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March's Book: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

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message 1: by Metropolitan (new)

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Discuss it here!

message 2: by Metropolitan (new)

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Discussion questions:

I wasn't aware that this had been an Oprah's Book Club selection.

message 3: by Metropolitan (new)

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Try not to read the first chapter at work, unless you enjoy crying in front of coworkers. It's very well written, but quite intense and heartbreaking.

message 4: by Brittnie (new)

Brittnie | 3 comments I highly agree with this comment! I listened to this early last summer and had a coworker ask me if I was okay because I was super teary-eyed hahaha!

Unfortunately, I didn't care much for this book. I liked Cheryl at first but throughout the story she made me extremely frustrated. She just seemed all over the place and I don't feel like she really learned anything on her journey.

message 5: by Karen (new)

Karen | 7 comments I read this book last June and I really liked it. I don't remember crying at the first chapter but I probably did. For about a minute it made we want to go to on a Philmont trek with one of my sons.

message 6: by Metropolitan (last edited Mar 07, 2016 06:38AM) (new)

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She's one of those characters you watch doing stupid things and think, "No!! What are you doing?!"

I appreciated the humorous moments with her gigantic unwieldy backpack, but at the same time that was also a "What are you doing?" moment because of her poor planning.

Karen, what's Philmont?

message 7: by Karen (new)

Karen | 7 comments Philmont is a high adventure camp of the Boy Scouts of America. It is located in the mountains of New Mexico. Scouts go on backcountry treks of various durations. It is well known to anyone involved in boy scouting but you may have heard about it on the news last summer as there was a flash flood and one of the scouts lost his life.

message 8: by Metropolitan (new)

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Oh, interesting, I hadn't heard of it.

message 9: by Metropolitan (last edited Mar 09, 2016 12:58PM) (new)

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Being accosted by a bull on a hike--that was a surprise!

And then when she gave up a little bit and asked those guys to help her--that was a very fraught situation, being all alone with strangers who you aren't sure whether they are nice people or not. Self reliance only goes so far.

message 10: by Fredonna (new)

Fredonna Walker (fredonnawalker) I agree with you all. That first chapter is a tear-jerker! Wow!

The list of discussion questions asks, "What do you think her reasons were for committing to this journey?" Within the first few chapters, Strayed says that she felt like the hike would help her "become the woman she knew she could be, and re-discover the girl she'd once been." (That's not an exact quote but fairly close.) Based on that, I'd say her reason was self-discovery. Does anyone else get a different impression?

I can identify with the pull of a walkabout. I've been wanting to do a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. Anyone want to come along? LOL

message 11: by Metropolitan (last edited Mar 09, 2016 05:33PM) (new)

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I think that's a pretty accurate assessment, but I also feel like part of her reason for making the journey was just the same as all the other drifting around she did--to escape. But maybe the arduousness of this journey was what would make it really mean something.

I'd rather read about hiking than actually doing it, ha!

This line from pg 80 made me laugh: "I felt better than I'd ever felt in all my life, now that the trail had taught me how horrible I could feel." This is why I'm not outdoorsy. Though I can relate to this concept --after a really strenuous hot yoga class I'm just glad to be alive.

A bear and a rattlesnake in the same day? Yeah, I'd have thrown in the towel right then.

message 12: by Fredonna (new)

Fredonna Walker (fredonnawalker) Confession: I'm not sure whether I like Cheryl or not. Half the time I want to hug her neck and half the time I want to wring it.

message 13: by Metropolitan (new)

Metropolitan Library System | 255 comments Mod
Fredonna wrote: "Confession: I'm not sure whether I like Cheryl or not. Half the time I want to hug her neck and half the time I want to wring it."

She is a very frustrating person, that's for sure. I had to stop in the middle of a section last night because I was reading at work--but the stuff about her last name was interesting to me. She just chose a new one! I think that's cool.

message 14: by Bobbie (new)

Bobbie | 22 comments I'm a newbie here, but your comments compelled me to begin reading this book. In fact, I'd heard from a few different sources that Cheryl, the author, was so irritating that the book was not an enjoyable read, so I had marked it off my "To Read" list long ago. No pressure, but all of you will be to blame if I waste precious hours of my life reading this one!

