This month we read Wild, the new memoir written by fellow advice columnist, Cheryl Strayed (she’s “Dear Sugar” from The Rumpus, for those who don’t know), and I loved it. In fact, I finished it in one week, which is about three weeks faster than all the other books we’ve read this year. As much as I enjoyed the book, though, the speed at which I read it had more to do with being laid up for a couple of days early in the month with a bad back. I can’t remember the last time I had hours on end to read.
Wild was chosen as the first book in Oprah’s new book club and I’m going to cheat a little here and borrow some of her discussion questions:
1. “Cheryl’s pack, also known as Monster, is one of those real-life objects that also makes a perfect literary metaphor: Cheryl has too much carry on her back and in her mind. Are there other objects she takes with her or acquires along the way that take on deeper meanings? How so?”
2. ‘Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves,’ Cheryl writes her first day on the trail. She is speaking about her fear of rattlesnakes and mountain lions and serial killers. To defeat that fear, she tells herself a new story, the story that she is brave and safe. What do you think about this approach, which she herself calls “mind control”? What are some of her other ways of overcoming fear?
3. “Walking on the trail during the first few weeks, Cheryl writes, ‘My mind was a crystal vase that contained only one desire. My body was its opposite: a bag of broken glass.’ Through the book she talks about the blisters, the dehydration, the exhaustion, and the hunger. How—and why—did this physical suffering help her cope with her emotional pain?”
This makes me think about people who cut themselves in an effort to actually feel the emotional pain they’ve been denying or pushing away. There’s a release in letting the pain out through physical exertion stress. Being able to name the physical discomfort or pain — “blisters,” “dehydration,” “exhaustion,” and “hunger” is a welcome contrast to the pain that isn’t so easy to name. Once you can name something, you are better able to treat it… and eventually heal and move on.
4. “Think about the things — both physical and mental — Cheryl discards along the trail. What are they? How do they change her when they get left behind?”
5. “What does the death of Lady mean for Cheryl? What did that horse represent to her and to her mother—and to the rest of their family?”
Lady represented all the hopes and dreams her mother once had. Saying good-bye to Lady was saying good-bye to the future Cheryl’s mother once envisioned and wouldn’t get to live.
6. “Why might Cheryl have identified the fox she sees on the trail as her mother?”
7. “Cheryl’s fellow hikers play a large role in her experience on PCT. How do you think they contribute to her grieving and healing process? In what ways, beyond providing practical aid, did they enable her to finish her hike?”