4 Stars

Strayed Stays on Course with “Wild” Memoir

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Wild by Cheryl Strayed

  4 star

4 Stars

As a writer and fan of personal memoirs, I couldn’t wait to read Cheryl Strayed’s personal account of her hike on the Pacific Coast Trail from Southern California to Oregon. After the death of her mother and personal setbacks that made her rethink her life’s direction, the author set out on the 1,100-mile hike with limited trekking experience or knowledge of wilderness survival.

Strayed’s account is harrowing and humoring, sad and satirical as she recounts encounters with scenery, weather, wildlife and humans captivating and brutal. She is a victim of her own naivety in thinking she could prepare herself for a long and difficult journey with only a rudimentary understanding of trekking imparted by a guidebook and veteran hikers who crossed her path. In spite of natural and sometimes self-inflicted adversity, Strayed persevered.

I enjoyed the author’s inspiring story and the life lessons she picked up along the way. I now have a much better idea of what to expect on a grueling trek like the Pacific Coast Trail. Her offbeat, quirky personality and humorous stories and anecdotes make the memoir an entertaining read. With vivid imagery, Strayed takes the reader along with her and shows what it’s like to be at the point of despair in the middle of nowhere. In the end, she redeems herself and serves as a personal example to those who need to find a different way in life.

Unfortunately, the book begins with a series of vignettes so depressing that they risk turning off the reader. In her attempt to underscore personal redemption, the author paints such a debased portrait of her old self that she risks turning off the reader. The Cheryl Strayed who needs to get her life together by hitting the Pacific Coast Trail is not a likeable character. Perhaps by design, the author discourages the reader to continue reading her story by offering such a terrible image of herself that one wonders if she was really so awful or merely embellished. Her strong views gradually worn down by the trail might be a turn-off to those who don’t agree with her politics. Getting through the beginning of the book is like climbing out of a steep valley. It’s better skies ahead once you reach the top.

I give “Wild” 4 stars and recommend it to mountaineering and trekking fans, those who are thinking of embarking on a months-long trek, and those who need inspiration to jump start their lives.

Wild is now available at:

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Personal Thoughts On Writing from a Master

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On Writing by Stephen King

4 star

4 Stars

A fellow writer recommended Stephen King’s book on writing cum personal memoir as a staple for anyone who wants to be a successful writer. Who better than one of the most successful novelists of all time to share his valuable insights on writing to a budding writer?

His book begins with a series of personal stories King shares from his childhood that crescendo to his early years as a novelist. His anecdotes are insightful, humorous, and showcase his easy-on-the-eyes writing style that has made him a literary “King.” The book abruptly switches half way through to his general thoughts on writing and best practices for the would-be author. I appreciated his practical advice caveated with the understanding what worked for him might not be the best approach in every situation. While dedicated writers pay lip service to the noble goal of writing 2,000 words a day and reading more than 80 books a year, many find it challenging to adhere to King’s formula by spending dinnertime reading books.

King ends the book recounting his near-fatal accident in 1999. The touching story written to perfection by the master tugged at my heart strings when he described his miraculous recovery and struggle to write again. I had wondered about the abrupt change in tone from storyteller to writing instructor when I read the first half of the book and realized that On Writing was King’s first book after the accident. He was under contract to write it and admitted how difficult it was for a novelist who dreaded nonfiction to write. Suddenly, it made sense. The book itself is an encouragement to writers to stop complaining about everything that distracts them from writing and to start writing. If King could write this piece months after a debilitating accident, there’s no reason any writer of sound mind and body couldn’t write one of their own with far fewer limitations.

I recommend this book to any writer or Stephen King fan who hasn’t read it yet and give it 4 stars. It may not have the suspense of his fiction novels, but it does have spark – from an electrical experiment gone wrong.

On Writing is now available at:

Amazon

Goodreads

Brown’s “Inferno” Not as Hot as the Title Suggests

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Inferno by Dan Brown

4 star

4 Stars

Reading a thriller like Dan Brown’s Inferno is a highly anticipated event. It is, after all, the latest in a string of bestsellers featuring renowned Harvard professor and symbologist Robert Langdon, who somehow every few years manages to unravel a cryptic mystery that threatens to shatter fundamental human beliefs. I read Inferno expecting another book on par with Brown’s The Da Vinci Code but was left wanting.

In the first scene Langdon wakes up delirious in a hospital in Florence, Italy following an attack leaves him with a case of amnesia. Langdon narrowly escapes being killed by an assassin in the hospital with the help of a woman named Sienna. Langdon embarks with her help on a quest to learn why he is in injured in Florence when his last memory was teaching days before at Harvard. Disturbing flashbacks bedevil the professor, and unknown assailants on their trail ready to capture or kill him prompt Langdon and Sienna to flee for their lives. A trail of cryptic clues leads the pair into a mystery inspired by Dante Alighieri’s seven levels of hell from his classic allegory Inferno. As they delve deeper into the puzzle, Langdon and Sienna realize that they are unwitting participants in a plot to unleash a monster on humankind – unless they can stop it in time.

Brown’s books are well-researched and filled with colorful background about the fascinating locales where his stories are set. His descriptions of historical sites and artifacts in Florence, Venice, and Istanbul are superb. Inferno may very well be one of the best guidebooks on Florence’s hidden treasures that I’ve ever read. Unfortunately, Brown’s attention to detail and endless need to offer broad explanations at every turn dogged his thriller. Langdon may very well have a tendency to gawk at Renaissance Art, but when the villains are in hot pursuit, one wonders whether he should have enough sense to ignore a Michelangelo masterpiece he’s seen many times before.

Inferno left me suspending belief even more than Brown’s previous outings. How Langdon finds himself in the center of controversies time and again and lives to tell about it is a cryptic mystery in and of itself. Brown overhypes controversy yet again – this time transhumanist activism, and genetic engineering, and the prospect of a Malthusian catastrophe – you’ll know what I mean when you read the novel. He presents a speculative vision of the future that even the most diehard futurist would be hard pressed to embrace.

Inferno is another solid outing from Brown, but it feels formulaic and lacks the pizzazz of his earlier novels. I give it four stars and recommend it to loyal fans of entertaining thrillers. If Brown continues the Langdon story arc, I hope that he considers avoid the tired themes he’s already overused. Perhaps it’s time for Brown to make Langdon himself the puzzle and let him unravel his own past.

Inferno is now available at:

Amazon

Goodreads