So far, I've only read the prologue and the first chapter. My very first idea about the author is that she seems foolish and impulsive for ditching her remaining boot after accidentally losing the first one as mentioned in the prologue. Did anyone else cringe when you read that part?

My initial thoughts after reading the first chapter are that I am immensely grateful that my own mother is currently winning her battle with cancer, and to whatever degree Cheryl will unnerve me in the coming chapters, I will try to afford her respect for facing the challenges she's had and her independent spirit.

Hopefully you will forgive me if I've offered up too much information for my first post. I've enjoyed reading your previous posts and look forward to reading all of your ideas about the book.

message 15: by Fredonna (new)

Fredonna Walker (fredonnawalker) I found the re-naming part interesting, too, although it was also another thing that frustrated me. Names are usually things other people give us. It's not often we get a chance to label ourselves. She gets that chance, and she chooses a word with layers of negative connotations. Why would anyone do that to themselves? On the other hand, I love the fact that she chose an entirely new and meaningful name for herself instead of just going back to her maiden name.

I'm not even halfway through this book yet, and already I've had so many "WHY?!" moments that I'm starting to feel guilty for being so judge-y. I have to keep reminding myself that I've done a lot of "stupid" things, too. Some of my mistakes are actually stupid and others just appear stupid to outsiders who don't understand where I've been, where I am, or where I'm going. As I read, I'm trying to mentally show Cheryl the same grace that I'd like to receive myself. Still, it's often difficult for me to identify with her or understand the choices she makes.

message 16: by Christine (new)

Christine (ashmolean1) | 3 comments I thoroughly enjoyed this book when I read it. I liked her daring and adventurous character and the way she dealt with her grief by trying something completely different. I could identify with the struggles she had on her trek!

message 17: by Bobbie (new)

Bobbie | 22 comments I like to re-naming idea as well. It's an idea that many cultures have practiced throughout history, and some still do. I've never liked my name, and I've considered it myself though not for such a symbolic meaning as Cheryl Strayed.

Karen - I love that you said it made you consider backpacking.....for about a minute. Ha, me too! Not sure I could make it more than a day or two.

Christine - Yes, this woman is adventurous and very daring! She is a train wreck emotionally, lacks basic reasoning skills in many cases, and behaves as though she is perpetually in heat, but you can't say she doesn't have moxie. She's got guts to spare, and I'd love to be so brave.

I'm only 80% finished with the book, but I'm not sure I believe this story happened the way she describes for many reasons. For one, rather than all the men finding her irresistible as her narrative describes, I tend to believe she was probably flirting mercilessly and throwing herself at them. I imagine she was a probably a woman who was never taught self-respect or knew what a healthy relationship should look like, so she equated sex and attention from men as validation of her worth and sought it out. Or, perhaps she really did just run into a lot of men who couldn't resist a filthy, hairy, unkempt woman. Maybe they are a dime a dozen after all.

message 18: by Metropolitan (last edited Mar 14, 2016 02:50PM) (new)

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I don't think she means to portray all the men she meets as finding her irresistible, but she does have to make some adjustments in how she presents herself to men out on the trail--she can't put on any role except her plain self, and maybe she doesn't have much experience with that.

As she says, "Now there was only one version. On the PCT I had no choice but to inhabit it entirely, to show my grubby face to the whole wide world. Which at least for now, consisted of only six men." (p.111)

Q: Who took all her condoms?!

