October 17, 2015
I’ve been looking at this boot for a long time.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed was published in 2012, became a mega-bestseller and showed up in reviews and articles all over the place. And then, of course, there was the movie, starring Reese Witherspoon. It is practically required reading for someone who loves memoir, and especially someone who is writing it. So why haven’t I read it before now? Weeeell…For a couple of reasons, and two of them make me feel a little dirty. (No, not that kind of dirty!)
First, I’m sort of irrationally biased against what I consider escapist memoirs. Oh, you cleared out your life and hiked the Pacific Crest Trail to deal with the death of your mother, as in Wild, or took off to exotic foreign lands as your marriage crumbled, as in Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, for example? How awful for you. What about the rest of us who have to grieve and grow and plow on while dragging ourselves to work, taking care of children, or remaining otherwise tethered to the commitments of a functioning life?
Then I bitch slap myself. Who the hell am I to judge? And how does comparing circumstances help anyone, including me? Shut the hell up and root for these women! Not to mention I’ve read article after article and quote after quote about how kind, how gracious, how generous Cheryl Strayed and Elizabeth Gilbert are, and I now have fantasies about meeting each of them someday at Bookmania or one of their readings, and hugging them in the kindred spirit of all women who have suffered and survived.
I did read Eat, Pray, Love years ago and was admittedly underwhelmed. I read this the other day, also by Elizabeth Gilbert, and decided it was one of the best things I’ve ever read. None of us are one book.
But I still haven’t read Wild.
Here’s the second reason. I’ll use Nick Hornby—one of my very favorite authors; everything he writes I wish I wrote—to explain. A couple of months ago I read his newest book, Funny Girl, and in it a TV writer doesn’t want to watch a popular show written by someone he used to work with.
“Why not?” someone asks him.
“Because it will be depressing.”
“No, it’s really funny.”
“I know, that’s why it’ll be depressing.”
Thank you, Nick, as usual. See, I’m afraid Wild is going to be so wonderful it’ll make me feel like I’ve written my memoir with stubby crayons, or that I’m painfully shallow, or that my trauma doesn’t measure up or is completely boring to other people. But hell, I feel like that a lot when I read great books, including memoirs, so I’m really not sure why I’ve been afraid of this one per se. Of course, then I found out Nick Hornby wrote the screenplay for Wild. Of course he did. Argghhh!
There’s one last little, more benign reason Wild hasn’t called to me, and that’s just the difference between being a mountain girl and a water girl. There’s no denying the awe and spectacular beauty of the mountains. And yet, they kind of bore me. (I know, collective gasp from my fellow outdoors-people.) My call is from the ocean. Maybe a solo sail to Africa or a swim from Cuba would be more likely to grab me. I don’t think that’s it either though. It’s not the setting or, surprisingly, even the story that makes a great memoir great, it’s the writing. It’s how the story is told. I learned that from The Color of Water by James McBride (great writing) and Crazy For the Storm (great story).
Ultimately, of course, my reasons for not reading, nay, avoiding, Wild don’t really matter. If a book is written in the woods and I’m not there to read it, it doesn’t mean it’s not out there or that my own book doesn’t suck. And I finally really do want to read it, whether I turn out to be wild about it or give it the boot (ba-da-bum!).