I’ve been cranking along with my New Year’s Resolution to read five memoirs or biographies this year. I started with Swimming To Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer by Lynne Cox, then listened to Enchantment: The Life of Audrey Hepburn by Donald Spoto. Both were more informative than entertaining, and both felt quietly deceptive, like the authors were holding back the full truth of the subjects’ personalities. The women seemed too perfect. Too nice.
And then I picked up Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed’s memoir of her 1100 mile solo-hike, at age 26, after she had destroyed her marriage with infidelities, dabbled in heroin, and most critically, because her mother had died four years previous and Strayed’s life had been spiraling downward ever since (see: infidelities and heroin).
Unlike the two tame memoirs I read before it, Wild is raw. It is brutally honest. Strayed lays everything on the pages for all the world to read. She doesn’t candy coat herself or present herself as anything other than who she is.
I admit that with a title like Wild, I expected more raving, more lunacy, more squatting and grunting, eating raw meat with a dirt-smeared face and nits in her matted hair. But Strayed’s genius in this book is that she writes wildness in a much more stealthy way, solitary and quiet, like the animals whose eyes glow at her in the darkness before their silent retreat. She gets at the heart of what it meant for her to be wild, not by snarling and howling, but reflectively, by using incisive language that had me scrambling for my Lexicon every few chapters.
And that’s the real reason I loved this book. Strayed uses kickass words – vivid words with spunk, that cut to the quick, that make her experience real and honest. So rather than write a huge long review, I want to share four words I gathered from Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. I collected these words from her pages, and to me they are the distillate of what what Wild is all about:
mox·ie – n. Slang. 1. The ability to face difficulty with spirit and courage. 2. Aggressive energy; initiative. 3. Skill; know-how.
cru·ci·ble – n. 1. A vessel made of a refractory substance such as graphite or porcelain, used for melting and calcining materials at high temperatures. 2. A severe test, as of belief.
grit – n. 4. Informal. Indomitable spirit. Pluck.
pri·mal – adj. 1. Being first in time; original; primeval. 2. Of first importance; primary.
And though I’m not sure if pluck was on her pages, it went into my Lexicon, too, with an asterisked *Cheryl Strayed next to it.