This is the first thing she's said that I really like and can kind of relate to: "Alone had always felt like an actual place to me, as if it weren't a state of being, but rather a room where I could retreat to be who I really was. The radical aloneness of the PCT had altered that sense. Alone wasn't a room anymore, but the whole wide world, and now I was alone in that world, occupying it in a way I never had before." (p 120)

Well, I think at least part of the reason for her poor decision making and flakiness with men is her dad issues. See pgs 131-133. The therapist says to her, "Imagine your life if you'd had a father who loved you as a father should." (p133) and she doesn't want to even consider that, because it's too painful. So she tries to help this pain with drugs, sex, etc.

message 19: by Metropolitan (new)

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One of the discussion questions asks the following:

Through the book she talks about the blisters, the dehydration, the exhaustion, and the hunger. How—and why—did this physical suffering help her cope with her emotional pain?

I think it just helps her get out of her head to focus on the physical reality that's happening to her on a moment to moment basis. I experience the same thing (not nearly as cathartic or drama-filled) in my yoga practice. It's intense exercise that requires you to focus all your energy on what the body is doing, to the point of shutting out all your day to day concerns or worries--there is no room for any other nagging little thoughts if you want to do it successfully. I think this is the exact thing Cheryl goes through on the trail.

That's not to say that this strategy is just avoiding the problems though, it's building the strength and resilience to handle them better later on. I'm not done with the book yet, but I really hope that this is what Cheryl ends up getting out of the whole experience.

message 20: by Metropolitan (new)

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From the discussion questions:

"Why might Cheryl have identified the fox she sees on the trail as her mother?"

I just read that part , p 143-144, and it was very moving and weird. What do you think of this?

message 21: by Bobbie (new)

Bobbie | 22 comments I agree with the comment about physical exertion and discomfort helping to alleviate emotional pain. For you, yoga is a method of focusing on a your mental energy into a physical form. Exercise has been proven time and time again to improve mood and emotional well-being. Not surprisingly, body aches and pains are some hallmark symptoms of depression and anxiety. Our emotions manifest themselves physically. For example, think about some who are anorexic, morbidly obese, Type A's who suffer from cardiac issues, and those with circulatory disorders such as Raynaud's disease. These are just a few examples of physical illnesses that sometimes have emotional roots. What I'm trying to say is that we can either choose to address our emotions, or we will be forced to address them on a physical level. For whatever reason, many of us seem to avoid our problems until our bodies force us to stop and pay attention.

In the book, Cheryl has more issues than you can shake a stick at, and yet, she didn't really seem to have devoted much time to healing herself emotionally until the hike. However, she somehow intuitively knew that conquering a physically grueling hike was good medicine. For her, it made more sense to deal with her pain by letting it manifest itself physically in the form of blisters, lost toenails, etc. The knowledge she gained from her hike was, arguably, essentially the same as had she seen a therapist. She discovered strength she didn't know she had, she allowed herself and others some grace, she learned that life has value, and she realized that she needs to live the life she was given.

message 22: by Fredonna (new)

Fredonna Walker (fredonnawalker) Metropolitan wrote: "I don't think she means to portray all the men she meets as finding her irresistible, but she does have to make some adjustments in how she presents herself to men out on the trail--she can't put o..."

I agree. I didn't take it that *men* found *her* irresistible but that *she* found *men* irresistible. I also agree that the reason for that was probably her broken relationship with her father. I didn't want to think that at first, because it seemed trite and stereotypical to assume that her erratic relationship decisions were the result of "daddy issues." However, she pretty much says that herself when she talks about her father and her experience with counseling.

I like the fact that on the trail she comes to the realization that she has been trying on different faces all her life, being different kinds of women for different men. When the trail forces her to have "only one version" of herself, she seems to become more real, more genuine. I haven't finished the book yet, but I'm hoping she carries that authenticity with her when she leaves the trail.

message 23: by Fredonna (new)

Fredonna Walker (fredonnawalker) Bobbie wrote: "I agree with the comment about physical exertion and discomfort helping to alleviate emotional pain. For you, yoga is a method of focusing on a your mental energy into a physical form. Exercise has..."

