“Wild” by Cheryl Strayed in an international bestseller, and currently being turned into a Hollywood film with Reese Witherspoon. Don’t let this put you off – the book is a moving, intelligent piece of life writing. If you liked Liz Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray Love”, there’s a good change you will like “Wild” too.
Cheryl Strayed’s life fell apart completely in her mid-twenties, after her mother died suddenly from cancer. Relationships with the rest of her family became difficult, she grew apart from her husband and fell into a downward spiral of grief, depression and heroin abuse.
She was eventually saved by a single, seemingly crazy project – to hike on her own on the Pacific Crest Trail, a mountain trail that runs all the way from the Mexican border to Canada – a project which she undertook, against everybody’s advice, without any planning or previous hiking experience. Her 1,100 mile journey into the American wilderness is the story of the book.
The big idea
As you might have guessed, this book is as much about an interior journey “from lost to found” (as per the subtitle), as it is about hiking. It does tell you all about the hike and the people she meets along the way, but the main idea of the book is really that sometimes, you have to let yourself fall apart completely before you can rebuild yourself again; or as some people say, you have to reach rock bottom before you can push yourself back up.
Those of us who have experienced this will know it takes tremendous faith and courage to do so, and Cheryl’s book is inspiring precisely for that reason – because as her beautiful story unravels, we are not only in awe of her courage, but also touched by the resonances with our own personal lives.
Why it will change your life
This memoir goes back and forth between stories from the wild and memories from the author’s past, and although Strayed (Strayed being the name she picked for herself after her divorce) goes through difficult times, it isn’t a dark book. Anecdotes from the trail are often hilarious, and her memories of her past and her family are of good times as well as bad. Importantly, the story was written a good 15 years after the actual hike, and she has since remarried, had children, and led a generally happy life, so it comes from a place of maturity and compassion.
It is ultimately a book about family and love and growing up and how, if we are ready to be brave and forgive ourselves, loss can lead us to become the person we were meant to be.