Books are Back: Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things

I am one of those people who was proud to be a fan of Cheryl Strayed (Wikipedia) well before she published Wild. When her essays were included in Best American Essays, people told me I had to check them out. I was hooked. Now she has earned–deservedly–a lot of acclaim. I just finished reading Tiny Beautiful Things, her collection of advice columns she wrote as Dear Sugar on The Rumpus.

Anyone who has read more than one thing Strayed has written will recognize the consistency of her voice. Though it’s obvious she understands the craft of writing, I deeply admire how it is so clear when she is the author of something (and if any of my students are reading this, I do mean “author” in the Foucauldian sense). The advice she offers in this book aligns perfectly with the woman who tells the story of Wild, which itself sounds like it was written by the essayist I first encountered years ago.

She lives it, or she has lived it. She didn’t become Sugar because she believed she could speak on high about how people should behave; she just wanted to offer an engaged and thoughtful perspective. It just happened to be a perspective many of us needed to read. Excuse the cliché, but there is something in this book for everyone, and each reader will find something they need to hear (even if it’s not for the first time and whether they like it or not). It is beautiful, and its effects will not be tiny.

Here are some of the things I needed to hear right now.

“There will be a reckoning. There is always a reckoning. For every one of us. Accounting for what happened in our childhoods and why and who our parents are and how they succeeded and failed us is the work we all do when we do the work of becoming whole, grown-up people.”

“As my thirtieth birthday approached, I realized that if I truly wanted to write the story I had to tell, I would have to gather everything within me to make it happen. I would have to sit and think of only one thing longer and harder than I thought possible. I would have to suffer. By which I mean work.”

“You will feel insecure and jealous. How much power you give those feelings is entirely up to you.”

“But the people who don’t give up are the people who find a way to believe in abundance rather than scarcity. They’ve taken into their hearts the idea that there is enough for all of us, that success will manifest itself in different ways for different sorts of artists, that keeping the faith is more important than cashing the check, that being genuinely happy for someone else who got something you hope to get makes you genuinely happier too.”

“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. Perhaps the reason you’ve not yet been able to forgive yourself is that you’re still invested in your self-loathing.”

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