Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Book Club: Let’s Get “Wild”

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?”

Next month we’ll be reading Jonathon Tropper’s brand new book, “One Last Thing Before I Go”, which you can order here (ebook) and here (hardback).

10 comments… add one
  • rachel August 30, 2012, 12:15 pm

    Oh no! How is it the end of the month already? I’m only a few chapters into it, though I”m loving it so far.

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  • bunny August 30, 2012, 2:02 pm

    I coincidentally read Wild before this month’s choosing. I have read mostly all of the Dear Sugar columns and was interested to find out Sugar’s identity and then (as she discussed openly) invest that interest into her published works. I was largely disappointed. I think Strayed’s strength lies in novellas or vignettes and not extended forms. The metaphors and relational tidbits were fairly disconnected and not as strong as in her 1,000 or more word. Instead of wanting to think more deeply about the situations presented, e.g. her brief relationship with the rock club employee toward the end, made me sort of shrug off the somewhat blatant storytelling. I just was not invested at all, in her trip, her battle with the grief of her mother’s death, and her sometimes fellow travelers on the PCT. The only part that impacted me was her near-assault by the hunter/fishers, and that impact was a visceral female-bourn response. In a lot of ways the narrative reminds me of work by some undergrad authors I knew; very strong and keening in concentrated bits, tiresome and disconnected in longer ones.

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    • Sasa August 30, 2012, 4:15 pm

      Thank you, you’ve articulated some of the reasons why I didn’t really like this book (although I really thought I would after reading the Dear Sugar columns!). It’s not bad, but I have to agree with your point about the somewhat blatant storytelling. I think it may be because it’s a true story. I feel like sometimes it’s harder to write really well about something you’ve experienced yourself – especially in an extended format. On the subject of grieving her mother’s death, I preferred her essay “The Love of my Life”.

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    katie August 30, 2012, 4:29 pm

    everyone! i am back on the DW book club!! haha.

    so i enjoyed this book. i read it right after i read 50 shades of grey, though, so i think i might have over-appreciated it just because it came right after such trash. so, theres that. but i still thought it was a good book!

    oprah’s book club questions are too much for me. i didnt read the book THAT hard.

    i cried when she killed the horse. literal tears. that was so sad.

    i really wish there was more to the abortion- i feel like there had to be more to it. ive never experienced one, but i feel like they would be very emotional things, especially for her having one at that time in her life, so i wish there was more to that. it was glazed over so quickly- it wasnt even its own sentence. it was a part of another sentence and then not mentioned until almost the end… i thought that was weird.

    and then i felt the end was really rushed. almost like she was running out of room or something. the whole book was so spaced out, slow, really describing things and emotions.. it was very detailed, and then it just ended. like, my journey on the trail ended. i cant believe that in a year i would be standing in this very spot getting married. my life was good. the end. i just wish there would have been a little more to her “new” self after the trail was done.

    overall i really liked it!

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    • painted_lady August 30, 2012, 6:28 pm

      I have the audiobook version, and I have listened to it multiple times. I have to skip the part about Lady dying, though. It was just too sad and pitiful. That poor terrified horse.

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        katie August 30, 2012, 7:55 pm

        oh god. i mean it was bad enough when she’s getting the instructions on how to do it- that was literally bad enough. but then she doesnt kill her on the first shot? omg. absolutely horrible.

    • The_Yellow_Dart August 31, 2012, 6:58 am

      The death of Lady (right?) the horse was definitely the most striking and disturbing part of the book for me! Though I thought her mother’s death was very sad too. I thought she was very honest about her emotions regarding Paul and her heroin-friend from Portland, but I agree that the ending was too rushed…

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  • painted_lady August 30, 2012, 6:46 pm

    I loved Wild, though it was not anywhere near the warm, compassionate voice Strayed has as Sugar. But then, she wasn’t Sugar yet. And that’s only one facet of her personality. The same fierce love and openness is there, though it’s all raw and worn down.

    I know upthread a couple of people said that there was so little depth to the story that they couldn’t be invested. I think the lack of overwhelming introspection was one of its stronger points for two big reasons. One, the events depicted are so profound that – at least in my eyes – reflection is sort of understood. I think it places an enormous amount of faith in the reader to draw her own conclusions, without Strayed telegraphing that – it’s like comedy. If you have to explain it, it doesn’t work. The other big reason I liked that there were so few profound thoughts and connections to deeper truths is that life doesn’t work that way when it’s happening. You get through the day, keep putting one foot in front of the other, figure out what you have to do to keep going amidst the traumas of life, and later – if ever – you may stop to be deep about it. And sometimes things end, without fanfare or emotional scenes, or whatever. That made it feel real to me.

    I loved the found symbolism in the objects. Emptying out her pack was like letting go – you do all these things to keep yourself from getting hurt, when all they do is just hold you back. She took a leap of faith that she didn’t need all that weight to survive, and it worked. The pink ski pole in the free box was a perfect example. And when the universe didn’t provide it, she figured it out with what she had, like with the duct tape boots.

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      katie August 30, 2012, 8:01 pm

      yea, i really liked the whole “keeping going on” theme that played out. its mentioned many times, where she had no idea which way to go, so she just went “forward”. i really liked that. its very true, its very real..

      you were right. the book is amazing! haha.

      oh, and- i got my library card! yay! (before my illinois drivers license but we wont go into that.. haha)

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      • painted_lady August 30, 2012, 10:09 pm

        Woohoo! I love the library!


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