Content Tagged ‘Cheryl Strayed’

On hating a memoirist

July 28, 2012 | 43 Comments

Another nonfiction issue: judging a book by its author?  I know of nothing more difficult than knowing who you are, and having the courage to share the reasons for the catastrophe of your character with the world.—William Gass As my previous three posts indicate, I admire Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. I devoured it as a reader and also loved how I could raid her techniques for my own memoir. So …

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Cheryl Strayed’s back pages

July 24, 2012 | 7 Comments

How Cheryl Strayed feathers her compelling backstory into Wild. . . . I spun the backstory. I dole it out. The trail is a chronological report of my hike; what came before the trail is not chronological. I give you a scene from when I was seven and then another the year before [the hike]. I worked that pretty hard.—Cheryl Strayed in an interview  The second time through Cheryl Strayed’s Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, …

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Studying ‘Wild’ for its structure

July 20, 2012 | 16 Comments

Cheryl Strayed’s memoir is narrative-driven but reflective.  Every book has its inherent impossibility. For Wild it was about me walking alone through the wilderness for 94 days; it could have been really boring. The challenge there was to convey what was happening inside of me. The trail was always there, that was the great constant, but I was always different on the trail.—Cheryl Strayed in an interview I threw out the first act of my memoir in June—it was too …

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My wild summer

July 17, 2012 | 18 Comments

I’m sure it’s no accident that right after reading Wild I got the insight to feather memories of my father throughout my memoir in progress. In previous drafts I’d used a couple of chapters to depict him. Dumb. Especially since, years ago, before I even started writing my book, a wise old editor I told about my farming adventure and how it came in the wake of my father’s serial farming adventures said, “Don’t write a whole chapter on him. Have him appear now and then. Like you’re walking across your pasture and you think of him.”

Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, currently number one on The New York Times nonfiction bestseller list, is long and meaty, a traditional yarn; it feels both nakedly sincere and confident in its unguarded honesty, a book with a lot of heart. Just what I’m aiming for myself. But I couldn’t see how Strayed pulled everything off when I first read it in May, though I did see that she wove in her backstory instead of stopping the narrative with chunks and slabs of Vital Background.

Wild depicts a grueling 1,100-mile solo hike Strayed took, in 1995, from southern California to Oregon, dodging bears and rattlesnakes and reading great literature in her tent at night, burning the pages in the morning in her campfire. She’d grown up outdoors but had never backpacked, not once, until she loaded her pack and tried to lift it just before setting out. She couldn’t pick it up, couldn’t budge it from the floor, having stuffed the large pack with so much that it probably weighed north of seventy pounds. She had to squirm into it on the floor and lift with her legs. And her boots were too small. That’s the strong foreground story, a young woman bent with a physical weight and carrying intolerable emotional baggage.

Her backstory about that baggage includes memories of her abusive father, whom her mother divorced when Strayed was six; of being raised by her hippy-ish back-to-the-land horse-loving mother and a crunchy carpenter stepfather in Minnesota; of suffering through her mother’s illness and unexpectedly quick death from lung cancer at age forty-five, when Strayed was a senior in college; of being devastated by grief and by her subsequent affairs, heroin abuse, and divorce; of her picking that new last name, Strayed; of her impulse when at rock bottom to buy a book on hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, which she’d never heard of and which was thousands of miles to the west of her home in Minneapolis.

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Cheryl Strayed on honesty in memoir

April 5, 2012 | 12 Comments

I was an avid journaler all through my twenties and I wrote in my journal every day of my hike, sometimes twice a day. That journal was incredibly helpful to me as I wrote “Wild.” I recorded many details and snippets of dialogue that would otherwise have been lost. Having that document allowed me to correct, corroborate, or expand things I remembered. In some cases, I tracked down people I met on the trail and asked them to share their …

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