“Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar” by Cheryl Strayed

tiny-beautiful-thingsI’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.

Quick summary:

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)

My thoughts:

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.”

Overall: ★★★★★

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.”

“Gilded Cage” by Vic James

gilded-cageHave you ever read a book that’s so compelling you can hardly put it down but is so annoying that you wish you could? That’s how I felt over the 8 days I spent reading Gilded Cage. I was curious about some of its plot points, but I had so many issues with it that I was frustrated the entire time I read it.

Quick summary:

Gilded Cage is a young-adult fantasy novel set in the present day, where some people (the Equals) have magical abilities (the Skill) and enslave those who lack such abilities (the Commoners). Some countries have improved their policies and allowed equal opportunities for both Equals and Commoners; however, in the U.K., where the story is set, slavery is still in effect.

When the story begins, one of our protagonists, Abigail, and her family are about to begin their slave days. Commoners must dedicate 10 years of their lives to being a slave, however individuals can choose when to begin. Parents can choose for children under 18, but all Commoners must begin before they are 60.

Abigail is 18 and is studying to be a doctor. However, she is willing to set her aspirations aside to start her slave days with her family, which includes her mom and dad, her 15-year-old* (I forgot his age, but it’s about there) brother Luke, and her 10-year-old sister Daisy. Abigail plans for them all to have an easy time working their slave days at the Kyneston estate, one of the most powerful Equal families in the country that is managed by brothers Gavar, Jenner, and Silyen Jardine. However, her family is ripped apart when Luke is taken to Millmoor, the harsh factory town that mistreats its slaves.

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Two Illustrated Books: “Armstrong” and “The Only Child”

I picked up these two illustrated children’s books the same day I grabbed J.K. Rowling’s Very Good Lives from the library. They were on display and since it’s been a while since I’ve read I picture book, I decided to give them a try. Armstrong looked familiar, but I couldn’t recall where I’d first seen it; and I’ve often seen the cover of The Only Child so I wanted to know why a stag was hanging out with a kid.


armstrong-the-adventurous-journey-of-a-mouse-to-the-moonArmstrong: The Adventurous Journey of a Mouse to the Moon by Torben Kuhlmann (illus.)

Goodreads summary:

A long time ago a mouse learned to fly . . . and crossed the Atlantic. But what happened next? Torben Kuhlmann’s stunning new book transports readers to the moon and beyond! On the heels of Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse comes Armstrong: A Mouse on the Moon where dreams are determined only by the size of your imagination and the biggest innovators are the smallest of all. The book ends with a brief non-fiction history of human space travel from Galileo s observations concerning the nature of the universe to man’s first steps on the moon. (Goodreads)

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“Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination” by J.K. Rowling

very-good-livesGoodreads summary:

In 2008, J.K. Rowling delivered a deeply affecting commencement speech at Harvard University. Now published for the first time in book form, Very Good Lives offers J.K. Rowling’s words of wisdom for anyone at a turning point in life, asking the profound and provocative questions: How can we embrace failure? And how can we use our imagination to better both ourselves and others?

Drawing from stories of her own post-graduate years, the world-famous author addresses some of life’s most important issues with acuity and emotional force. (Goodreads)

My thoughts:

Toward the end of last year, I visited the library and unsure of what to get, I grabbed whatever caught my eye. Very Good Lives was one of the three books I left with.

Very Good Lives is the published copy of a speech J.K. Rowling gave at Harvard’s commencement in 2008. It’s not the first that I’ve encountered it. I watched a video of Rowling giving the speech a couple years ago on Brain Pickings. There were several other commencement speeches in that post, including one by Steve Jobs, and all were uplifting.

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“Caraval” by Stephanie Garber

caravalI didn’t like it. I went into this one with HIGH expectations because I was told that it’s like Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, which I read at the beginning of 2016 and loved. With that in mind, I started Caraval expecting an engaging story that would keep me at the edge of my seat, making me fall in love with its characters and prose. Unfortunately, that’s not what I got.

Goodreads summary:

Welcome, welcome to Caraval―Stephanie Garber’s sweeping tale of two sisters who escape their ruthless father when they enter the dangerous intrigue of a legendary game.

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

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“The Sea of Monsters” and “The Titan’s Curse” by Rick Riordan

The Sea of MonstersAfter reading The Lightning Thief by audio book, I said I wouldn’t continue to reread the series in that form because I hate how it’s narrated, but I went back on my word. So, did I like it this time? No.

Quick summary:

The Sea of Monsters and The Titan’s Curse are the second and third books in Rick Riordan’s middle-grade fantasy, adventure series Percy Jackson and the Olympians.

In The Sea of Monsters, our protagonist Percy has to rescue his best friend Grover, a satyr, when he goes missing. Percy decides to search for him in the Sea of Monsters, a.k.a the Bermuda Triangle, with his companions, Annabeth, a friend he made in the last book, and his cyclops brother, Tyson. Meanwhile, Luke and his boat of baddies are still up to no good in the name of Kronus.

The Titan’s Curse picks up with Percy, Annabeth, and Thalia, who popped out of a tree in the last book, on their way to check out some half-bloods Grover peeped at a military boarding school. With the help of the goddess Artemis and her band of hunters, Percy and his gang are able to rescue the half-bloods and get them safely to Camp Halfblood, but at the cost of Annabeth, who was lost in effort.

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“Ship of Magic” by Robin Hobb

ship-of-magicAfter completing the Farseer trilogy, I was eager for more stories by Robin Hobb, so I bought the first novel in the Liveship Traders trilogy, Ship of Magic, and read it with Emily at Embuhlee liest.

Goodreads summary:

Bingtown is a hub of exotic trade and home to a merchant nobility famed for its liveships—rare vessels carved from wizardwood, which ripens magically into sentient awareness. The fortunes of one of Bingtown’s oldest families rest on the newly awakened liveship Vivacia.

For Althea Vestrit, the ship is her rightful legacy unjustly denied her—a legacy she will risk anything to reclaim. For Althea’s young nephew Wintrow, wrenched from his religious studies and forced to serve aboard ship, Vivacia is a life sentence.

But the fate of the Vestrit family—and the ship—may ultimately lie in the hands of an outsider. The ruthless pirate Kennit seeks a way to seize power over all the denizens of the Pirate Isles…and the first step of his plan requires him to capture his own liveship and bend it to his will.  Ship of Magic (Liveship Traders, #1)

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