Hello again, internet people! I’ve been doing a lot of reading and much less writing about it, but I’m emerging from my cave of busy-ness to bring you the next installment of Amanda reads. Okay, let’s get to it!
During my penultimate semester as an undergraduate student, I took a writing class that was devoted to creative nonfiction. It was there that I was first introduced to Cheryl Strayed through the vehicle of a short, brutally honest and raw essay about coping with her mother’s death. I knew instantly that this was a woman whose work I must continue to read. I started with Wild, her memoir about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. While I enjoyed the book, it didn’t do for me what I had hoped—it didn’t speak to me on a deep level the way her shorter work had done.
And then I learned about Tiny, Beautiful Things. The book is a compilation of Strayed’s advice columns as Dear Sugar, the advice persona for “The Rumpus.” I had heard good things about the book time and time again, so I did what I always do when I hear about good nonfiction: I went forth to seek the audio (read by the author, of course).
Listening to this book shattered me and put me back together again about a hundred times. While I didn’t always agree with Strayed’s advice to her readers, she always handled their situations with compassion and truth—with brutal honesty and with the tender admission of flaws and heartbreak and horrors from her own life that tempered and highlighted and scolding she might have to apply.
About halfway into the book, I wished I could write Sugar for advice on a situation of my own. A few sections later, I came across a letter that was similar enough to my situation that it was easy to imagine Sugar’s tough love was pointed at me. That moment, pausing in the middle of the cooking I’d been doing and letting advice to another women about a situation similar to mine sink underneath my skin, felt genuinely transformative. I came to realize that I knew what to do all along—that I just needed to work up the nerve to actually do it. That’s the beauty of Strayed’s advice, I think—she guides those who write to her towards their own conclusions, giving advice that is personal and straightforward, and that comes from her own varied experiences.
Listening to some of the letters, and to some of the stories with which Sugar responded, was an emotional journey that I feel genuinely impacted me. I’m very glad to have read this book, and I would recommend it to anyone and everyone—with the caveat that you should probably avoid listening/reading in public, because you very well might cry. I know I did.