The Life of Bon: Bon's Book Club July: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Bon's Book Club July: Wild by Cheryl Strayed



Every month we read a book.  On the selected day, we talk about it. (Generally the last Thursday of the month).

Join in for whatever books you can.  Read what you want and comment on what you want.  Some readers write their own review on their blog and then link up to it, others just write their thoughts in the comments- it's up to you!  If you write your own post and link up, please slap the image above on your post! Grazi!


Below you will find that we have given you a few questions to get your brain thinking.  These questions all come from Whitney, who is my book club co-host this month.  I love the questions she came up with- they foster great discussion! Remember, you never have to answer all the questions or any of the questions, they're simply to get your mind moving. (Or, if you are an eleventh grader you will ask me exactly how many questions you have to answer and how many sentences each answer has to be. Oh, teenagers!)

1. Cheryl admits to her own transgressions and while she's remorseful, she doesn't seem ashamed. Is this a sign of strength or a character flaw?
2. How did being on the Pacific Coast Trail on her mother's 50th birthday help Cheryl to heal the wound left by her mother's death?
3. Does the hike help Cheryl get over Paul? Why, or why not?
4. We learn that Cheryl chose her own last name. Did she choose well? What was your reaction to hearing she chose it herself?
5. Have you seen the movie interpretation of the book? Did you enjoy one more than the other? Why?


As someone who loves movies and, in all honesty, doesn't read all that much, I thought that Wild would be the perfect marriage between the two. Reading a book that's recently been turned into a movie? Score! Well... maybe.

It's not that I didn't like this book. Don't get me wrong. It's just different for me. You see, I'm a super emotional person, so I try to steer away from stories that tug at the heart strings. My typical reading repertoire over the year consists of YA novels and memoirs from sassy ladies like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. I don't think I realized exactly what I was getting into when I started reading Wild.
This book is heavy. Real heavy. I knew what everyone else knew about the book before I started it. Reese Witherspoon is in the movie. It's supposed to be really good. This woman's mom dies and she goes off on a trek across the wilderness to find herself again. Sure, that's essentially the plot of the book, but there's so much more to it. The drug use, the abortion, the horse... oh gosh.... the horse, y'all. I broke down. I had to skip some lines because my poor heart couldn't take it. I'm used to comedy and this was definitely not that.

I consider myself a "fast" reader (whatever that means) and it took me a good hour to read about fifty pages. It's just dense, and not in the Dickens or Tolkien sort of way. I just found myself trying to really imagine exactly where Cheryl was both physically and emotionally in each sentence that I read. This slowed me down quite a bit, but I appreciate that I was able to really think about her experiences bit by bit.

Another thing, I couldn't quite understand the "choosing her own last name" idea. I understand why she did it, but being someone so connected to my maiden name (even though I took my husband's last name) I can't imagine dropping mine completely. I just couldn't relate. However, her choice of "strayed" seemed to be a perfect, yet pretty literal, one. I'm really interested to hear other people's thoughts on this.
I think my favorite part of the book was Cheryl's relationship with Monster, her backpack. I imagine her backpack as a symbol of all of the baggage that she starts the trip with. Her mother's death, her divorce, Joe... she lays it all out, just as she lays out the contents of her backpack before she starts the trip. At the beginning, she is so weighed down, both physically and emotionally, that she questions even beginning the trip at all. However, as the trip continues, her physical and emotional load begins to lighten. It is lightened by the other hikers that she meets, like Albert, who goes through her pack to evaluate what she really needs, and Greg, who lifts her spirits and encourages her to believe in herself.
Most of all, this book encouraged two things within me: one is, of course, to be more communal with nature. I grew up with the Appalachian Trail at my back door step and never really took advantage of the beautiful mountains that looked over me my entire life. The second thing is that it really encouraged me to branch out in my reading. Sure, sticking to funny memoirs and chick-lit is all fun, but reading something that really makes me look internally, while scary at first, was totally worth it.
While I did find myself at times being frustrated with the decisions that Cheryl had made, I overall really enjoyed the book and would definitely recommend it


In spite of myself, I really really enjoyed Wild.  I didn’t have especially high expectations going in- in fact if anything my expectation was that I wasn’t going to like it.  When I started reading, Strayed held up to what I thought she would be- narcissistic, self-destructive, whiny, etc.  I felt for her over the death of her mother but couldn’t in a million years understand how that led her to ruin a perfectly good marriage.  The beginning felt a little too Eat, Pray, Love esque for me, with the most common factor being that both women were incredibly selfish.

