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Wild (Strayed)

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
Cheryl Strayed, 2012
Knopf Doubleday
336 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780307476074


Summary
A powerful, blazingly honest memoir: the story of an eleven-hundred-mile solo hike that broke down a young woman reeling from catastrophe—and built her back up again.
 
At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother's death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—and to do it alone. She had no experience as a long-distance hiker, and the trail was little more than “an idea, vague and outlandish and full of promise.” But it was a promise of piecing back together a life that had come undone.
 
Strayed faces down rattlesnakes and black bears, intense heat and record snowfalls, and both the beauty and loneliness of the trail. Told with great suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild vividly captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—September 17, 1968
Where—Spangler, Pennsylvania, uSA
Education—B.A., University of Minnesota; M.F.A,
   Syracuse University
Awards—Pushcart Prize
Currently—Portland, Oregan


Cheryl Strayed is a New York Times bestselling author, who lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and two children. Her autobiographical debut novel, Torch, was published 2006. In 2012 she published another bestseller, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, the true account of her trek along the Pacific Crest Trail. Strayed also writes the online advice column "Dear Sugar."

Strayed was born in Pennsylvania and raised in Minnesota, where she graduated from McGregor High School in Aitkin County, a place upon which the fictional Coltrap County in Torch is based. She received her B.A. from the University of Minnesota and her M.F.A in fiction writing from Syracuse University, where she was mentored by writers George Saunders and Mary Gaitskill among others. She is married to filmmaker Brian Lindstrom.

Published works
Strayed's essays have been published in the Washington Post Magazine, New York Times Magazine, Vogue, Allure and other imprints. Her work has been selected twice for inclusion in The Best American Essays ("Heroin/e" in the 2000 edition, and "The Love of My Life" in the 2003 edition). Torch, a story based on Strayed's mother's death from cancer at age 45, was a finalist for the Great Lakes Book Award and was selected by The Oregonian as one of the top ten books of 2006 by writers living in the Pacific Northwest.

Her memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, which details her 1,100-mile hike up the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert to northernmost Oregon has since been optioned by actress Reese Witherspoon. Wild was also excerpted in Vogue.

On February 14, 2012, Strayed came forward as the formerly anonymous author of the "Dear Sugar" advice column at The Rumpus online literary magazine. Strayed took over the column from originator Steve Almond. On July 10, 2012 her new book Tiny Beautiful Things, a compilation of her best and new "Dear Sugar" columns, will be released by Vintage Books.

Awards
Strayed's essay "Munro County", about a letter from Alice Munro, was published in the Missouri Review and won a Pushcart Prize in 2010.

Wild was chosen in June, 2012, as the inaugural selection for Oprah's Book Club 2.0, a re-launch of the famous Oprah's Book Club which ended in 2011. Oprah's Book Club 2.0 uses online social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and e-readers, so that participants can cut and paste passages from books and communicate online. Oprah discussed Wild in her video announcement of the new Club (From Wikipedia.)



Book Reviews
It’s not very manly, the topic of weeping while reading. Yet for a book critic tears are an occupational hazard. Luckily, perhaps, books don’t make me cry very often. Turning pages, I’m practically Steve McQueen. Strayed’s memoir, Wild, however, pretty much obliterated me. I was reduced, during her book’s final third, to puddle-eyed cretinism. I like to read in coffee shops, and I began to receive concerned glances from matronly women, the kind of looks that said, ‘Oh, honey.’ To mention all this does Strayed a bit of a disservice, because there’s nothing cloying about Wild. It’s uplifting, but not in the way of many memoirs, where the uplift makes you feel that you’re committing mental suicide. This book is as loose and sexy and dark as an early Lucinda Williams song. It’s got a punk spirit and makes an earthy and American sound.... Wild recounts the months Strayed spent when she was 26, hiking alone on the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State. There were very frightening moments, but the author was not chewed on by bears, plucked dangling from the edge of a pit, buried by an avalanche or made witness to the rapture. No dingo ate anyone’s baby. Yet everything happened. The clarity of Ms. Strayed’s prose, and thus of her person, makes her story, in its quiet way, nearly as riveting an adventure narrative as Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild and Into Thin Air.... Her grief, early in this book, is as palpable as her confusion. Her portrait of her mother, who died of cancer at 45, is raw and bitter and reverent all at once.... Wild is thus the story of an unfolding. She got tougher, mentally as well as physically [and she] tells good, scary stories about nearly running out of water, encountering leering men and dangerous animals.... The lack of ease in her life made her fierce and funny; she hammers home her hard-won sentences like a box of nails. The cumulative welling up I experienced during Wild was partly a response to that too infrequent sight: that of a writer finding her voice, and sustaining it, right in front of your eyes.
Dwight Garner - New York Times


Strayed comes off as a total screw-up and a wise person at the same time, perhaps because she has the ineffable gift every writer longs for of saying exactly what she means in lines that are both succinct and poetic... Some memoirs make the steps between grief and healing so clear that the path seems easy for readers to follow. Strayed, on the contrary, respects mystery.... No epiphanies here, no signs from the gods. Just a healthy respect for the uncertainty we all live with, and an inborn talent for articulating angst and the gratefulness that comes when we overcome it.
Fiona Zublin - Washington Post


