Who's The Last Person to Read 'Wild'?

That person may be me. (I know, I know—and I’ve got 'Unbroken' waiting for me on my night stand). I picked it up because I've been editing a memoir that contains similar elements. Good memoir is a variant on an aphorism attributed to Yvonn Chouinard: “The worse the experience the better the story.” Strayed certainly had good material to work with in that regard.

Strayed’s work also is a good illustration of wisdom I recently read from novelist and memoirist Hilary Mantel: “Memoir’s not an easy form. It’s not for beginners, which is unfortunate, as it is where many people do begin. It’s hard for beginners to accept that unmediated truth often sounds unlikely and unconvincing. If other people are to care about your life, art must intervene. The writer has to negotiate with her memories, and with her reader, and find a way, without interrupting the flow, to caution that this cannot be a true record: this is a version, seen from a single viewpoint. But she has to make it as true as she can. Writing a memoir is a process of facing yourself, so you must do it when you are ready.” [from Pamela Paul, By The Book, pg. 171]

I haven’t seen the movie (point of principle), but in the book Strayed masterfully walks a fine line. She parses and experience that is simultaneously horrible and sublime, leavening what actually happened with, as Mantel says, art. She is able to lead the reader to understanding without telling them what they should understand.

If you want to write a good memoir, understand this book.

Perhaps the best measure of the Strayed’s success for me is that I, who live in the Rockies not far from the 486-mile Colorado Trail, have been considering tackling at least part of that long path myself. I’d be a better person for it.