Review | Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

Cheryl Strayed is perhaps most popularly known as Sugar from The Rumpus.net where she ran an advice column for a few years. She has also written the novel Torch and the memoir Wild: from Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.

In Tiny Beautiful Things she compiles her best responses to the letters she received and the result is a compendium of advice on life and love.

Honestly? I was in a dark place when I read this book. I read this book because I was in a dark place. I was scared and confused and baffled by my twenties because there are things that no one prepares you for and I felt like I was already drowning and this was only the start of it. So I turned to Sugar, whom I had discovered once before in the comment depths at A Practical Wedding (my guilty pleasure). I found her forthright, empathetic and incredibly level-headed and I was eager to dive into her welcoming textual arms.

Foremostly, this is an advice book. Sugar answers all kinds of questions in all kinds of ways, and you’re never sure exactly what kind of response you’re going to get. Sometimes the stories are horrific, sometimes heart-warming, but all are designed to get you to live the life that’s best for you. She doesn’t hesitate to drop the kid gloves either, or wrap you in the soothing embrace of words when you need it.

Being an advice column, of course all the responses are her own opinions. But I thought her opinions were grounded in a sense of principle, the common theme being self-acceptance and doing the right thing. Knowing the right thing to do is easy enough, but Sugar puts emphasis on actually doing it too. A thread I found in many of the letters she published was that people are usually fairly certain about what they need to do. They just need encouragement to do it.

Sugar is simultaneously best friend and older sister, guiding you with the light of her own mistakes and mistakes she’s observed. She comes off as honest and inspiring rather than condescending and boastful, and her writing is, frankly, beautiful. She speaks with a lyricism that soothes battered hearts and which got her a dedicated following on The Rumpus during the years she wrote there.

Cheryl Strayed returned as Sugar last December with a podcast hosted by WBUR and featuring Steve Almond who was the very first Sugar. New episodes will be released weekly.

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