Oprah chose a winner
Although she no longer has her TV show, Oprah Winfrey is still a book lover. She has started a new digital (2.0) book club to replace the one she had on the TV show and Wild by Cheryl Strayed was her first choice. It is easy to see why Oprah was drawn to this book. Strayed took an unusual and brave step for a 26-year-old woman setting out alone to hike 1100 miles on the rugged and often snowy Pacific Crest Trail.
Even before she made the decision to hike the trail, Strayed's life was difficult and uncoventional. Her mother fled a bad and abusive marriage with 3 children in tow, remarried a man who lived in the country with few modern conveniences, and then died quickly of cancer in at 45. Strayed married young, but made several bad choices, including promiscuity and using heroin before her marriage fell apart.
Almost on a whim, freshly divorced and with very little stability in her life Strayed, after picking up a book on the PCT, decided to take the solo hike. She started out with a pack that she quickly and aptly named the Monster (almost too heavy for her to lift), with no practice hikes, and with ill fitting boots and very little cash. Her plan was to have a friend mail her boxes of supplies along the way, but besides her carefully selected and too heavy gear, she gave little thought to what it takes to to complete a hike of this magnitude.
However, she learns and adapts along the way, as she gets fitter and sheds some of her gear. Her feet are a mess, and there is a running count for how many toenails the trail is costing her. She bonds with other hikers because of their shared experiences, but she is mostly on her own. And then there is the wildlife to deal with as well: rattlesnakes and bears are common on the trail.
Strayed does complete the hike, after some detours because of snow. This book is much more than a traditional outdoor adventure tale. It's also an exploration of her earlier life, her unresolved grief over the early death of her mother and her life choices and mistakes.
Strayed is an accomplished writer and her memoir is written in a matter of fact way without self-pity. Some people would not approve of some of her early life choices, but her ability to move on from them and learn from her mistakes is admirable. After finishing the book I was surprised to learn that Strayed is now a popular advice columnist. Her newest book is Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice and Love from Dear Sugar. Her columns can also be read at The Rumpus.