I’ve been interested in reading one of Strayed’s books, namely Wild, since I first listened to a podcast episode featuring her on Longreads. The episode was inspiring and I thought her memoir would be also.
Though I bought Wild last year, I have yet to crack it open. However, at the start of this year, I decided to download Tiny Beautiful Things on my library’s Overdrive because it was available; but the electronic format made me sleepy.
I borrowed the book from the library and was so taken by it, that I found myself placing dots on almost every page (it’s my way of highlighting library books without being intrusive). Eventually, I decided to just get my own copy so I can highlight every damn thing.
Life can be hard: your lover cheats on you; you lose a family member; you can’t pay the bills—and it can be great: you’ve had the hottest sex of your life; you get that plum job; you muster the courage to write your novel. Sugar—the once-anonymous online columnist at The Rumpus, now revealed as Cheryl Strayed, author of the bestselling memoir Wild—is the person thousands turn to for advice.
Tiny Beautiful Things brings the best of Dear Sugar in one place and includes never-before-published columns and a new introduction by Steve Almond. Rich with humor, insight, compassion—and absolute honesty—this book is a balm for everything life throws our way. (Goodreads)
I’ve avoided sharing my thoughts on this book because I didn’t know what to say. Of course, it’s inspiring and motivational and uplifting and all the other words usually associated with self-help books.
Many people have already read it and Strayed’s Dear Sugar column, which appeared in the online literary magazine The Rumpus, was pretty popular so I think I have nothing new to add to encourage folks to read this book.
I must admit, though, that because this book is composed of advice columns, I expected not to like it because I thought it would lean heavily on relationship topics. It did, but surprisingly I didn’t mind. Strayed often addressed the problems underlying the relationship issues, the problems that caused conflicts to arise in the relationships.
As the Dear Sugar persona, Strayed maintains a light tone throughout. However, it’s not so light as to be dismissive of heavy topics. The Dear Sugar persona is direct and raw, but comforting and reassuring. She seems to have no restrictions as she often includes much of her personal history in the columns, ranging from her struggles as a writer to having sex on a bathroom floor. I was surprised that she includes so much of her life in the columns, but I appreciated it because it made her as Dear Sugar seem real, like a friend, and her advice sincere.
Of the columns, here are the ones that resonated with me the most:
Write Like a Motherfucker: I think this one is pretty popular. I’d read it somewhere else before I learned of Tiny Beautiful Things or Cheryl Strayed. As the title suggests, the column encouraged the anonymous writer to start writing. I appreciate Strayed’s advice here because she discusses how sometimes our ego gets in the way of starting: “It was only then, when I humbly surrendered, that I was able to do the work I needed to do.”
“The only way you’ll find out if you ‘have it in you’ is to get to work and see if you do.”
No Mystery About Sperm: The anonymous writer here is finding it hard to achieve her dream of having a husband and child and is considering to become a single mom. Strayed is understanding yet straightforward about the difficulties that might arise from being a single mom. I like the column for its practical advice, which I think would be useful to many people I know.
“What’s important is that you make the leap. Jump high and hard with intention and heart. Pay no mind to the vision the commission made up. It’s up to you to make your life. Take what you have and stack it up like a tower of teetering blocks. Build your dream around that.”
The Future Has an Ancient Heart: The professor of a creative writing class at the University of Alabama wrote to Dear Sugar asking her to write a graduation speech for the class. I love this one. It’s the speech I wish I’d heard/read when I graduated college with an English degree and no idea what to do next while people constantly asked “So, what can you do with a degree in English, teach?” I had no desire to teach.
“You don’t have to get a job that makes others feel comfortable about what they perceive as your success. You don’t have to explain what you plan to do with your life. You don’t have to justify your education by demonstrating its financial rewards. You don’t have to maintain an impeccable credit score. Anyone who expects you to do any of those things has no sense of history of economics or science or the arts.”
“Whatever happens to you belongs to you. Make it yours. Feed it to yourself even if it feels impossible to swallow. Let it nurture you, because it will.”
The Human Scale: Correspondence with an anonymous writer whose six-month-old daughter was in a pediatric intensive care unit because of a tumor in her brain. This one stood out to me because of its discussion on God and how/when people appeal to Him.
“To use our individual good or bad luck as a litmus test to determine whether or not God exists constructs an illogical dichotomy that reduces our capacity for true compassion.”
“It fails to acknowledge that the other half of rising — the very half that makes rising necessary — is having first been nailed to the cross.”
A Big Life: From a college graduate struggling with student loan debt and a strained relationship with her parents. I strongly related to this one because the writer felt defined by her debt, as if it was directing her life, so I appreciate Strayed’s advice here. It’s something I needed to see/read/hear and hopefully will follow.
“Nobody’s going to do your life for you. You have to do it yourself, whether you’re rich or poor, out of money or raking it in, the beneficiary of ridiculous fortune or terrible injustice.”
“You don’t have a right to the cards you believe you should have been dealt. You have an obligation to play the hell out of the ones you’re holding.”
The Obliterated Place: Such a sad one. I could feel the writer’s pain in his letter, from a father whose son was killed by a drunk driver. The writer sorely misses his son, whom he loved dearly, and regretted not apologizing to his son for how he initially reacted when his son informed him that he’s gay.
Tiny Beautiful Things: Strayed’s advice to her twentysomething self.
“Be brave enough to break your own heart.”
“Your assumptions about the lives of others are in direct relation to your naïve pomposity.”
“The useless days will add up to something.”
Not all the columns resonated with me, but those that did greatly affected me because Strayed’s advice in them were often something I needed or advice I know others close to me would find useful.
I highly recommend the book to you all.
More quotes from the book:
“Transformation often demands that we separate our emotional responses from our rational minds.”
“When bad things happen, often the only way back to wholeness is to take it all apart.”
“Acceptance asks only that you embrace what’s true.”
“Addiction is a tunnel that wakes you up in the middle of the night. Everything else happens out here in the light.”
“The narratives we create in order to justify our actions and choices become in so many ways who we are. They are the things we say back to ourselves to explain our complicated lives.”
“Art isn’t anecdote. It’s the consciousness we bring to bear on our lives. For what happened in the story to transcend the limits of the personal, it must be driven by the engine of what the story means.”