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Review: ‘Tiny Beautiful Things’ by Cheryl Strayed

Review: ‘Tiny Beautiful Things’ by Cheryl Strayed post image

I like to think (and hope) that every person has at least one other person in their life who will tell them what is what. For me, those people are usually my mother and my sister. I know they love me unconditionally, but I also know that they don’t put up with my nonsense. If I’ve gone off the rails in some small or large way, they get me back on the track in the most kind and generous way possible. I’m so lucky to have that.

I tell you that because I think the voice that Cheryl Strayed adopts as Sugar, an advice columnist for the online age, has a lot in common with a family member who loves you but doesn’t let you get away with anything. In her columns, collected together in Tiny Beautiful Things, Strayed practiced what Steve Almond called radical empathy:

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.=

The first thing to know about this book is that Cheryl Strayed can write. If you don’t believe me, stop reading this post and go read these two columns: The Baby Bird and Write Like a Motherfucker. I’ll wait.

Finished? Holy shit, right? Cheryl Strayed can write like a motherfucker, and that talent is on display in every one of her lovely, profane, honest and frustrated columns collected in this book. I just can’t even quite articulate just how great each and every single one of them is to read.

If you haven’t read these essays yet, I highly encourage you to pick them up. But, I think this is a book that is better read slowly, a few pieces at a time over a month or two. When you read them back-to-back, you start to see a little bit of repetitiveness in the way that Strayed approaches each problem. That’s not to say her answers aren’t surprising or wonderful to read, just that they have a little less impact taken all together than I think they do taken at a slightly slower pace.

This is a book I will be holding on to, dipping back in and out in those moments when I just need to hear someone kindly and generously tell me to get my shit together.

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  • Shannon @ River City Reading September 19, 2013, 6:15 am

    This book! Write Like a Motherfucker is my absolute favorite thing. Sometimes I find myself whispering to “just DIG!” in my head and feel totally insane. But you’re totally right, I flew through this in an obsessed one day spree and wished I had broken them up a bit more. I’ve definitely picked up my copy several times since, though!

    • Kim October 6, 2013, 9:11 pm

      I love that essay too. It’s just wonderful and funny and inspiring.

  • bermudaonion (Kathy) September 19, 2013, 7:58 am

    One of my local booksellers loves this book too. It sounds like I need to get it ASAP.

  • jenn aka the picky girl September 19, 2013, 10:53 am

    Ok. I’ve avoided this book, as I tend to do when everyone shouts about a book from the rooftops. But. But. I read those two links, and wow. Definitely need to pick up this book.

    • Kim October 6, 2013, 9:12 pm

      I waited a long time to read it, partially because of the hype. But it’s really beautiful, even more if you savor it. I hope you love it!

  • Katie @ Doing Dewey September 19, 2013, 2:46 pm

    This sounds so good that I went and put it on hold at my library right away! I’m sure I could use some radical empathy in my life and I think the fact the we both like similar memoirs bodes well for my enjoyment of this book 🙂

  • Sandy September 19, 2013, 4:27 pm

    I almost bought Wild, then saw some really negative reviews and got smoked out. I think at the end of the day though, after reading examples of her writing, I really need to experience her. Maybe with this one.

    • Kim October 6, 2013, 9:13 pm

      I think there’s some personal stuff in Wild that makes it a little polarizing. But this one really just focuses on Strayed’s writing — much less on her experiences, although they’re part of her advice — in a way that won’t be so grating I think.

  • Allison @ The Book Wheel September 20, 2013, 2:34 am

    This sounds great! For me it’s my mom, my sisters, my husband, and one or two of my good friends. Thankfully they are all usually on the same page, otherwise I’d be overwhelmed!

  • Charlie September 20, 2013, 10:24 am

    That’s a description and a half! It sounds really appropriate to read this slowly, after a while if you’re writing similar advice you’re naturally going to become repetitive, and yes, that isn’t what you’d normally expect in a book. Sounds a good one!

  • Meg September 23, 2013, 2:01 pm

    My goodness, I’ve embarrassed that I have yet to explore or embrace Strayed. I’ve heard so much — so much! — and thoroughly enjoyed the columns you shared. “The Baby Bird” was like a kick to the gut, but (mostly) in a good way. Wow. Thanks!

    • Kim October 6, 2013, 9:15 pm

      “The Baby Bird” is just insane in the way it’s done… it’s a shock to read, for sure. Try Strayed! I think you will like her.

  • Cecilia October 5, 2013, 9:37 am

    That is a great way to describe/summarize her book. I agree. We really do need that small handful of people in our lives who won’t put up with any b.s. behavior. I found myself underlining so much in her book.