Wahoo! I’m trendy! I looked at the New York Times Book Review today and saw that of the #1 hardcover bestsellers, I just finished reading the non-fiction one and am in the middle of the fiction one.
And no, since I’m sure you were about to ask, neither is Fifty Shades of Grey. (That’s #1 on the paperback and e-book lists, not the hardcover list. )
The nonfiction one that I just finished is Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, the story of a young woman hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in an effort to get her deeply messed-up life back together. I tore through it in two days while accompanying Sam to the Sierra for the Markleeville Death Ride. He and I took a five-mile hike through beautiful wildflower meadows near Carson Pass on Thursday morning, and I was delighted to see that for about a mile our trail overlapped with the PCT.
This wasn’t a section that Strayed walked (it was snowed under so she bypassed it), but it was one of those fun moments when reading and living get to intersect, like reading Victor Hugo in Paris, Dickens in London etc.
Wild is enjoyable because, while it’s about hiking the PCT, it’s really about Strayed’s struggle to emerge from the depths of her mother’s untimely death, the dissolution of her family and her marriage, and her own grief, self-destructive behavior and despair. It was much more than “Then, at Mile 23, I came to a really gorgeous lake…”
The other great hiking memoir is Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, about his attempt to through-hike the Appalachian Trail, the East Coast cousin of the PCT. Bryson is much funnier, with a number of laugh-out-loud sections. But I found Strayed’s more compelling and deeper. Both would be great summer vacation reading. Both might make you want to get out of the beach chair and hike — okay, not 500 miles, but maybe five.
Then the fiction best-seller I’m currently reading is Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. It’s one of those welcome books that transcends the publishing industry’s genre boxes. It’s a murder/suspense story, but also a psychological portrait of a failed marriage. And it’s very well-written as well as well-plotted. The author drops clues all over the place, but you can read them multiple ways and so you’re never sure what is going on — is the narrator a garden-variety flawed spouse, or a murderer? I’ve found myself paging back to earlier sections to re-read something the narrator said, and parse what it might mean. For fiction writers trying to create what is called an “unreliable narrator,” this should be a classic study.
I’m so happy to have stumbled into these two books this week. It had been a pretty dry spell, from a reading point of view. We are taking Daughter to see the musical of Les Miserables next week, so I had decided to actually read the book. Which is a great work, but LONG. Something like 1300 pages. I admit to skimming Hugo’s point-by-point analysis of the battle of Waterloo and his history of the Paris sewers. It was a slog — not as unpleasant as Jean Valjean’s journey through the sewers with Marius over his shoulder, but still a slog. And I remain more perplexed about 19th century French politics than ever.
Next up: The Liberated Bride, by A.B. Yehoshua, which I’ll be reading for our temple’s Israeli Fiction Book Group.
P.S. Cheryl Strayed, the author of Wild, will be doing an event in S.F. on July 27. This is in relation to her *other* new book, Tiny Beautiful Things, a compilation of the advice columns she has written as “Sugar” on The Rumpus web site. Thanks to Abby Caplin for the heads-up on this!
Reading by Cheryl Strayed –Friday, July 27th, 6:30pm
The Rumpus party in honor of the publication of TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS
The Verdi Club
2424 Mariposa Street
San Francisco, California
Host and all-around excellent person Stephen Elliott
Readings by Elissa Bassist and Yuvi Zalkow
Music by Baby and the Luvies
A special performance by The Rumpus Ensemble Players
$15 admission includes a signed copy of TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS