It's not often that a book about hiking makes the New York Times cry and prompts actress Reese Witherspoon to bid on the film rights. But of course, Cheryl Strayed's Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail is more than a hiking book. Amazon senior editor Jon Foro, reviewing it for our March Best Books of the Month list, called Wild "a story that inhabits a unique riparian zone between wilderness tale and personal-redemption memoir."
Strayed launched a cross-country book tour last week and during a visit with Amazon talked about the unexpected waves of attention her memoir has earned, from Vogue (with an illogically unrecognizable Photoshop version of Strayed) to NPR to this week's glowing New York Times review (which left Dwight Garner teary-eyed).
"I've heard over and over from people who've said, 'I have no interest in hiking or the outdoors, or any of this stuff, and I loved your book'," Strayed said over lunch. "People just want a good story."
And Strayed's story--Into the Wild crossed with Eat, Pray, Love, as some have called it--is a captivating tale.
In 1995, reeling from a divorce and her mother's death, dabbling in drugs and one-night stands, 26-year-old Strayed escapes to southern California to begin hiking hundreds of miles north along the Pacific Crest Trail, embracing the solitude and the hardships of life in the woods. What makes the book stand apart is Strayed's humor, honesty, and voice. She never allows the story to become too sweet or predictable, making the emotional scenes all the more real.
Over lunch, Strayed (pictured at right with Amazon editor Jon Foro) joked that she wrote Wild "so that my kids will know I was cool once." She hopes the book will be a great gift to them at some point, when they're ready. "Maybe when they're 30," she said.
When Strayed's first book, Torch, was published in 2006, it sold well and received some glowing reviews, but it hardly prepared her for the swarm of attention Wild is earning. Part of that buzz was triggered by Strayed's Valentine's Day confession that she's the Sugar behind the popular "Dear Sugar" advice column on TheRumpus.net. Now her readings are packed with "Sugar" followers mixed in among the hikers, backpackers and other Wild fans. (A collection of "Dear Sugar" columns will be published in July, entitled Tiny Beautiful Things.)
Before launching her book tour, Strayed hiked a bit along the Pacific Crest Trail, not far from her home in Portland. Unlike in 1995, she had her iPhone with her, and she even tweeted from the trail - "Hiking the PCT!" She won't have much time for hiking in the coming months. But she does look forward to seeing Reese Witherspoon in hiking boots, portraying her 26-year-old self. "I love this woman," she said.