These are great points! In Kirk Martin's Celebrate Calm parent/teacher workshops, he often states that "motion changes emotion," and he advises parents and teachers and other caregivers to lead children to handle big emotions with physical activity. Some of his recommended techniques include having difficult discussions while going for a jog, jumping on a trampoline, or playing Frisbee. In some cases, he suggests waiting to have the discussion until *after* physical exertion, because movement is such a powerful tool for perspective change that certain problems will resolve themselves during exercise. I think this is exactly what is happening to Cheryl on the trail. Her motion is changing her emotion.

message 24: by Fredonna (new)

Fredonna Walker (fredonnawalker) Metropolitan wrote: "From the discussion questions:

"Why might Cheryl have identified the fox she sees on the trail as her mother?"

I just read that part , p 143-144, and it was very moving and weird. What do you th..."

I was baffled by this and had to stop and think about it a bit. She seems to strongly associate her mother with nature (probably because of her mother's love of horses and homesteading and plants and natural remedies), but no where else did it mention her mother in conjunction with foxes. It would have made more immediate sense if her mother had loved foxes or if she had believed that humans can be reincarnated as animals or if the fox had been her mother's spirit animal. However, after thinking about it, I decided that her mother's love of nature combined with the fox's total lack of fear led her grief-stricken and fatigued brain to make the association.

Also, I think the symbolism here is worth noting. She was in awe of the fox just as she had been in awe of her mother. It came into the clearing and then left before she had finished admiring it or enjoying its company just as her mother had died before she felt prepared for her death. Her mother's life and death were both as uncontrollable and unreachable to Cheryl as a wild fox gracing her with its presence and then flitting away.

message 25: by Fredonna (new)

Fredonna Walker (fredonnawalker) Some of my favorite parts of the book:

I like the Emily Dickinson quote roughly mid-way through the book: "When your nerves fail you, go beyond your nerves." This is so inspiring!

I like the way she describes her mother "slipping effortlessly away from my judgement, as she always did." That made me laugh.

message 26: by Metropolitan (new)

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Those are really good observations, thanks for sharing! I didn't know what to think of that part beyond just the weirdly visceral emotional impact and jolt of unexpected feeling that the episode with the fox brought up.

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Fredonna Walker (fredonnawalker) It is alarming to me that one person (in this case, Cheryl's mother) could hold a family together so tightly that when s/he dies everyone's lives fall apart. Do you think this is the result of her dying relatively young? Or do you think the family would've had this same reaction if she had died later in life? Or do you think their response has more to do with the speed of her death?

message 28: by Metropolitan (new)

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I think it was probably how quickly she left them--they didn't know how to react. Though I am puzzled by the stepfather's sudden disappearance from Cheryl and her sibling's lives. It seems terrible to abandon them, but maybe the grief was too much for him.

message 29: by Fredonna (new)

Fredonna Walker (fredonnawalker) That seemed odd to me, too. He stepped into their lives so willing and helped their mother raise them only to pull completely away from them when she died. And then he married another woman and apparently became closer to her children than to the children he had raised. It was just all so strange. (But I have to admit that my family is pretty weird, too, LOL)

message 30: by Bobbie (new)

Bobbie | 22 comments Fredonna's comment about the symbolism of the fox was very insightful. I think you hit the nail on the head. That makes a lot of sense. I didn't get it at all when I read it, but that may be because I had already written off Cheryl as a flake by that point in the book. Makes me wonder what else I might have missed.

message 31: by Fredonna (new)

Fredonna Walker (fredonnawalker) I finished this book today! I must say, I liked Cheryl a lot more by the end of the book than I thought I would. I got the feeling that she liked herself a lot more by then, too.

My husband told me this book was made into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon, so I'm going to find it and watch it soon.

message 32: by Metropolitan (new)

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Oh man, more crying--when she talked about being so grief stricken that she swallowed some of her mom's bones, wow.

I was really hoping that she'd stay with that cute dude she slept with in Ashland, because he sounded extremely appealing.

