Book Review: “Wild,” Cheryl Strayed

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” – Mary Oliver, The Summer Day

I first picked up the book “Wild” probably about a year ago. I wanted to read it, but I just couldn’t do it. I wasn’t in the right frame of mind at the time, didn’t have the time or effort to expend reading, really absorbing, the book. I wanted to give it the attention it deserved, so I put it back on the shelf and just now revisited it.

I devoured it in about a week’s time, though if I’d had more free time it would’ve been faster. It was honest, raw, heartbreaking, soul-cleansing. This book made me think, and sometimes the best books make you do that.

I’ve read a lot of reviews of “Wild” that are less-than-favorable, but I don’t look at it that way. First and foremost, I think memoirs are written more for the people who do the writing, than for those who do the reading. If you don’t like Cheryl’s story – you don’t have to read it! Life is this tremendous, imperfect thing, and it’s that exactly realness that I thought made this book so enjoyable.

Cheryl tells us right off the bat that she’s not this perfect protagonist. She’s lived, she’s made mistakes. She cheated on her husband, she did drugs, etc. No one is perfect in life, and I’d be hard-pressed to act like the events in our lives don’t affect us, even if they are things we could’ve controlled.

She also deeply & openly expresses her mixed grief after having lost her mother in her early twenties. Some have said she’s “whiny,” but… really? Everyone grieves in different ways, and it’s not our place to say whether or not her grief is “appropriate” or “too much.”

Through all this, she decides, somewhat haphazardly, to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Some reviewers have chastised her for being ill-prepared, but it’s a fault she freely admits to, multiple times over the course of the memoir.  But sometimes there are things in life that we feel we have to do, right then, right now, whether we’re “prepared” for them or not. The time… is now.

Personally, I think that this was an incredible adventure, even if it’s not one she was planning for a long-time, or one she was really well-prepared for. I don’t think I could do it.

Other reviewers have also scolded her for not “really” hiking the PCT, since she went off-trail at times, showered up in convenience stores or picked off a burger every once in a while, found fellow hikers to drink with, etc. To them I say: she hiked the goddamn PCT. Case. closed. If her journey looks different that what you expected… oh well!

There’s also reviewers that scold her for “having problems sleeping around with men, and then continuing to do so.” To them I say: her body, her choices – not yours. (Also good advice for the real world!)

If you want more specific information about the flowers and plants on the PCT, or the specific, detailed routes with maps and the like: go get a guidebook. This isn’t meant to be that.

In the end, I really enjoyed reading this. It captured me, hooked in so many different ways and it was both interesting and intriguing to read, heartbreaking and relatable, emotional and powerful. It breaks her and strengthens her. It shrinks her and helps her grow. This journey is an incredible one, and this book is a wonderful journal of that.

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