If I Stray ("Wild" Book Review)

I may be very late with this, since it's already a movie and all that, but I've already told you guys that I'm a reverse hipster — I start paying attention to things after everyone else is already onto way cooler things. (I finished Serial this week, btw. Send me your theories.)

I thought about adding Wild by Cheryl Strayed to my book list last year, but I really wasn't sure if it was my thing. I enjoy a good memoir, but sometimes I find memoir-writers to be a bit bratty and self-important and annoying, so I tend to read a lot of reviews before picking up a memoir. But my mom gave me a copy of Wild for Christmas, and I had just finished Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult (Here's my review of that: Read it immediately.) and "why not?"-ed myself into opening the front cover on Christmas Day.

(If you haven't read it, there may be some slight spoilers below, but there's no big "climax" or anything like that that I'm worried about giving away.)

What's it about?
Wild is Cheryl Strayed's memoir of the summer she hiked the Pacific Crest Trail from the bottom of California to the Oregon/Washington border. A self-described orphan, Strayed sets out on the trail to find some sense and clarity after her twenty-something life has been turned upside down by the death of her mother, the estrangement of her siblings, the abandonment of her stepfather, and the crumble of her marriage. Throw in a few trysts with "bad news" men and the drugs they love, and Strayed is, at the outset of her journey, lost.

The memoir intersperses Strayed's on-the-trail thoughts and experiences, including an unexpected cast of characters, with her memories of the life and choices and experiences that brought her to the trail. She manages to keep the narratives distinct enough to avoid confusion and masterfully recalls the right memories at the right time.

If you're reading for the writing, it's not earth-shaking, though Strayed turns a pretty phrase and sometimes describes an experience or thought pattern or personality trait so acutely I swear she must spend her evenings peeking into my bedroom windows or into my brain. Our experiences couldn't be any different, but in reading this memoir I felt like I was reading the diary of a dear friend, a kindred spirit.

Overall, there were some passages I slogged through and some parts that were nearly impossible to read. As she recounted memories of her mother I was tempted to drive an hour just to hug my own and tell her I love her. I admit to putting the book down more than once just because it hurt to read.

I won't say this is a must-read for everybody, but I was so pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it, all said and done.

Read it if...
You're a "nature girl," you like true stories/memories/biographies/autobiographies, underdog stories, emotional reads, stories of adventure; you participate in the occasional navel-gazing; your mom bought you the book for Christmas and you have nothing else to read on your bedside table.

Favorite Passages

"I lingered a bit longer, feeling a swell of emotion over the occasion, and then I realized there was nothing to do but go, so I did."

"Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me."

[With respect to the natural elements surrounding her on the PCT] "I was a pebble. I was a leaf. I was the jagged branch of a tree. I was nothing to them and they were everything to me."

"I realized there was a bull in both directions. I simply made a leap of faith and pushed on in the direction where I'd never been."

"Until now, I hadn't truly understood the world's vastness—hadn't even understood how vast a mile could be—until each mile was beheld at walking speed. And yet there was also its opposite, the strange intimacy I'd come to have with the trail."
A mile run on the roads of a New York City suburb is not the same as a mile hiked on an historic natural trail, but I know what she means so clearly here. A mile driven and a mile passed on foot are two completely different measures of space and time, and I never knew this — even as a hobby hiker before I was a runner — until I started running.

"Perhaps being amidst the undesecrated beauty of the wilderness meant that I too could be undesecrated, regardless of what I'd lost or what had been taken from me, regardless of the regrettable things I'd done to others or myself or the regrettable things that had been done to me. Of all the things I was skeptical about, I didn't feel skeptical about this: the wilderness had a clarity that included me."

"Who would I be if I did? Who would I be if I didn't?"
It was this very pair of questions that led me to decide to run a marathon this year, after the seed of the idea planted itself in my mind a few weeks ago and left me to make something of it. Would I decide to be a person who took an opportunity to run a marathon, or would I be the person who decided she wasn't ready yet? Choosing one way or another would incite little to no reaction in anybody else in the world; it was all on me, and all for me. Did I want to become a person who ran a full marathon this year? Yes.

"There's no way to know what makes one thing happen and not another. What leads to what. What destroys what. What causes what to flourish or die or take another course."

"How wild it was, to let it be."


Have you read Wild, or do you plan to?
Also, yes or no on book review posts like this? I'll only write 'em if you want 'em!


  1. I read it a few weeks ago and while I enjoyed most of it it will never top any lists for me. I like how you put it. I found her to be super bratty and selfish as times and by the end I didn't really like her. I did love the story of overcoming and of course hiking since it's one of my favorite things.

  2. I read the book and thought it was pretty good too. There was something missing... like it just fell short but I'm not quite sure of what, and it didn't help that Cheryl isn't exactly the most likable protagonist. Memoirs are tough like that though. Right after Wild I read Unbroken (which had some serious can't-put-down moments), so now I'm taking a break from the non-fiction and reading The Alchemist (coincidentally, also because my mom gave it to me for Christmas and it's just sitting beside my bed).

  3. This was such a good review. I love memoirs, but I'm not a big nature person so that's always turned me off to this book/movie-- even though I love Reese. I also don't know if it will be too sad, but I'm definitely more intrigued- and yes to more reviews like this!

  4. i read wild and it didn't really grip me. her story was very sad, yes (OMG THE HORSE INCIDENCT) I just didn't connect with her and had a hard time sympathizing at times because I couldn't understand the WHYS of some of her decisions (From starting her trek in unbroken in boots to doing all the drugs) I finished it. it wasn't the worst book I ever read, but that's about all I can say. I don't plan to see the movie unless they put it on Netflix or something.

  5. also this: http://ww2.kqed.org/pop/2015/01/22/serial-a-completely-unsubstantiated-theory-that-explains-everything/ (its a serial theory which I think makes pretty good sense except the part about jay deliberately changing his story, I don't think he knew enough about the workings of the justice system to game police like that)

  6. I usually skip book reviews but I didn't skip this one because I love you, obvi, and I'm so glad I didn't! I know we talked about this a little bit while I was there but reading your review and especially the quotes at the end - OMG, goosebumps - made me really want to check it out! I've been feeling a little lost lately and like maybe, somewhere deep down, something like this is exactly what I need to read.

  7. I really didn't think this would be my jam, but the way you've described it totally makes me want to pick it up. I feel like I need to read a book about being lost and finding myself right now.

  8. I've been planning on reading this. I just have so many on the list... I'm on the last episode of Serial. I'm going to have to listen to it again.

  9. I really love the way you set up the review for this book! Nature is so not my thing, so I probably wouldn't think this was my jam...but at the same time parts of what you wrote did appeal to me.

  10. "I realized there was a bull in both directions. I simply made a leap of faith and pushed on in the direction where I'd never been." - such a powerful line! Loved how you wrote this review and definitely going to check it out!

  11. I'll be honest, I stopped reading this post after your little intro. This is my reading list and I don't want any preconceived notions about anything :) I'm so behind on movies that I'm practically on schedule.


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