Book Review: Wild – From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail

Another Birthday Book Review… this time gifted by Mom.

Mom doesn’t know that reading books from Oprah’s Book Club is a bad plan.   Her intentions were good… pre-celebrating the results of the foot surgery I’m having next month, she got me a book about hiking the PCT.   Good thoughts, I embrace the hope and the idea, even if I didn’t like the book – except the part about the actual hiking.

To summarize my review of this book, I’d say that this work is:

  1. A novel of the modern type, where the subject matter is interwoven with autobiography, heavy on the autobiography.
  2. A feminist novel.  I could have read this in college.   Stereotypical Oprah’s Book Club.

I’ve hiked a bit of the PCT with my folks as a teen.  Living in California, if you go camping much (which we did), you’re bound to hit this famous trail and do a few miles.   It’s well worth the effort – I have walked the path winding along the top of the mountain, overlooking the desert below, the path that meanders between the two climate zones.   Glorious.   I’ve walked, similarly, some of the bits in the Sierra.  Amazing.

When Wild talks about the experience, I feel utterly at home and simultaneously homesick for the wilds of California.   I admire her tenacity, pushing through hardship to reach a goal.  I identify with that kind of heroine.

But the drug addiction, the divorce, the abortion… they make this a story about Ms. Strayed, not about the PCT, and not about hiking.   Sixty percent of this book is written about her life off the trail, and though I’d be happy to hear about “I worked through this on this climb”, it’s too much.  I want to read about the PCT.   I want to read about the rigors of hiking.   I don’t want to read about casual sex.   Trite.  Meaningless.  I know the modern feminist novel makes much of these events, but to me they’ve become tropes – yes, yes, you’re exerting your independence.   Shall I pat you on the head?  The hike exerts her independence, her perseverance, her strength!  The other stuff is detritus, best left behind forever.

This winding together of 70% autobiography 30% subject has gotten dreadfully common.  This is far from the first book I’ve read written in this style.  It must be the new non-fiction format.   I’ve read books by nice Christian ladies in the same style – books about houses and gardens, theoretically.    If I pick up a book about making a house a home, I want to read about making a house a home.  One doesn’t have to erase oneself as the author, but I didn’t buy the book to read your autobiography!!   Some is good, a sprinkling.  But all together?  No.

And so.  If you’re stuck in Oprah’s Book Club, this isn’t a bad book, and Strayed does have a solid backbone.   But that’s the nicest thing I can say about it.

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