Tuesday, January 29, 2013

{read: memor/advice} tiny beautiful things by Cheryl Strayed

I've been on a Cheryl Strayed kick ever since finishing Wild, her memoir about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Tiny Beautiful Things, a collection of her advice columns on life and love from The Rumpus, is fierce and intense. Best read in small bites, it tells both of the challenges Strayed has overcome and those that her correspondents are facing. In fact, it tells so much of Strayed's own story that it could be read as a memoir.

She dispenses advice with compassion but also a clear-eyed honesty. As she tells those who write to her, there is often no way around doing the hard thing. I found it impossible to put this book down and couldn't follow my own advice to read it in small pieces, even though sometimes I felt like I couldn't read another story about someone's heartbreaking life: the teenage girls and boys Strayed counseled who were abused by their parents and stepparents, the woman who was raped three times, the man who suffers from a disease that has disfigured him and thinks he'll never find a woman who will desire him, the father who lost his 22-year-old son and can't see a way to go on. Yet what kept me reading was Strayed's compassion, the stories of survival against what are sometimes overwhelming odds, and the promise that things will be mostly OK in the end. Yet be warned: Her answer to the last letter will break your heart, or at least make it crack a tiny little bit.

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed (Vintage, 2012)
My rating: 5 stars

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