So far I have read 51 books in 2014 and am working my way through #52. Some of them have been fascinating (Gone Girl), some were hilarious (Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls) and some have been serious duds (I’m looking at you, Easy Money and The Hitman’s Guide to Housecleaning). That said, every so often you will read a book that just knocks you off your feet – if you read things other than melodramatic romance novels or fan fiction, at least. Tiny Beautiful Things was one of those books for me.
The concept of Tiny Beautiful Things is pretty simple: a collection of advice columns written by Dear Sugar (aka Cheryl Strayed), which is the name of a column that ran on The Rumpus. Some of the columns in the book originally appeared on that site and some were completely new. I had never heard of The Rumpus or Dear Sugar but my lovely friend Annie suggested this book to me. I don’t think she recommended it because she thought I needed advice particularly (right, Annie? Right?!) but because of the incredibly touching and insightful writing by Sugar/Strayed.
Then again, Annie recommended the book at a time when I actually needed some encouragement. I was transitioning to a new role at my job – from a somewhat ambiguous position that I completely owned but left me wondering how else I could help the team to an incredibly specific, front-and-center job that required problem-solving abilities and a more commanding presence. Many hours and days were spent wondering what I had gotten myself into and whether I’d made the right decision. (Starting something new can be a lot of pressure!) At any rate, I felt like Strayed was speaking to me directly – or yelling, as the case may be.
Most of the letters written to Dear Sugar had nothing to do with jobs. The advice requests were often about resolving issues in romantic or familial relationships, whether a couple should have children if they’re still generally on the fence about it and even the woes of not being a published author yet. They weren’t always situations that I could relate to personally, but Strayed – as Dear Sugar – gave such spectacular advice I couldn’t put my Kindle down.
Dear Sugar’s writing voice is a cross between the mom or aunt you can tell anything and the best bartender in the world. She often uses endearments such as sweet pea or sugar (of course!) in her responses but it doesn’t come across as condescending within the context of the book. It’s like being wrapped up in a hug from your significant other or best friend at the precise moment when you need it most.
I’ve read some short reviews of the book on Goodreads.com – a site which I use often and generally enjoy – from readers who question why they should take advice from someone who is an adulterer, former drug user, or otherwise “not qualified” to dish said advice in the first place. There’s no degree for giving advice, so what makes one “qualified” to give it if not bountiful life experience and a desire to help others avoid the mistakes you have made? Strayed has both of those qualities in spades. She has her flaws, but don’t we all? I don’t know that I would have the bravery at this point in my life to disclose some of the personal stories she shares with her readers.
My favorite chapter in the book was titled – pardon her French – “Write Like A Motherfucker”. A female writer sent a letter to Sugar/Strayed asking how to get beyond her self-trivialization and depression so that she could put the book she knows is within her onto paper. This spoke to me so much it was like a slap in the face. (Did I write her this letter in my sleep a few years ago?) Writing has been an interest of mine for most of my life and yet I constantly question my [lack of] story ideas or assume that nobody would want to read my stories anyway. All too often I forget that that’s not the point – the point is to write because you love it. Strayed responds to every point from the letter’s author by sharing her own experiences, and suggests that the author humble herself and her expectations and surrender to the arduous process of writing. She reminds the letter writer that just because you think things should happen in this perfect, step-by-step process doesn’t mean that’s the way things are actually intended to happen. In fact, Strayed mentions that she couldn’t have written what became her first book during her twenties because she had to “let go of all the grandiose ideas I’d once had about [herself] and [her] writing”.
That said, this chapter and the unifying theme of the entire book was a reminder to throw yourself fully into life and give it your all.You can either rest on your laurels and live this half-formed life or take a chance and live life like a motherfucker. I’m opting for the latter, and this blog itself is proof.
Verdict: I had never heard of Cheryl Strayed, Dear Sugar or The Rumpus before my friend Annie suggested Tiny Beautiful Things to me. “An advice book – ok…” I thought. But now, I can’t get enough of it! I originally borrowed the Kindle version from my local library and recently purchased a physical copy so that I can always have it handy. This is a book that I plan to read at least once a year and highlight to my heart’s content.
Recommend for: College graduates, anyone who is at a crossroads in life, or those who generally need a dose of motivation/kick in the pants.
Price: $7.99 (Amazon)