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.