Friday, September 28, 2012

"Tiny Beautiful Things," by Cheryl Strayed

"Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar" (Vintage, 2012), by Cheryl Strayed, might as well be titled "Tiny Jagged Pieces of Heartbreak." Strayed wrote the "Dear Sugar" advice column for the online literature-oriented community, The Rumpus, and this book is a collection of some of the questions and answers published there. There is nothing mundane or light about these questions; they are of the heavy-duty, worst-that-life-can-bring-you type. Sad and abusive childhoods and relationships, horrific losses, and terrible dilemmas are common themes. Strayed, also the author of the wrenching but ultimately inspiring bestselling memoir "Wild" (about which I posted here on 8/4/12), writes the most amazing answers to these questions. She is full of empathy, shares her own experiences generously, and gets to the hard truths of the matter. She always find some hope, some possible way out, but it is honest and hard-won hope, not easy comfort. The online and then the book format allow for long questions and answers, so each of Strayed's answers is a mini-essay, rather than the short, clipped answers provided in most advice columns. Readers will leave the book with great admiration for the way Strayed always -- although not indulging in Pollyannaism -- finds common humanity in every situation. This book is sad and hard to read, yet compelling and life-affirming as well.

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