Photo by Lacey Raper on Unsplash

Do you listen to audiobooks? I’ve become hooked. It provides more time to read because I listen while I walk or commute. I only read physical books before going to sleep and since I’m often exhausted when I hit the hay, reading is limited to a couple of pages. That’s partly why it took me over a year to read Dracula.

I started out with Emma Viskic’s Resurrection Bay, which was free on Audible. No, I said, I won’t be signing up to Audible. One book and I’ll be done.

A month later, I paid for a “one-off” book – Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology. But by the time I’d finished that, I signed up with Audible and apart from my 1 book a month, I’ve paid for books that are under $2.

Then someone told me about Librivox (Apple version  or Android version), an app with free audiobooks because they’re in the public domain i.e. books published before 1923 – think of the classics – so I’ve used that where I’ve finished my Audible book for the month.

A book that came up on my suggested list was “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed. When I was planning my walk around France in 2015 – read about it here – I was constantly asked if I’d read Wild or told that I should read Wild. But I didn’t want to read a book about someone who was walking in the bush. And walking in American bush at that. I was annoyed that there was an assumption that I must read about another woman’s solo walk simply because I was a woman solo walking.

This week, I finished listening to Wild on Audible. Then I watched the movie version. Then I read the comments/reviews on Goodreads.

I guess when Wild was published in 2012, a lot of people thought it was a guide to walking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and weren’t prepared to trudge through the author’s personal life. Some of the reviews from 2012 were scathing and focused on “I don’t care about her grief or thoughts, I wanted to hear descriptions of walking the PCT”. I’m not quite sure what I expected. I did know a few dribs and drabs from what others had told me: Her mum died, she took up drugs, had a lot of sex, her backpack was massive, and she threw her boot into the forest.

What I didn’t expect were the parallels between Strayed’s life and mine:

  • Strayed and I are the same age
  • Our mothers died when we were 22
  • We both (effectively in her case) became orphans at 22
  • Grief led us to some poor choices
  • We took off on solo adventures into unfamiliar regions that helped in overcoming that grief – I wrote about mine here
  • We both had strangers offer us extraordinary kindness while on said adventure – like Strayed, this was a constant feature in my trip

I loved the raw, open emotion that drifts through Wild. There were moments where my heart was racing in fear e.g. the frog scene and moments where I laughed out loud – which must have confused people walking near me.

Some of the reviews I read argued that Strayed’s writing was poor. I disagree. To take the story of your life and make it engaging and interesting to a stranger is a particular talent that memoirists struggle with. I felt that Strayed captured her own grief and threaded it into her narrative well. The characters came to life in her descriptions, particularly those she met along the way. I could picture them all.

Another aspect of Wild that I loved was the selection of books that she chose to read along the way – putting a new book in each re-supply box she had sent to her along her walk. A list is here. From James A. Michener’s The Novel to Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov with some essays thrown in. With each box, I wanted to know what book she’d packed along with new socks and a fresh tshirt. Curiously, she didn’t pack herself new hiking shorts.

Book reviews are contentious beasts. Because we each read a book differently, I suppose. I loathe a book that my friend adored. I was consumed by a book, which I loaned to a friend who couldn’t get ¼ of the way through it. The experience or expectation of the Wild reviewers probably tainted the early feedback. I liked it a lot. The movie, while including a lot of the detail, missed vast chunks, including 2 encounters with bears, a charging long horn bull, a few rattlesnakes, plenty of the fellow walkers, a sibling and a step-dad. Reece Witherspoon did Cheryl proud though.

Listening to Wild has made me want to strap on a bigger backpack and take off on another adventure though.

Have you ever read a book that resonated strongly for you, or encouraged you to go off on an adventure?