[A] vivid, touching and ultimately inspiring account of a life unraveling, and of the journey that put it back together. . . . The darkness is relieved by self-deprecating humor as [Strayed] chronicles her hiking expedition and the rebirth it helped to inspire. . . . Wild easily transcends the hiking genre, though it presents plenty of details about equipment ordeals and physical challenges. Anyone with some backpacking experience will find Strayed's chronicle especially amusing. Her boots prove too small. The trail destroys her feet. Then there is the possibility of real mortality: She repeatedly finds herself just barely avoiding rattlesnakes. Strayed is honest about the tedium of hiking but also alert to the self-discovery that can be stirred by solitude and self-reliance. . . . Pathos and humor are her main companions on the trail, although she writes vividly about the cast of other pilgrims she encounters. Finding out ‘what it was like to walk for miles,’ Strayed writes, was ‘a powerful and fundamental experience.’ And knowing that feeling has a way of taming the challenges thrown up by modern life.
Michael J. Ybarra - Wall Street Journal


Brilliant...pointedly honest.... Part adventure narrative, part deeply personal reflection, Wild chronicles an adventure born of heartbreak. . . . While it is certain that the obvious dangers of the trail are real — the cliffs are high, the path narrow, the ice slick, and the animal life wild — the book’s greatest achievement lies in its exploration of the author’s emotional landscape. With flashbacks as organic and natural as memory itself, Strayed mines the bedrock of her past to reveal what rests beneath her compulsion to hike alone across more than one thousand primitive miles: her biological father’s abuse and abandonment, her mother’s diagnosis and death, and her family’s unraveling. Strayed emerges from her grief-stricken journey as a practitioner of a rare and vital vocation. She has become an intrepid cartographer of the human heart.
Bruce Machart - Houston Chronicle


Strayed writes a crisp scene; her sentences hum with energy. She can describe a trail-parched yearning for Snapple like no writer I know. She moves us briskly along the route, making discrete rest stops to parcel out her backstory. It becomes impossible not to root for her.
Karen R. Long - Cleveland Plain Dealer


One of the most original, heartbreaking and beautiful American memoirs in years.... The unlikely journey is awe-inspiring, but it's one of the least remarkable things about the book. Strayed, who was recently revealed as the anonymous author of the ‘Dear Sugar’ advice column of the literary website The Rumpus, writes with stunningly authentic emotional resonance—Wild is brutal and touching in equal measures, but there's nothing forced about it. She chronicles sorrow and loss with unflinching honesty, but without artifice or self-pity. There are no easy answers in life, she seems to be telling the reader. Maybe there are no answers at all. It's fitting, perhaps, that the writer chose to end her long pilgrimage at the Bridge of the Gods, a majestic structure that stretches a third of a mile across the Columbia, the largest river in the Pacific Northwest. We think of bridges as separating destinations, just as we think of long journeys as the price we have to pay to get from one place to another. Sometimes, though, the journey is the destination, and the bridge connects more than just dots on a map—it joins reality with the dream world, the living with the dead, the tame with the wild.
Michael Schaub - NPR Books


A rich, riveting true story.... During her grueling three-month journey, Strayed circled around black bears and rattlesnakes, fought extreme dehydration by drinking oily gray pond water, and hiked in boots made entirely of duct tape. Reading her matter-of-fact take on love and grief and the soul-saving quality of a Snapple lemonade, you can understand why Strayed has earned a cult following as the author of Dear Sugar, a popular advice column on therumpus.net.... With its vivid descriptions of beautiful but unforgiving terrain, Wild is a cinematic story, but Strayed’s book isn’t really about big, cathartic moments. The author never "finds herself" or gets healed. When she reaches the trail’s end, she buys a cheap ice cream cone and continues down the road. . . . It’s hard to imagine anything more important than taking one step at a time. That’s endurance, and that’s what Strayed understands, almost 20 years later. As she writes, "There was only one [option], I knew. To keep walking." Our verdict: A.
Melissa Maerz - Entertainment Weekly


Strayed’s journey is the focal point of Wild, in which she interweaves suspenseful accounts of her most harrowing crises with imagistic moments of reflection. Her profound grief over her mother’s death, her emotional abandonment by her siblings and stepfather, and her personal shortcomings and misadventures are all conveyed with a consistently grounded, quietly pained self-awareness. On the trail, she fends of everything from loneliness to black bears; we groan when her boots go tumbling off a cliff and we rejoice as she transforms from a terrified amateur hiker into the ‘Queen of the PCT.’ In a style that embodies her wanderlust, Strayed transports us with this gripping, ultimately uplifting tale.
Catherine Straut - ELLE


