This isn’t a review. Rather, it’s a love letter to Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed, and also an overdue Thank-You-note.
Two years ago, one of my very dear friends from the Internet (YES, YOU CAN MEET REAL PEOPLE ONLINE, AND IT’S AMAZING) sent me a package for Christmas. In it was a jar of cherry marmalade, a dish towel with a cherry print, an interesting sort of popcorn that tasted mind-blowing to my un-American taste buds, a mug with a “Write like a motherfucker” print, and, most importantly, a book that held the key to the motivating but mysterious mug: Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things.
Generally, I’m not that much into the column-variety of life advice, and I had never heard of Dear Sugar. So I read the chapter Write Like a Motherfucker, since I assumed my friend wanted me to read this chapter in particular, with the mug pointing at it and all. I had struggled with frequent stretches of writer’s block back then already (when do I not?), and Write Like a Motherfucker seems like a catchy formula to kick the block into the dangly bits.
The chapter spoke to me, even though I asked myself briefly if my friend thought me entitled because of my frequent whining about the block thing — not being able to write was my only beef and I hadn’t any glamorous goals with my writing. I didn’t want to win prizes. I didn’t think I was meant for bigger things. I didn’t think I should be *better*… okay that’s a lie, I always think I should be better, especially in terms of sentence structure and vocabulary and UGH why do others write such beautiful prose and I’m doing some sort of chainsaw massacre with words? I had to admit as much, and that chapter helped me with that.
Despite that, Write Like a Motherfucker was the only chapter I read for a very long time. So my love story with this book is a slow one. It took me two years to pick it up again and read the whole fucking thing from back to back and back again.
I happened to listen to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons podcast while making a load of pasta with my very own pasta maker (another labor of love) while I listened to an episode in which Liz Gilbert talked to Cheryl Strayed. By that time, I had already forgotten that I knew that name. But oh, that interview touched me deeply. I was turned inside out and upside down, and I went and looked up Cheryl Strayed. And I felt only a tiny bit stupid when I realized that I owned this book, Tiny Beautiful Things — Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar.
I pulled it out of the shelf and started reading.
I haven’t cried as hard over a book in a long time. In fact, the last time was in 2012 when I read through the Red Wedding. (Thanks for that, Mr. Martin.)
The thing is, though, that I did not only cry about the book, about its deeply moving stories, the questions that touched my heart and the answers so rich with compassion, kindness, and love. I cried about my own story, my own life, touched upon and opened up by Cheryl Strayed’s words. I found myself on these pages. In her complicated history with her father, I found my own fractured relationship with my father. In stories of pain and loss and seemingly trivial (but devastatingly non-trivial) stories of love and family, I found my own life reflected. And boy, it broke me and plucked me apart. But then the magical thing happened: it put me back together again and healed me.
The subtitle “Advice on love and life” doesn’t nearly capture the riches hidden in Tiny Beautiful Things. After finishing it (twice), I started listening to the Dear Sugar podcast, religiously, and it had the same magical effect: it made me cry, it made me face demons, but in the end, it always left me feeling enlightened for facing them. My demons are, in reality, the dark spots inside me I willingly turn a blind eye to, feelings buried and never confronted. Facing them brings a blissful peace. A calm serenity.