I don't know how writers of memoirs can be so revealing of themselves--putting your deepest feelings about things that have actually happened in your life into a book for the general public to read? Oh my, I would never ever in a million years do such a thing.

I haven't seen the movie, but I'm sure the book is better, as always.

message 33: by Bobbie (new)

Bobbie | 22 comments The part where she ate some of her mother's remains was just stomach-turning. The woman had issues. Not that we all don't have our own brand of crazy, but I would presume that eating human remains is indicative of a mental health issue.

It does take a lot for an author to reveal so much. People will form judgements based upon the story presented, and I am guilty of just that in this case. I'm not sure that I'd say Cheryl has "guts" as much as I believe she has a desire for attention and acknowledgment. I really think this author embellished a lot of this story for the purpose of gaining acceptance or admiration from an audience. I'm basing my assumption on how she described her sexual behavior and the background she gave about her familial instability. She wasn't dealt a great hand as far as families go, and I believe that resulted in a lot of self-destructive actions. As a direct result of her upbringing, I think she learned that love and acceptance weren't givens. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that many of the events in this book are embellished or untrue. In fact, I'd be shocked if all of it were true.

message 34: by Metropolitan (new)

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Just finished it--and I agree with you, Fredonna--I liked her a lot better than I did at the beginning. I wasn't as off put by the sex and drugs stuff as Bobbie, but I was glad she calmed down with all that by the end. And of course I was crying at the end, yeesh.

message 35: by Fredonna (new)

Fredonna Walker (fredonnawalker) In some cultures, eating human remains is considered a sign of great respect for the dead. The idea is that you love the deceased (usually an ancestor) so much that you want to internalize their attributes. I'm not saying Cheryl didn't have issues (she realized herself that exorcising her demons was the whole point of the hike), but I am saying that the bone-swallowing bit isn't all that odd or far-fetched from an anthropological standpoint or even a psychological standpoint.

In fact, none of it really struck me as odd or far-fetched, only difficult to identify with since my life experience is so different from hers. If she did fabricate portions of this story (which isn't unheard of in memoirs, because memories themselves are more like lasting impressions and less like hard-core facts), then I think she did a great job of making up a story that makes sense within itself.

I should also say that while I wouldn't put money on her intentionally lying about the facts of this story, I do feel certain that she left out details about her childhood that were just too painful to include.

message 36: by Bobbie (new)

Bobbie | 22 comments You two make some good points, and you are making me consider how I viewed Cheryl and her experience. Not saying I have changed my opinion of her at all, but you've given me food for thought. This is exactly what I love about book discussions - how several people can read the same thing and come up with completely different conclusions.

Out of curiosity, I read some reviews of this book. I noticed two distinct camps. There are those who were able to read this with empathy for Cheryl the Adventurer and could pull out some sort of redemption story, and then there were some who thought she was a short-sighted, selfish, undignified hot mess who had little respect for herself and others and mostly pitied her.

It's fascinating to me how our own experiences influence how we interpret a different individual's experience even though our circumstances are completely different. If Cheryl and I could trade places today, how would we "fix" each other's faults? Putting yourself in someone else's shoes is like finding that there are two correct answers to a math problem.

message 37: by Metropolitan (new)

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It really is fascinating how differently people can interpret things.

I feel like I just got immersed in Cheryl's perspective by about midway through the book and was no longer thinking she was doing so much dumb stuff. And I really admired her for doing the big hike all by herself. I don't think I'd have it in me to do such a thing, especially when you encounter strangers and have no idea what they are like--like those gross guys who broke her water filter and were being generally menacing. The triumphant part at the end where she was just sitting at the ice cream place thinking about all that she had experienced was just great, I thought. And I was glad that she wrote a little about what happened over the next several years. Would I want to hang out with her? Maybe not, but I will say that this was most definitely an engaging read!

message 38: by Metropolitan (new)

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Well, I'm glad we had such a good conversation about this book! Thanks for participating everyone, and I really appreciate you all sharing your thoughts.

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