#5: Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
I’ve talked a bit about readability. I’ve talked a bit about Your Own Personal Canon. Let me tell you about a new bit of personal jargon I’ve caught myself using from time to time: Required Reading for the Human Condition.
Tiny Beautiful Things is the book that inspired the phrase. It’s a collection of advice columns, but really a collection of human stories- the black, the white, and all the grays. The writers come to Sugar weak, plaintive, and laid bare. Sugar answers with humility, clarity, and deep, deep hope. I think it’s difficult to imagine how all of this happens in the context of an advice column, but this is by far one of the most arresting books I’ve read in my life. As a writer, as a public servant, as a human, I desire to better understand people and their stories. Strayed’s writing cuts right to the core of it all – the way we are, the way we live, the way we walk around this planet with each other. It’s startling and affecting and so valuable.
Like I said, Required Reading for the Human Condition. Here’s my original review from January of this year.
If you are a human, you should probably read this book.
Once upon a time, some writer-types started a website called The Rumpus. Steve Almond wrote the advice column, Dear Sugar, but handed over the duties to some new blood. That new blood was Cheryl Strayed – you might remember the name, maybe Oprah introduced you last year – and she wrote an advice column like none you’ve ever read before. She wrote the advice column that all other advice columns wish they were, and in turn, her readers came to Sugar with the kinds of problems that are so tricky, so painful, so innately human. How to move on from the death of a loved one, how to decide to stay with your spouse, whether or not to cut of a destructive parent or sibling, how to survive this human condition. Problems we all have but assume there are no answers for, especially answers to be found in an online advice column.
But there are answers to these questions, as most of you probably know, found in music, film, poetry, religion, literature. Strayed’s Sugar takes the last option, weaving advice throughout personal stories with carefully chosen words, either tender or firm, but always artful, never patronizing, and the result is something truly special. It’s a manual on how to survive this human existence, one poor soul’s troubles at at time.
I want to buy a copy for everyone I love who has ever suffered, and bookmark special chapters for them. Everyone. Man, woman, parent, sibling, friend, acquaintance, coworker… Heck, I would like to buy myself a copy and bookmark special chapters for Future Jessica, in case she needs them.
I hope you don’t read this as an oversell – this is not a flashy book, a stay-up-all-night, change your life kind of book. If you are a person who finds life mostly enjoyable, you might not care for it. For the rest of us: required reading for treating the human condition.