Monday, June 17, 2013

Review: Tiny Beautiful Things

Sometimes I meet the most interesting people in the pages of a book. Often, they are well-written characters. Lately, however, they're the authors themselves.

I first "met" Cheryl Strayed in the first chapters of her memoir, Wild. When she began howling in the hospital, I had to stop: her loss was too, too real.

It was with great delight I let Brain Pickings guide me to her book tiny beautiful things: Advice on love and life from Dear Sugar.

I enjoy reading advice columns, usually because I pretend my advice would be that erudite, witty and accurate. I could guide and cure legions of people. No, really, I could.

Then I met someone who really could. Strayed's advice was loving, kind and direct. She really cared about the people whose lives she entered by invitation. She had experiences that would fell a normal human being, and yet she managed to not only survive, but thrive — and retain her humanity and sympathy.

She chose a wide variety of letters for this book. The writers of these letters are in pain and in need of a voice in the wilderness calling them back to themselves, and her voice is at once steely and velvet.

She peppers her responses with endearments like "sweet pea." She uses these words in a way that seems natural and genuine.  Some people bristle at the use of "hon" by strangers, but in one sentence, Strayed goes from "stranger" to "the person holding your hand and really listening." In her hands, "sweet pea" is an embrace by words.

Strayed doesn't flinch when she reads or responds. She admits (and sometimes alludes to) experiences and behavior that makes me wonder how she managed to make it to the other side. She's not unscathed, but she's a survivor — and if she can do it, so can you. She knows enough people who didn't survive, and she appears to understand and accept that.

I read advice I want to give nearly everyone I know, including myself. I want to give this book to my friends who have lived through it, who are living through it, who appreciate wonderful writing and tenderness.

So, if you receive this for your birthday from me, don't worry: I am not trying to "tell you something," but share the words of someone I would trust with my deepest secrets and who could make me feel like I just might make it, even from where I stand. Or maybe I am: and if you read it from her, you might believe it, too.

I strongly advise you read this book. Find it at your public library, if you're not sure — then pick up your own copy to dog-ear and re-read as needed. I like Strayed and I like her writing, and I hope you do, too.

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