Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
The structure of Strayed’s memoir is fairly episodic, as most real-life journey narratives are by necessity. Strayed tells lots of stories of the things she does, people she meets, and places she hikes on the trail, interspersed with flashbacks to her life leading up to the PCT, especially the death of her mother, the dissolution of her marriage, and her brief flirtation with heroin. She writes good sentences, and has great descriptions of the terrain, the ravages of the trail on her body, and the quirky characters she encounters. She makes a likeable narrator you can feel good rooting for, even though she’s made lots of mistakes and prepared pitifully for the hike. Most of the narrative is trail minutiae: the number of miles left until a landmark, lists of objects in her pack, weighing pros and cons of various plans to deal with obstacles on the trail. I felt the book was an education for me of what long-range backpacking and outdoor survival is really like. Strayed made me feel like I could hike the Appalachian Trail (maybe not the more strenuous PCT) as long as I had a credit card and a good set of boots, two important resources she lacked.
This memoir got a lot of great press when Oprah resurrected her book club for it. Strayed does seem to experience the epiphany that the book promises. It was a bit underwhelming: for the amount of hype the memoir recieved, I expected something that would “shatter” me and build me back up, the same way the trail did to Strayed. If it hadn’t been for the hoopla, I think I would have been more satisfied with the book.