Monday, July 1, 2013

Recently Read: "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed

I love stories of adventure, especially if they're true.

A co-worker handed me "Wild" and said I might enjoy the book based on my (limited) backpacking experience and my love for adventure. I was intrigued right away.

In her memoir, Cheryl Strayed depicts her 1,100-mile journey to shed a troubled past and broken heart. Based on the popularity of this book, I'd say it was a success. "Wild" is a New York Times bestseller, a top choice for Oprah Winfrey's Book Club 2.0 and has been optioned for film. Watch the book trailer here.

These accolades mean little to me as a reader; I've tried and put down a few books with similar worldly success. Just pages into Strayed's story, however, I couldn't wait to hear how it ends.

Strayed is unabashedly honest about her failures following the sudden death of her beloved mother. At age 22 and just finishing college, she tried to keep it together for a time, but soon gave up on her marriage and herself, turning to drugs and promiscuity to escape. It may sound a little cliché, but woven into the chronological detail of 94 days on the Pacific Crest Trail, the story takes an amazing new life. The seamless sort of way she ties pieces of her past into her journey on the trail is nothing short of masterful. It's truly an admirable piece of writing.

At some point in the book, I became invested in her story and found myself rooting for her success, not knowing if she would stay off drugs, be safe or reach her destination, the Bridge of the Gods. She let me down along the way and sometimes I found her to be downright unlikeable. But much more often, I was impressed at her resolve to lace up her boots every morning (while she had them), strap on her monstrous backpack, and continue her quest alone. The enduring solitude is a significant theme throughout the story. There are occasional campouts or stopovers in small towns that add to the adventure, but more than anything it's a story about personal transformation.

In her transformation, Strayed learns to "stay with it" and becomes resolved to succeed, both in her hike and her writing career. In this interview with Author's Magazine, Strayed talks about the resilience and determination required in both the trail hike and the writing process.

"What we accomplish is built on what we failed at, what we tried at, what we hope to do better someday."

What I hoped would be a good story became inspiration for me. I'm so happy Strayed shared her story with the world but there is one more thing I wonder about... Has she been backpacking since?

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