This post is a very long time coming! To be completely honest, I haven’t been reading as much as I would like lately, which partly explains for the delay in this book review. But I promise to keep you posted as I cross titles off my ever growing list. Now that the weather is warming up, I cannot imagine a better way to unwind from my day then sitting in my backyard patio with a glass of white wine and a new book. Now, onto the book review.
If you haven’t heard of Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed you are probably living under a rock. This book is a #1 New York Times bestseller, An Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 Pick, Best Book of the Year for NPR, The Boston Globe, Entertainment Weekly, Vogue, and just last year Reese Witherspoon starred in the film adaptation. I had Wild in my stacks of books for months before I finally decided to read it. I was still commuting when I started reading this memoir, and it was strangely aprepo. Do you remember that scene in Easy A when Emma Stone says “But isn’t that always the way? The books you read in class always seems to have a strong connection with whatever angsty adolescent drama is being recounted.” Well, I felt a true connection to this book from the moment I picked it up.
When I started reading Wild I was pretty unhappy. I was living at home with my parents and commuting into New York City every day at the crack of dawn and returning way past the time the sun went down. Commuting is incredibly draining and I greatly respect the millions of adults that do it daily for years on end. I found it really difficult living in one place and working in another, feeling constantly caught up in a state of limbo and endless train rides. It was very isolating. Add in the fact that I was now hundreds of miles away from some of my closest friends and still adjusting to a new routine. Suffice it to say that most days were long, frustrating, and lonely.
As I started reading Wild I felt like Cheryl could put into words things that I felt, in a way that was both poetic but realistic. Although my struggle is nothing compared to Cheryl dealing with the death of her mother (at the same age I am now mind you!), I felt instantly connected to her. She has her flaws and recognizes her pain, but within the first few pages you feel like you truly know her. You root for her, you laugh with her, and you cry for her. Her emotions are unapologetically real and she never falters in representing her path honestly, whether or not it admits her own faults. It was a refreshing read that constantly surprised me. I was not entirely sure what to expect from a book that details a woman’s solo trek along the Pacific Crest Trail, but every page kept me enticed.
Strayed decides to hike 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail through a journey of self discovery four years after her mother passes away. She starts in the Mojave Desert and hikes through California and Oregon up to the border of Washington State. Throughout this trek, Strayed tells memories from her childhood all the way up until her decision to leave everything behind for this hike. Distance from her stepfather and two siblings, newly divorced from her husband, and consistent heroin use are moments we see and experience alongside Strayed. The book weaves both the past and present perfectly into one cohesive story that both inspires readers and causes them to reflect on their own life.
While I read Wild I could not help but dog ear countless pages because of lines or paragraphs that moved me in some way. Maybe it’s the English major in me or Cheryl’s unquestionable talent, but there are so many lines throughout this memoir that I reread over and over because they were so eloquent.
Here are just a few excerpts to give you a taste (don’t worry they won’t give anything away I promise!)
I had only just begun. I was three weeks into my hike, but everything in me felt altered. I lay in the water as long as I could without breathing, alone in a strange new land, while the actual world all around me hummed on.
Each of those peaks seemed in my mind’s eye to be like a set of monkey bars I’d swung on as a child. Every time I got to one, the next would be just out of reach.
But you seemed so happy was all they could say. And it was true: we had seemed that way. Just as I’d seemed to be doing okay after my mom died. Grief doesn’t have a face.
Going down, I realized was like taking hold of the loose strand of yarn on a sweater unraveled into a pile of string. Hiking the PCT was the maddening effort of knitting that sweater and unraveling it over and over again. As if everything gained was inevitably lost.
The thing about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, the thing that was so profound to me that summer—and yet also, like most things, so very simple—was how few choices I had and how often I had to do the thing I least wanted to do. How there was no escape or denial. No numbing it down with a martini or covering it up with a roll in the hay. As I clung to the chaparral that day, attempting to patch up my bleeding finger, terrified by every sound that the bull was coming back, I considered my options. There were only two and they were essentially the same. I could go back in the direction I had come from, or I could go forward in the direction I intended to go.
And so I walked on.
I truly cannot recommend this book enough. A colleague at work told me she had given it to a friend who recently lost her father to cancer. I thought that that was such a thoughtful gift, one that may help her friend heal in ways she did not expect. Reading about Cheryl’s journey forces you in a way to focus on your own roadblocks in life and how to overcome them. I think Wild should be required reading, because as humans we all face peaks and valleys, which we need to journey through in order to overcome.
Ironically, I finished this book just the other day. Sitting alongside the East River while the springtime sun shone down, I sat and finished reading Strayed’s huge adventure. I finished her’s just as I realized I was truly starting my own.