but not in this case.  Strayed is able to write about her past unpleasant self in a way that you just know that she will eventually get past this and, now, she is much nicer.  At least I hope so!

You'd think it would be a case of three strikes and you're out with this book, but I actually truly enjoyed this book.  Yes, Strayed is an utter mess as she starts her hike--and rather, well, stupid when it comes to some her personal choices about hiking and life.  But she does learn and she does grow and, really, that is what this book is about.

Strayed uses language beautifully and her descriptions make you feel as if you are on the PCT (although, having hiked some sections of the PCT in the Gorge, I have something to compare to which I can compare her descriptions!).  She is not afraid to describe the person she really was when she started this journey in 1995.

The only complaint I have about this book is that, once she gets into Oregon on the trail, Strayed starts to rush towards the end of the book.  I understand why this may be--at that point she's well on her way to healing--but I was looking forward to reading her adventures in Oregon as she'd be on my turf!  Instead, the bulk of this book takes place on the California segment of the trail.

This is not a book about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail--there are other books to be found if that is what you are wanting (or, and this is a shameless plug, you can check out my friend Ryan's blog.  His PCT hike posts start in April 2010).  If you are looking a book about personal growth, recovery and triumph, then Wild would be an excellent book for you.

I was not solicited for this review, nor did I receive any compensation.  All opinions are mine and mine alone.


  1. I have been avoiding reading Wild for all the reasons you said you shouldn't like it, but I recently read her collection of advice columns (Tiny Beautiful Things - another one I was reluctant to read) and was blown away. Not a week later I was picking up a used copy without reservations and can't wait to read it.

  2. I read Wild before most of the big hype started, and I'm glad. I get all grumpy about a book when it's wildly popular. Why? I don't know, lol. I really did enjoy this. It was immensely quotable for one thing. I can't wait to get to Tiny Beautiful Things!

  3. I absolutely hated this book. Actually out of all the books I've ever read this one is the worst. I kept reading it thinking it would get better, but no it never did.

  4. haha I love your second reason that you shouldn't have enjoyed this title! (I'm right there with ya on that!) but it's great when a book gives you an exception, isn't it? Enjoyed reading your thoughts!

  5. after watching that video i think i may have to give this a try

  6. I read the book after hearing it was a book about the PCT--which, obviously, I have a certain fondness for considering I've done the entire hike from Mexico to Canada. But it was sold to me under false pretenses! It's not a book about the PCT! It's a book about a woman with mommy issues, and I never really got over the fact that it's not really about the PCT at all. I probably would have enjoyed it more if I didn't feel a sense of bait and switch regarding the book.

    Thanks for plugging my blog! =) I'll also point out for whoever is interested in "virtually" hiking the PCT--during my own thru-hike in 2010, I took at least one photo for every single of those 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada and recently turned it into Track how much you walk each day, enter your miles into the website, and it'll show where you would be on the PCT if you did your steps there along with photos of all the places and people you would have met along that section. =)

    It also has virtual hikes for the Camino de Santiago, Crater Lake (in snowshoes!), and the Florida Keys. I've started working on a virtual hike of Seattle and next month plan to start walking the Colorado Trail to also add to the website. Definitely a lot more hiking options in the works!

    Happy trails everyone!

    -- Ryan

  7. We recently had the Sydney Writers Festival and Strayed was one of the international guest speakers. I only went to her talk because I missed out on getting into the one I really wanted to hear! But she was amazing. So frank, honest and funny.

  8. I listened to this one while running and enjoyed it, but she did take a lot of risks with her safety. I had trouble deciding if it was brave or risky, but I kept going with risky.

  9. I've not heard of this one--I will have to put it on hold at Multnomah County Library--it does indeed sound like an interesting read!