I was immediately drawn to the concept of Cheryl Strayed's memoir "Wild". I feel that many of us have woken up in our mid-twenties and realized that we want to run away from our post-adolescent malaise and the less than stellar choices we've made. We look around, see how we've treated ourselves and others and want to high-tail it out of there. However, Strayed is unique in that most of us do not choose to exorcise our demons by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.
At twenty-six, still reeling from the sudden death of her mother four years earlier, in the aftershocks of a divorce to a man she still loves, and dealing with the consequences of years of poor decision-making, Cheryl Strayed decides on a whim to hike 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, despite having no hiking experience whatsoever. The Pacific Crest Trail, which starts in Mexico, zigzags through California, Oregon, Washington, and into Canada, spanning 2,650 miles.
I was interested in this book, but I was also skeptical. It has all of the makings of an instant bestseller. So it could be amazing. It could also be amazingly over-hyped. Fortunately, Strayed is a gifted storyteller: weaving together her adventure on the trail and the experiences that led her there with humor and aching honesty.
May has been the Month of Memoirs (I am using an overly generous definition, including biographies as well). Most of the books I've read this month tell the story of someone who has achieved something despite staggering odds: whether it's escaping from a concentration or POW camp, getting a college education after years as a child soldier, living with parents with mental illness, or surviving the Titanic shipwreck. One of the things I loved about Strayed's book is that it is one of redemption. She is a self-sabotaging wreck. She is attempting, in her words, to change: "Not into a different person, but back to the person I used to be- strong and responsible, clear-eyed and driven, ethical and good".
And, like any fundamental and true change, this one takes time.
And, like every change that restores someone back to the person they were before tragedy knocked them profoundly off-balance, this one is worth it.
Currently reading: My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey
Books read in 2012: 54