The parts I was most frustrated with Cheryl were the parts where she was acting the stupidest.  Like when she cheated on and then divorced her adoring husband, who was willing to try to work things out.  Like when she used heroin. Repetitively.  Like when she took on the trail a backpack that was obviously way too heavy for her and never once tested it out before arriving on a backpacking trail that goes all across California and Oregon. Like when she never had more than $20.  She drove me crazy!

But it’s interesting because Cheryl says the same thing about herself- that she drove herself crazy.  There was one part of the book that I really identified with- where Cheryl says basically that she’s tired of making the same old mistakes, having the same old flaws, being the same old messed up person.  I think most people can identify with that frustration- of us being the same old idiots that we’ve always been.  There is one part where Cheryl says that she is “sick of herself”.  I’ve never heard it phrased that way, but girl, I hear you.  I’m sick of myself all the time.

I found myself liking Cheryl more and more as the book progressed and by the end of the book I really admired her.  I think what endeared me most to her was her willing admittance of how bad she had screwed up her own life, how quickly she took the blame for the marriage, how upfront she was about her own faults.  I liked that.  I felt like she took accountability and didn’t make excuses or try to blame other people.  I love that she didn’t try to hide her flaws from us.

I enjoyed learning about the every day hiking. .. The difficulty of the trail.  (I also loved how Cheryl constantly told us what books she was reading along the way- made me want to read more!)  She mentions at the beginning of the trail how the physical toughness of the trail was so intense that she couldn’t think about any of her mental or emotional problems because just physically endurance occupied all of her strength.  I kind of liked that and I think it explains why I energetically organize the garage or go running or deep clean the house when I’m upset- the physical activity makes me forget about the mental turmoil.

One of the most beautiful parts of the book for me is when Cheryl talks about Crater Lake and how it was made from the eruption of a huge volcano.  First a volcano, then a wasteland of ash, then finally a beautiful lake.  But it could only be that beautiful after extreme pain and after healing.  I just really enjoyed all the talk about strength and how the trials make us better and stronger and form who we are and who’ve we also been supposed to be.  I connected spiritually to this book, which was definitely the last thing I expected.  I don’t know, I just really had a lot of respect for Cheryl and for her struggle by the end of it.  She is one tough woman.  (Stupid.  But tough.)

I could feel the lake’s power.  It seemed a shock in the midst of this great land: inviolable, separate and alone, as if it had always been and would always be here, absorbing every color of visible light but blue.  This was once a mountain that stood nearly 12,000 feet tall and then had its heart removed.  This was once a wasteleand of lava and pumice and ash.  This was once an empty bowl that thook hundresds of years to fill.  But hard as I tried, I couldn’t see them in my mind’s eye.  Not the mountain or the wastelenad or the empty bowl… there was only the stillness and silence of that water: what a mountain and a wasteland and an empty bowl turned into after the healing began.”

Lastly, this book made me want to hike!  Get out in nature and see the beauty around me and test myself physically.  It made me really think about the healing nature of physical activity.  All in all I was very pleased with this month’s book and would recommend it to just about anybody.  Such a pleasant little surprise for this summer.

Add your thoughts!  Both Whitney and I will be responding to ALL comments on the book discussion today.  If you did your own post please post the link in the comments so we can all check it out.  Let’s do this book talk thang!

 AUGUST BOOK: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.  Book discussion will be the last Thursday in August.


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