18 October 2016

Author Spotlight: Cheryl Strayed

Cheryl Strayed doesn't have the largest repertoire of work and may seem like an odd choice for an author feature, but it would be incredibly annoying for me to gush about her books in individual posts. Strayed is one of my favourite authors (I hesitate to say my favourite entirely only because I have commitment issues) and she has this charming, candid, poetic way with words that I love so much.
Torch (2002)

This book is classified as fiction but it's not-so-loosely based on Strayed's real life. She uses fake names, and likely some plot fillers, but for the most part this is a book about her mothers' death and the way it affected her family. I am not a huge fan of fiction but as mentioned previously, Strayed has a beautiful way of writing about certain themes. This book talks a lot about familial love and grief (topics I love to read about) and even though its fiction its still deeply personal to Strayed. Claire (representative of Strayed) is one of my favourite fictional characters ever. Strayed was so thorough in developing all of Claire's emotions and thoughts so she feels like someone you've known a long time. I read it after I read Wild so I already had an understanding that these were true events, but people who are just haphazardly stumbling upon this in their bookstore are in for one of the most emotional pieces of fiction they'll ever read.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (2012)

This is undoubtedly her most popular book and what most people know her for. It's a non-fiction account of her hiking the PCT over the course of three-ish months. This is a crazy good read. She does this hike after the death of her mother, a divorce from her first husband and a bad bout with drugs so you go through about a million emotions with her as she journals this solo hike. (Note: the book does not read like a traditional journal so if you're like me and hate that, don't be deterred) You also learn so much about hiking which I became temporarily obsessed with. Meghan and I still actively plan a solo hike we'll never go on, obviously by solo we also mean together.

Strayed hiking the PCT in June 1995

There was a movie adaptation in 2014 which gave the book a lot more popularity. I loved the movie (and Strayed played an active role in the adaptation which is always a good sign) but the book is still so much better. You can read all her thoughts in a more detailed way than a movie could ever allow for and I definitely find that important. This book literally makes you feel like you could overcome anything. 

"I made a mantra of those days; when paused before yet another series of switchbacks or skidded down knee-jarring slopes, when patches of flesh peeled off my feet along with my socks, when I lay alone and lonely in my tent at night I asked, often out loud: who is tougher than me?"

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life From Dear Sugar (2012)

I am in love with this book. Strayed used to write an advice column called "Dear Sugar" for The Rumpus and this is a collection of her favourite pieces in the form of essays. As with all essay collections, some are better and more relatable than others, but in this case there wasn't a single one I was disinterested in. They vary topically but the themes remain consistent in Strayed's writing and the prevailing topics are love, grief, and forgiveness. It's like Chicken Soup for the Fucked Up Soul- or for adult women who think over-critically. The last essay has weirdly become almost religious to me. I read it every time I'm in a rut and I can recite it to myself almost by heart. Strayed doesn't write "Dear Sugar" anymore but she hosts a weekly podcast co-hosted by Steve Almond by the same name and in the same format that you can listen to here.

"Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you'll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you'll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room."

Brave Enough (2015)

This is her least interesting book as it's more of a novelty item. It's a very beautiful collection of quotes and excerpts from her various works. It makes an excellent and meaningful gift for those who you likely have a hard time buying for (your boyfriend's mom, teachers, babysitters, etc.). I ordered mine from Broadway Books in Portland, Cheryl's local book store, because sometimes she will sign the copies from there. I got super lucky...

Aside from these four books, Cheryl has a number of essays that have been published various places. It frustrates me that I'll never know if this is all there is or merely all I can find. Two that are widely available are:

"Heroin/e" from The Best American Essays (2000) &
"The Love of My Life" from The Sun Magazine (2002) 

I really look forward to more writing from her- preferably non-fiction. There is probably some truth to the idea that I love her writing so much because it is relatable to me at this time in my life. My mom, for example, doesn't find her as captivating and I think it has something to do with identification. I identify with the themes that are so prevalent throughout her writing (obviously not to the same scale, I'm not about the go hike the PCT) and so I love the way she positions them. However, because of her restricted repertoire, I wouldn't say that as of yet she's a trans-generational, appeals-to-everyone type of writer. But we're only four books in... 

As a side-note, please see this picture of Meghan as Strayed on the PCT for halloween 2015. We love her.

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