“Tiny Beautiful Things” by Cheryl Strayed

I started Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed, before I read Strayed’s more famous Wild. It’s a collection of the previously anonymously penned advice column at literary site The Rumpus. It is a very different book, but with many similarities and connections. As in Wild, Strayed puts a lot of herself and her troubled past on the page. But she doesn’t tell the exact same stories, in the same ways. Here, she uses them in service of telling people who ask her for help what she thinks. This is not a story, with a beginning middle and end. It worked well for me as a pick it up then put it down book, read in bits in between other things. It might make an excellent book for the bathroom, which seems a weird descriptor, yet an apt one, I bet for those who know what I mean.

I really enjoyed reading the columns, and reading Strayed’s responses. A few weeks ago, I read Savage Love, and didn’t like a response that Dan Savage gave a reader. “Sugar would never have told her to do that!” I thought, outraged. Throughout, Sugar is like someone who listens well, really tries to understand what’s being said (and as often, what’s not) and who exhorts the writers, and all the readers, too, to work to reach their highest, best selves, with acknowledgement of how hard that really is.

One of my favorite passages was about writing:

Don’t lament so much about how your career is going to turn out. You don’t have a career. You have a life. Do the work. Keep the faith. Be true blue. You are a writer because you write. Keep writing and quit your bitching. Your book has a birthday. You don’t know what it is yet. (351)

I got to see Strayed in person recently, where she also offered her writing advice like this: “Write like a mother [cuss]er.” Which is funny, but it’s also true. That’s sorta how I felt about the book. It’s a good companion to Wild if you liked that, but probably not if you didn’t.

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