Every morning I climb on the gym’s treadmill, insert my bright pink ear buds and hit play on my audio version of Cheryl Strayed’s book, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.
Armchair adventure is one of my favorite genres. Women “finding themselves” is a term that always makes me giggle but the concept usually holds my interest. Everyone I know whose read the book loves it. I want to like it.
I have to admit, I struggle to pay attention. This is my second try at the audio version of the book; I got about a chapter in the first time and was bored to tears, so I stopped. This time, I’m in Part Three of the five parts and I’m still struggling. Yes, yes, I know you probably loved it. I can’t help but wonder why my own response to the book was so different than most others I know.
So far, I just don’t find Cheryl interesting or likeable. There’s nothing wrong with the writing, per se. But for me, she reads whiney and immature. Although I know this first part of the book is about her struggle with nature and a set up for her epiphanies (or at least I hope it is), I have to want to get there. What I’ve read/heard so far of the audio version of the book doesn’t propel me, it repels me.
Partly it’s that the book is mostly exposition, so far. I am just not captivated by page after page of her struggling on her hike. Descriptions of the bark against her skin. The weight of her pack. Her muscle aches. Her hunger. Too much. Nothing to propel me through the book.
And then, what kind of woman takes on a trail like that with absolutely no reading or preparation?An immature one. Yes, yes, she might mature on her hike. That’s probably what it’s about. But I’m not interested enough to want to find out. Although I am slogging through even as I slog through my paces on the treadmill. In a standard book we can skim the boring parts. Not so with audio. It’s just so…boring.
How hard would it be for her to tell us about what she’s reading on the trail? She gives us the title and author: Faulkner. Let us into your head, Cheryl! What’s your response to the contrast of the pages with what you’re doing? Do you read more than a page before falling asleep exhausted? Do you dream about the characters? Do you dream at all?
Some other missing links glare, too.
It’s unclear at this stage why she and her husband split up, especially since she’s so far still attached to him, or the idea of him. No clear picture emerged of their relationship except for her cheating so we have no context for this longing to get a letter from him on the trail.
Heroin. Yeah, I’ve known a functional heroin addict or two, although I’ve never done the drug myself. But so far, no insights as to what heroin did for her at the time. That may be the point–that pre-hike she had no insights. But surely she had a response. Like, “it took away the pain” or something else. Almost halfway through the book, we don’t KNOW Cheryl and that makes it harder for me to want to stick with her. I’m not hearing insights.
As the Beatles sang, “Tell me why…”
Joe. Who IS Joe? Why did she stay involved with him? What were her thoughts as she shot up with him? Since we know so little about him, it’s a shock when he writes “I love you” in the note she got on the hike.
Here’s another thing. This is my very first audio book in a very long time and I find the narrator’s voice and inflections annoying. She sounds nothing like the young woman whose thoughts she’s speaking, or at least not like I imagine Strayed would sound like. The further I get into the audio the more I think that a big contributor to my problem with the book is that voice. I can’t hold the reader totally responsible–because I don’t find what she’s reading riveting–but she’s a big part of why I don’t like the book.
But Strayed, herself? She’s the bigger part. Because I just don’t like her.
The movie is getting four-star reviews, too. But I’m one of those who won’t see a movie just after reading the book. I need some distance because I know how it’ll end. If I even see the film, it’ll be on TV or streaming.
So, I’ll grind on with this audio experience until the end. And then, maybe start another audio book, just to see if perhaps the medium really does make the message dull for me.
What do you think? Do you enjoy audio books? If you liked Wild, why?
I will tell you this one thing: DON’T continue the audio tape. My husband and daughter took a 10 hour drive to Nashville and had to turn it off. The speaker’s voice, they said, made them hate the story. Neither of them will see the movie. I will tell you , the book is well written, a great read, and the movie was a great. Don’t listen! Read! Or just stop where you are and bag it.
Aha! I get it.
Isn’t it odd when you have an opposite response to a book that everyone else loves? I never liked “Bridges of Madison County”. I won’t go into the reasons here – mainly about the message it gave. Audio books I haven’t tried yet but your description makes me wonder…. thanks as always for thoughtful read.
Margaret, I’m with you on Bridges of Madison County. And I’d add Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina for good measure. All books we’re supposed to adore, but they made me want to slap the characters silly.
Carol, Wild sounds like I’d probably add it to my list of infamy. I say ditch it.
Include me in the “I hated Bridges” club. A dull dull book.
I wasn’t wild about it either. Try her Tiny Beautiful Things. One of the most marvelous books I’ve ever read. I think part of the reason I was disappointed with Wild was that I’d read TBT first!
And the Oscar goes to : The Paris Wife for Whiner of the Year.
I focused on the part about the voice on the book, isn’t it interesting how many factors go into whether or not we enjoy something? But an irritating voice trumps almost everything
I loved the book but I really think you have to read it, Carol. I did feel like I was in her head and I was totally with her all the way. I didn’t like the movie at all but maybe for the same reason you didn’t like listening to it. Get the book!
Carol, I read the book on the advice of my writing coach because of its structure (a “framed memoir” is how she described it.) While I also grew weary of every sordid detail on the trail (toenails: they fall off. Over and over.), it was helpful for me to read it as a writer–and note the way we get relief from the trail periodically to hear the rest of the story. I can’t comment on the voice of the reader, since the voice of the reader in my case was ME. I am a fan of listening to audiobooks when I drive to LA. I usually choose an author whose works I’m familiar with–and have yet to be turned off by the reader. And another thing: I listened to “Eat Pray Love” as read by the author and really enjoyed it–probably more than I would’ve liked reading the book, from what I hear!
I’m with you. I did not love the book and wondered what all the hype was about. I do love the concept though–sort of a pilgrimage to find yourself again. I even scribbled down a passage from the book in my journal–“I had to change. I had to change was the thought that drove me in those months of planning. Not into a different person, but back to the person I used to be–strong and responsible, clear-eyed and driven, ethical and good.” (Though I think we can all fill in our own blanks.) It was that line that sort of kept me reading all the way through. Not sure if I’ll see the movie. Maybe for the scenery. Nice discussion!
I read the book and I did not like it or her character. I was annoyed with her and had the same feelings as you about her preparedness for the hike. I felt I had to read it because the author is a local woman but I did not grasp the impact of her Mother dying leading to her downward spiral. I have not seen the movie but I will and I am told you get that big point clearly thanks to Laura Dern.
I love listening to books. I listen to a book in the car and another often in the house when I am cleaning, working out, cooking or working in the yard. Some readers are boring or their voices are not right for the book while others are wonderful. It is a real treat when the author reads their own book. I am listening to “Kingdom of Ice” and “The Burning Room” enjoying both!
I bailed after half a chapter and don’t plan to see the movie either. Didn’t like her. Didn’t like her voice. Didn’t care what happened to her.
There is no way I could listen to a book on audio. I would zone out in less than 5 minutes. I have to say though that I loved the book. I wasn’t crazy about the movie but the book or even how the book made me feel I’m not sure which at tbis point. It was the first time I thought that my dream of being a writer could possibly be achieved and more than a mere life regret. It got me off my ass and writing.