Monday, April 16, 2012

A PCT book review:

 My flight to San Diego is taking off in just a few short hours! I won't be around the internet for a while, but I scheduled a few more posts just because when you have a million things to do, clearly wasting time on the internet is a much better option. So you can expect regular posting right up until the 20th when I start hiking.

Other than skimming guidebooks for a few fleeting moments of inattentiveness, my sole research for this hike has been wikipedia (kind of pathetic, I know), the PCTA website (for just a few brief internet attention deficit moments), countless neurotic emails to friends and friends of friends who have hiked, and two memoirs. The memoirs were less for research and more because I enjoy reading fiction. I'm going to talk about the fiction now, rather than go to bed like a more sane person might do.
White's book reminds me a lot of Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods. It's humorous but tends to gloss over what I consider the most important aspects of a hike: the deprivation and degradation, and interaction with other hikers. Don't get me wrong - both of these authors mention these things (often in fairly entertaining passages of writing). But for some reason, I just feel that neither really digs deep enough. My other issue with the book is that I found myself really turned off by his somewhat cavalier attitude towards his then girlfriend/hiking partner. I was not a fan. If you've read the book, I'd love to hear your thoughts on it because I can't tell if my secret inner militant feminist man-hater is swaying my opinion a bit too much and I'm overreacting. I may re-read The Cactus Eaters on my hike and see how I feel about it after giving it another chance. 
On to the next book, Wild by Cheryl Strayed. Initially I was prepared to be underwhelmed. It's a book that has been well-publicized (I have seen two review blurbs in national publications already) and breathlessly touts the author's encounters with bears and rattle snakes. "BIG WHOOP", was my first reaction, completely unimpressed. The interesting thing is, only fifty pages deep into the book I already really liked Strayed and was completely engrossed. Have you read Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert? Like that protagonist, Strayed is running away from a broken marriage and embarking on an adventure. However unlike Gilbert, whom I loathed with a fiery passion (please note that I absolutely loved her book The Last American Man and found her narrative thoroughly enjoyable there. I just found myself rolling my eyes at her repeatedly during her personal journey to self-realization, unfortunately.) Strayed is really, truly likeable even as she recounts a journey that, let's face it, is pretty selfish. She shoots heroin a week before departing for her hike. She cheats on her husband repeatedly before they separate and then divorce. And yet I feel nothing but interest and sympathy for her. It's an engrossing narrative by a strong writer and the love and grief she expresses is believable and powerful. Unlike the other two books I previously mentioned, this narrative has a raw and compelling background story that is interwoven with the trials and tribulations and adventure and humor of a long distance hike. This is a book I was planning on reading on the plane and then passing on, but now I really want to share it with my mother and friends. It's too good to just casually leave behind. Also, the NYT book reviewer admits to crying while reading it! I did not shed a tear, but I will admit that it was tough to put down.

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