I have read some truly spectacular books through this first, delicious slice of summer.
As of 8 minutes ago, I finished this one, and left with the rare and precious sense that I have just completed a book that I will read for the rest of my life.
Cheryl is driven to write this memoir by experiences that not many of us have dealt with (orphaned by an abusive father and cancer-ridden mother; dirt-poor upbringing; heroin addiction). Her experience is not one that many have or will have (solo-hiking the entire Pacific Crest Trail.)
But what I love about a really good memoir is how the author, merely by being honest about his/her story, can delineate subtle and relatable truths about life and what we do with it. Find meaning, without trying to; present not just as a story but a notepad, on which to sketch out, compare, and reflect on our story.
My second favorite thing about a good memoir is how strictly its story resides in and reflects on both past and present. With little consideration given for the future and what she could/would/should do with it, Cheryl hikes to think equal parts logically and emotionally about what has happened to her. and how that will or will not affect what happens now.
Incredibly, neither time nor her accomplishment have made her forget just how much she struggled, doubted, and agonized in her effort to complete the trail. She grapples with how to push herself when every voice in her head tells her to stop, and we are privy to that every thought and self-doubt along the way. That kept me turning the pages to find out what happens just as much as the black bears, rattle-snakes, and predatory men did. Oh, and the ants and the slime frogs. And the heat…the drought…and the snow…
I really wanted to share the last two paragraphs of her memoir, which reduced me (4 hours of desperate reading later, 2 friends blown off, phone long-dead and bum long-numb) to a veritable puddle of tears, but I’m leaving that for you when you finish this piece. Instead, a bit that resonated with me (among hundreds!)
“Their leaving made me melancholy, though I also felt something like relief when they disappeared into the dark trees. I hadn’t needed to get anything from my pack, I’d only wanted to be alone. Alone had always felt like an actual place to me, as if it weren’t a state of being, but rather a room where I could retreat to be who I really was. The radical aloneness of the PCT had altered that sense. Alone wasn’t a room anymore, but a whole wide world, and now I was alone in that world, occupying it in a way I never had before.”
“There’s no way to know what makes one thing happen and not another. What leads to what. What destroys what. What causes what to flourish or die or take another course. But I was pretty certain as I sat there that night that if it hadn’t been for Eddie, I wouldn’t have found myself on the PCT. And though it was true that everything I felt for him sat like a boulder in my throat, this realization made the boulder sit ever so much lighter. He hadn’t loved me well in the end, but he’d loved me well when it mattered.”
On June 5, NPR released an article that began, “In children’s books, it can be easier to find talking pandas than characters of color.” The article points out that only 6 percent of books released in 2012 featured diverse characters. Then they saved the day by compiling a reading list of children’s books that feature diverse characters!