Reading: Cheryl Strayed

Last night I drove to the LA Public Library downtown to see Cheryl Strayed, the author of Wild, her memoir; Tiny Beautiful Things, a collection of advice column responses; and Torch, an older novel. I had mixed feelings about the book when I read it and felt it was fair to give her a shot in "real life," as real as a book reading is. I'm going to try to be democratic and diplomatic and all of those other words that imply honesty and fairness. Read between the lines, people.

First of all, the place was packed- the most crowded I've ever seen it. Anything that draws attention to ALOUD or reading in general is great, although I wish the incredibly talented Nathan Englander, whom I saw last month, would have gotten the same draw. The group was also quite diverse, and there were a lot of women there (despite Strayed's insistence that there is a 50/50 divide on readership). The moderator, an environmental writer, was kind, interesting, and very obviously a fan.

Strayed spoke on the three of her books pretty equally, which I was happy about- I have no real desire to read her other two and was worried it would be pure promotion for Tiny Beautiful Things. I appreciated her comment that Wild was definitely not a how-to guide, despite the fact that it has inspired many to hike the PCT (she'll tell you all about her fan mail). I was also pleased that she finally addressed her preparation for the hike a bit more than she did in the book (before going I was tempted to ask her during the audience Q & A if she had read or seen Into the Wild...). Apparently she had run cross country back in Minnesota and her family's home was way out in the middle of nowhere without consistently running water or electricity. She said that she'd often encounter bears and other wild animals just jogging down the driveway, which made a lot more sense as to why she was so willing to hike. She openly mentioned more than once her heroin use and tendencies towards promiscuity, not shying away or acting embarrassed. Strayed also mentioned that Reese Witherspoon's company optioned the film rights (she plans to play Strayed... sorry Oprah) and that Nick Hornby wrote a screenplay, both enough to make me want to see the movie if it ever gets made. She's very proud of her craft and passionate about the writing community.

Wasn't that nice? And honest? And fair?

I think my biggest issue, just like in her book, is that things didn't seem entirely natural. Sure, maybe she's extremely articulate and good at thinking on her feet, but she was ready to answer every question the moderator had before she even completely finished asking it. Most authors that I've seen speak are a little more organic- they pause, they think aloud, they ponder. Her jokes also seemed a bit rehearsed as well. I know that the reading circuit will probably do that to you, but I don't need a performance. She was also extremely indignant about the fact that people have said she has "come out of nowhere," when in fact her novel was published several years ago. What got me, though, was the fact that she said she was really just upset on behalf of others in her "literary circle" that have been around just as long and aren't "nowhere." She was definitely there to promote herself and liked to reference the people that have written to her saying how much they connect with her and how she tells their story.

I do have to say that she is unapologetic and owns her story- I have to respect that. 

Oh, and on the way home, I managed to somehow get distracted and get off the freeway in Boyle Heights, only to find myself driving around looking for an on-ramp. East Siiiiiiiiide (picture me saying that in a really loud, deep voice with weird accented syllables, throwing up the appropriate gang sign).


  1. Is WILD worth the time to read? I've only heard good things about it but didn't realize it was also a drug use story.

    1. It's not really a drug use story, it just goes into her past (her mother died from cancer and she got mixed up in some bad things as she was coping). Despite my mixed feelings about her, and some issues with the book, I still thought the hiking parts were really interesting.

  2. Yay, I book that I read! Haha. Sorry you got lost in Boyle Heights. That's where Sonic ran away. Can you imagine? With all those Cholo dogs and all?:p

  3. It was so interesting reading your thoughts on this because I just read someone else's take on seeing her speak in Dallas. (This person was a big time fan, so the review was glowing.) I find it interesting that you thought she sounded rehearsed or prepped for the questions. That's too bad. I really look forward to authors being candid (above other celebs where you might expect that kind of thing). I haven't read Wild or any of her other work, but I'm starting to get into hiking, so I'm keeping this one in mind for when my "to read" pile shrinks a little. (I know you can relate to that!)