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Cheryl Strayed's WILD

Cheryl Strayed is speaking in our town tonight, and people keep asking me if I’m going. I’m not, but only because I satisfied my curiosity about the real woman behind this book I so admired when I ran down and heard her at the Corvallis Public Library right after it came out. WILD was a big deal from the start. Now, with the opening of Reese Witherspoon’s movie version, it has become a media juggernaut.

Some people—other writers—resent Strayed’s success. Not me. Sure, I had a little trouble rooting for her in those first chapters. Why did she walk out on a perfectly good husband? Was she going to explain that? But before long I couldn’t help empathizing with her simply as a fellow human being, however flawed.

Here’s the thing that drew me into Cheryl Strayed’s journey of self-discovery: her kindness to others. A powerful book is not about being able to string nice sentences together. Plenty of people can manage that trick, but without heart, where’s the story? Cheryl Strayed has heart. She gives every individual she meets along the trail a break. For contrast, read Augusten Burrough’s memoir, DRY, where he actively sneers at each every single person he encounters in his life unless he is sexually attracted to them.

Yes, Cheryl Strayed hurt some people along the way. She shot heroin. She wasn’t too careful in choosing sexual partners. “Not a very good role model,” somebody actually confided to me. (!) So what? We’re sitting around this big campfire to share our stories, not set ourselves up as role models. How can you not empathize with someone so honest, a person harder on herself than on anyone else? I think this capacity in Strayed goes beyond her memoir. In her collected DEAR SUGAR columns she also shows a compassion for others, as well as a lot of hard-won wisdom.

True kindness and compassion for others is in short supply in this world. It should be valued. It should be spread around. Cheryl Strayed clearly does not need an endorsement from me at this point. Nevertheless, here it is: You go, girl! Read More 
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