Book: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail by Cheryl Strayed
Movie: Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon
Genre: Adult Nonfiction- Inspirational Memoir
Type of Bath: Indulge yourself with a skin-smoothing bath bomb and spoil your feet with a pumice stone while you cringe through Cheryl’s feet’s misadventures.
Bath Accessories: Lemonade, preferably spiked with gin. Here’s a great lavender lemonade recipe that will make you think you’re in the great outdoors.
When I first heard about Reese Witherspoon’s movie, Wild, I had not yet heard of the book. I just knew that this movie was getting a lot of praise for being a great portrayal of a strong woman, and it was basically white woman inspiration porn.
I’m the perfect audience for white woman inspiration porn, so I knew I would end up watching it eventually, but decided I wanted to read the book first. It wasn’t really a priority, but when I was visiting Bethany in Arkansas, we went in a used bookstore and I found Cheryl Strayed’s memoir for $2. I knew this was my opportunity.
As I started to read the book, I was pretty quickly hooked on Strayed’s writing. Her story is engaging and the writing makes you want to keep reading, but it’s still very realistic. The book tells the story of how Strayed hiked the Pacific Crest Trail through parts of California and Oregon, alone and inexperienced.
In the beginning of the book especially, I found that I didn’t particularly like Strayed’s character. It wasn’t that I thought that she was a horrible person – I just thought she made terrible decisions and basically ruined her own life. This book is the, “If I can fix my life, so can you,” message she wanted to share with the world. In that respect, I think the book succeeds. But in some ways, I was (and am) still pretty critical of her character. She only has things to write about because she got interesting stories from losing control of her life.
On one hand, it can be inspirational for aspiring hikers. If this insufficiently-prepared writer can hike for a hundred days, pretty much anyone can, right? On the other hand, I think it inspires a bit shallowly. It gives the initial I-could-totally-do-that feeling without any real actionable ideas for how the reader could get started making their adventure happen (and hopefully with fewer misadventures than Strayed experienced).
Many would argue that the misadventures are what make the story interesting, and while that’s not completely false, I think it’s completely possible to have a life changing experience without putting yourself through unnecessary pain. Trails like the Pacific Crest are beautiful and inspiring enough on their own without adding user-ineptitude to the list of challenges.
All that being said, this isn’t really meant to be an “inspirational hiking book,” at least not solely. This book deals with loss, grief, and trying to bounce back from hard times. It addresses “finding yourself” and other themes that people looking for inspiration will appreciate. It shows human stubbornness and the will to fight, while also showing moments of weakness and despair without shying away.
To that point, the fact that I didn’t see Strayed in a completely positive light is something I really appreciate about her writing. I think she presents the events factually, she admits she made mistakes, and she doesn’t apologize for being a flawed human. She also doesn’t dwell on it too much, but simply presents events and her thoughts and feelings as she remembers them, in a way that shows her journey really beautifully.
Despite my criticisms, I really did enjoy this book. It did it’s job- it made me feel happy and hopeful and inspired. I immediately put the movie on hold at the library so I could have the book fresh in my mind as I watched.
In general, if I know I’m going to read a book a movie is based on, I try to read the book first. This keeps me from imagining the characters as the actors, and allows me to get more immersed in the actual world the book builds. By this same token, if I’m going to watch the movie solely for my own enjoyment, I usually try to wait a while after I read the book. This allows some distance, makes some of the differences less obvious, and allows me to enjoy the movie for itself rather than constantly comparing it to the book.
But I went into this knowing I wanted to write a blog post comparing the book and movie, so I wanted to have both fresh in my mind. And for the most part, I don’t think the movie was tainted by me comparing it so much to the book. This is largely because the movie follows the book pretty closely – the changes that were made were largely due to the medium of film and didn’t alter the message or tone.
A lot of the changes were simply omissions to streamline the film. There were several family members that the book mentioned and even dwelled on that weren’t in the movie. Since this is nonfiction, I was a little surprised by some of those omissions, but I think that those characters were not vital to getting the main points of the film across, and having too many characters would have cluttered things.
The movie added some author quotes where the book didn’t have any, and built a musical theme that wasn’t really in the book either. These were obviously artistic choices to create a certain tone, and while I think the author quotes were unnecessary and a little too cheesy-inspirational, I don’t think they detracted anything. And I loved the musical choices. But that mainly boils down to the fact I already loved most of the songs they chose. I think they intentionally used songs that a lot of people would find nostalgic, which helps the audience relate to Strayed’s character as she relives memories.
I really liked the choices made in the movie, and I believe it represented the book well. I have always respected Reese Witherspoon, and when I learned that this was the first film her production company bought the rights to and it was a financial success, I was really happy. I do think we need more movies that focus on stories like this, and I’m glad to see them coming from awesome women.