Wild Book Review

Is it just me or has the healthy living blogosphere exploded with praise for Cheryl Strayed’s Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail?

wild-cheryl-strayed

This memoir has been on my radar for a while, and while home for the holidays, I told my Colorado-based, seasoned-hiker cousin about it; we decided to start a virtual book club and chose this text as our first read.  On the train back to New York City, I couldn’t stop reading:  Strayed’s honest tone and carefully crafted narrative caught my attention.  Overall, I liked Wild, but wouldn’t readily recommend it; I wouldn’t classify it as a must-read.

Brief Summary

From Amazon.com:

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.

Product Details

Publisher:  Knoph

Publication date:  3/20/2012

Pages:  336

My Review

Non-fiction, memoir, travel writing—however you classify Wild, it’s fundamentally sound from a writing perspective.  It’s tight, yet descriptive, making the reader feel as if they’re hiking with 26-year-old Strayed during the summer of 1995 on the Pacific Crest Trail (which goes from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State).  The book centers on Strayed’s hike, and the author first briefly recounts her childhood and young adult years—her father vanished when she was six, her mother recently died, and Strayed used heroin and slept around—before sharing that she separated from her husband and was working as a waitress when she set off in search of “radical aloneness.”

I’ve never been hiking, so I don’t think I fully understand Strayed’s gutsy (yet reckless?) decision to start her career on one of the toughest trails in North America.  However, she makes no attempt to hide her inexperience—she didn’t try on her hiking boots before hitting the trail, she didn’t practice packing her backpack named Monster, etc.—and I valued her honesty.  Personally, I compared her choice to someone who wanted to tackle an Ironman for their first triathlon, specifically a challenging course like Lake Placid—which is nuts.

Anyway, throughout the book, Strayed seamlessly transitions from life on the trail—eating dehydrated meals, sleeping in a tiny tent, and losing blackened toenails—to her past, telling the audience about her childhood, her relationship with her mother, her failed marriage, and her heroin habits.  This rhetorical technique usually finds its way into travel novels, yet it works in this memoir, too:  Instead of sharing her entire life story in the first 30 pages, she continuously moves from past to present, effectively connecting and building a relationship with the reader.

 

I enjoyed “meeting” Strayed’s fellow PCT hikers, but I wondered how accurately they—and the journey itself—were portrayed; she did wait 17 years before writing this memoir.  I also would’ve liked to hear more about the actual hike, but further discussion would’ve veered toward travel writing and downplayed Strayed’s life experiences.

 

Discussion Questions:

1.  Do you enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, backpacking, and camping?

2.  Strayed uses the activity of hiking as a way to tell her life story.  If you wrote a memoir, what activity would act as the “window” into your life?

3.  What’s your favorite biography or memoir?   

29 responses to “Wild Book Review

  1. I really enjoy your review because it’s so honest. I enjoy hiking (and went backpacking for a class back in college). Not in the cold though obviously.

  2. I was so anxious to read your thoughts. I agree-Despite my love for this book, I would’ve liked a little more hiking and a little less of her emotional turmoil. However, it does all seem to work together. I think her honesty is really what makes her endearing. She’s not about to act like she has a clue what she’s doing! In fact, when I started to read it and I realized this was her first hike, I think I exclaimed out loud about her idiocy! This book will always have a special place with me though since it’s the one that really got me to thinking about thru-hiking!

    • I really valued her honestly; that was definitely the biggest pro/plus for me. I can only imagine your reaction when you found out it was her first hike! I mean, I understood it was crazy, but definitely not to the extent that you did–you are the expert. 🙂

  3. I keep saying I want to read this, I need to get on it.

  4. This is on my to-read list! I think the activity would have to be fitness or baking!

  5. Love reading your book reviews, Carrie. Direct, honest and factual. I haven’t heard of this book but I’d be curious to check it out. I enjoy hiking (I graduated in Colorado Springs) and am intrigued by her seemingly careless attitude. It almost makes me wonder if she was hoping something would happen to her; almost a suicidal ideology.

    I love memoirs but don’t have any favorites. I really enjoy the ones that empower you. The kind that make you want to tackle some absurd goal like saving humanity or something.

  6. I’ve also heard so much about this book! It’s on my reading list too- it sounds like such an awesome read! Glad you liked it. I love outdoor activities like hiking and running so I think her story sounds fascinating.

  7. Alright, not going to lie – I didn’t read this whole thing cause I want to read it myself! Now I have the reminder 🙂

  8. Oh, I love your questions! And now I’m thinking about an activity that would serve as a metaphor for my life. That’s a toughie… I do love hiking though. And I love that Cheryl wasn’t exactly an expert hiker before she decided to undertake this journey.

  9. For NaNoWriMo, I used food as the “window” into my life. I didn’t even realise I’d written a pseudo-memoir thing until about halfway through when I realised that, in amongst all the recipes and discussions of truffles and aubergines, I had sort of written about me.

  10. Thanks for the review, Carrie! I was interested but unsure and this has made me decide not to get it. I think actions like not trying on hiking boots and being totally unprepared would frustrate me too much, not to mention the gap between her taking the trip and her writing the book would make me question her narrative.

    • Yeah, I had mixed feelings about it. I’m glad I read it, so at least I can talk about it if other people bring it up. I’m sure you’ve read enough blog posts that reviewed it so it seems like you’ve read it. 🙂

  11. I’m about halfway through Wild and am having a hard time getting through it. I love Strayed’s writing style and I enjoy how transparent she is; however, the book is really intense and I’ve found it somewhat exhausting to read. Is that weird? Anyways, I started it a couple of months ago and then my book club decided to read it for January. I need to finish it by February 8th! Ah.

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