Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

Wild – Cheryl Strayed

I’d been looking forward to reading Wild for a while, since listening to Cheryl Strayed’s appearance on Liz Gilbert’s podcast. After all the Wuthering Heights drama and the Catcher in the Rye moodiness, I was well set for a slightly more optimistic memoir about losing and finding oneself in trying times.

Wild - Cheryl Strayed - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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Wild was published in 2012. It follows Strayed’s 1,100-mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, which she undertook after the traumatic death of her young mother in the mid-90s. I knew all of that going in.

What I didn’t know was how young Strayed was herself when all of this went down. I’d been picturing her as a late-30s suburban mother with a mortgage on a three-bedroomed house in the ‘burbs, abandoning it all to find herself. In reality, she was a mid-20s recent divorcee with a heroin habit and a pretty transient life, subsisting on the few dollars she could scrape together from waitressing jobs, and that’s where the story begins.

Strayed sets out on this grueling trek almost entirely unprepared; she had essentially no prior hiking experience. She figured – like we all do, I think – that hiking = walking, and what’s so hard about that?

There are two stories that weave together across the memoir: her mother’s death (and we get all of the weren’t-we-so-poor-and-dysfunctional-but-we-loved-each-other-so-much backstory, gratis), and the at-times comical dire realities of a haphazard hike through the wilderness.

As I was reading, I noted that, as a novel, this story would be annoying and trite and cliché. Strayed’s story derives all of its value from being an actual lived experience. She is brutally honest, in every sense, relaying her self-awareness in a way that I deeply admire. She devotes a lot of air time to the heaviness of her pack and the weight that she’s carrying, which is a somewhat clumsy metaphor, but it’s forgivable.

I must say, though, I wasn’t sold on the “beauty” of the wilderness in Wild. I’m not a country girl at all, and those descriptive passages sounded like my own personal hell. I’d much rather hike 1,100 miles in a concrete jungle CBD any day (and, indeed, I often do, when a water pipe bursts on Pitt Street and the bus timetable is fucked).

I was fully prepared to cry reading Wild, but I didn’t. It was good – it didn’t change me as a person, but it enjoyed reading it. It made me think a lot about survival and determination. Getting by. Sometimes you’re under-prepared and things go wrong (you lose a hiking boot, you find yourself with just two pennies to your name, you run into a bear), but you cop onto yourself and you keep going anyway. For a time, it became a sort of mantra for me: “if Cheryl Strayed can hike a million miles in too-small boots that are giving her blisters, then I can walk home in the rain”. Having a dream isn’t enough, after all: you have to actually do the thing.

There was a film adaptation released in 2014, which I’d love to see – not because I think it make a great movie, necessarily, but more because I’m curious as to how a book about a mostly-solo hike, driven entirely by internal monologue, could be adapted for the big screen.

Tl;dr? Wild is Eat, Pray, Love meets Survivor. I would recommended it to mid-20s fuck-ups like me, who don’t mind clumsy metaphors too much.

My favourite Amazon reviews of Wild:

  • “I haven’t actually read it – the one star is for Amazon charging 9.99 for Kindle (paperless) and 8.35 for paper – basically incentivizing cutting down trees to read their books. Bad form Jeff, very bad form” – R1952
  • “… the author seems to be the typical liberal feminist – no recognition of the greatness of God, everything should be handed to her, everything is centered around her and her feelings. Especially her feeling – feelings to her are the most important aspect of her life. Bottom line – do not waste your time reading this book unless you are a flaming liberal. Than you will probably love it.” – Seventh Son
  • “I did not appreciate the use of the f- word. Especially in a prayer.” – Janice Wester

I must say, this is one of my favourite tl;dr summaries here on Keeping Up With The Penguins. If that kind of thing that tickles your fancy, check out my full list of the best KUWTP tl;dr summaries here.


  1. Think I may have seen a brief account of a similar trek at one time. The woman was injecting iodine into abscesses on her feet to keep going. After looking aghast that anyone could do that to themeselves I changed channels.
    Haven’t felt the need to see/read anything on the same subject ever since.
    Although I may quite like the country stuff as I’m a sucker for that kind of thing.

    • ShereeKUWTP

      April 26, 2018 at 6:04 PM

      Holy heck, just reading that sentence (“injecting iodine into abscesses”) gave me shivers!! I don’t recall Wild having anything that gnarly – she did, of course, get some horrific blisters and lost toe-nails, but that’s kind of par for the course. If you’re all about the beauty of the wilderness, then you’ll definitely enjoy at least parts of it 😉

  2. I haven’t read the book, but I really enjoyed the movie — other than the opening scene which involves some grossness due to the too-small boots. *shudders* *gag* I sometimes think about going on a hike like that, but I’m a girl who needs running water and plumbing. So, no thanks. 🙂 But I really enjoyed Strayed’s story in movie form. One of these days I’ll get around to reading the book!

    • ShereeKUWTP

      November 18, 2018 at 9:54 AM

      Oh goodness, yes, that scene made my stomach turn too! The book is certainly worth a read, and now that I’ve watched the film I’d say the book is grittier and “real”er but better for it 😉

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