In the summer of 1995, at age 26 and feeling at the end of her rope emotionally, Strayed resolved to hike solo the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,663-mile wilderness route stretching from the Mexican border to the Canadian and traversing nine mountain ranges and three states. In this detailed, in-the-moment re-enactment, she delineates the travails and triumphs of those three grueling months. Living in Minneapolis, on the verge of divorcing her husband, Strayed was still reeling from the sudden death four years before of her mother from cancer; the ensuing years formed an erratic, confused time “like a crackling Fourth of July sparkler.” Hiking the trail helped decide what direction her life would take, even though she had never seriously hiked or carried a pack before. Starting from Mojave, Calif., hauling a pack she called the Monster because it was so huge and heavy, she had to perform a dead lift to stand, and then could barely make a mile an hour. Eventually she began to experience “a kind of strange, abstract, retrospective fun,” meeting the few other hikers along the way, all male; jettisoning some of the weight from her pack and burning books she had read; and encountering all manner of creature and acts of nature from rock slides to snow. Her account forms a charming, intrepid trial by fire, as she emerges from the ordeal bruised but not beaten, changed, a lone survivor.
Publishers Weekly


Strayed delves into memoir after her fiction debut, Torch. She here recounts her experience hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in 1995 after her mother's death and her own subsequent divorce. Designated a National Scenic Trail in 1968 but not completed until 1993, the PCT runs from Mexico to Canada, and Strayed hiked sections of it two summers after it was officially declared finished. She takes readers with her on the trail, and the transformation she experiences on its course is significant: she goes from feeling out of her element with a too-big backpack and too-small boots to finding a sense of home in the wilderness and with the allies she meets along the way. Readers will appreciate her vivid descriptions of the natural wonders near the PCT, particularly Mount Hood, Crater Lake, and the Sierras—what John Muir proclaimed the "Range of Light." Verdict: This book is less about the PCT and more about Strayed's own personal journey, which makes the story's scope a bit unclear. However, fans of her novel will likely enjoy this new book. —Karen McCoy, Northern Arizona Univ. Lib., Flagstaff
Library Journal


Unsentimental memoir of the author's three-month solo hike from California to Washington along the Pacific Crest Trail.... Along the way she suffered aches, pains, loneliness, blistered, bloody feet and persistent hunger. Yet the author also discovered a newfound sense of awe; for her, hiking the PCT was "powerful and fundamental" and "truly hard and glorious." Strayed was stunned by how the trail both shattered and sheltered her.... A candid, inspiring narrative of the author's brutal physical and psychological journey through a wilderness of despair to a renewed sense of self.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
1. “The Pacific Crest Trail wasn’t a world to me then. It was an idea, vague and outlandish, full of promise and mystery. Something bloomed inside me as I traced its jagged line with my finger on a map” (p. 4). Why did the PCT capture Strayed’s imagination at that point in her life?

2. Each section of the book opens with a literary quote or two. What do they tell you about what’s to come in the pages that follow? How does Strayed’s pairing of, say, Adrienne Rich and Joni Mitchell (p. 45) provide insight into her way of thinking?

3. Strayed is quite forthright in her description of her own transgressions, and while she’s remorseful, she never seems ashamed. Is this a sign of strength or a character flaw?

4. “I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. 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” (p. 51). Fear is a major theme in the book. Do you think Strayed was too afraid, or not afraid enough? When were you most afraid for her?

5. Strayed chose her own last name: “Nothing fit until one day when the word strayed came into my mind. Immediately, I looked it up in the dictionary and knew it was mine...: to wander from the proper path, to deviate from the direct course, to be lost, to become wild, to be without a mother or father, to be without a home, to move about aimlessly in search of something, to diverge or digress” (p. 96). Did she choose well? What did you think when you learned she had assigned this word to herself—that it was no coincidence?

6. On the trail, Strayed encounters mostly men. How does this work in her favor? What role does gender play when removed from the usual structure of society?

7. What does the reader learn from the horrific episode in which Strayed and her brother put down their mother’s horse?

8. Strayed writes that the point of the PCT “had only to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles for no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets” (p. 207). How does this sensation help Strayed to find her way back into the world beyond the wilderness?

9. On her journey, Strayed carries several totems. What does the black feather mean to her? And the POW bracelet? Why does she find its loss (p. 238) symbolic?

10. Does the hike help Strayed to get over Paul? If so, how? And if not, why?

11. Strayed says her mother’s death “had obliterated me.... I was trapped by her but utterly alone. She would always be the empty bowl that no one could fill” (p 267). How did being on the PCT on her mother’s fiftieth birthday help Strayed to heal this wound?

12. What was it about Strayed that inspired the generosity of so many strangers on the PCT?

13. “There’s no way to know what makes one thing happen and not another.... But I was pretty certain as I sat there that night that if it hadn’t been for Eddie, I wouldn’t have found myself on the PCT” (p. 304). How does this realization change Strayed’s attitude towards her stepfather?

14. To lighten her load, Strayed burns each book as she reads it. Why doesn’t she burn the Adrienne Rich collection?

15. What role do books and reading play in this often solitary journey?
(Questions by publisher.)

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