2017 Reading List: Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on love and life from Dear Sugar, by Cheryl Strayed has been on my list to read for a while now. I read Strayed’s book, Wild, a few years ago and fell in love with her. Cheryl Strayed’s tenacity and grit in the face of all her challenges and loss are qualities to be admired.

Before reading Tiny Beautiful Things, I had never read or heard of Dear Sugar. So without any background, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But what I found was more than just an advice column. It was a window into Cheryl Strayed’s heart. The columns and stories she tells in this collection go deeper than right and wrong, this not that, yes and no. 

When you think of an advice column, you think of someone who has all the answers. You think of a wise, all-knowing being who has been there and done that and can point you in the direction that you didn’t know you should go. But Cheryl Strayed is none of those things. She doesn’t have any of the answers. She hasn’t experienced many of the things that her readers and questioners are describing. She isn’t always sure of the directions or the outcomes.

She is a person who has experienced her own loss, death, grief, challenges, problems, anger, and questions. She has wandered, lost, in her own life. She has been the one seeking answers.

And yet, in her columns, she finds a way to relate to each and every person she writes back to. She tells stories from her own crazy rollercoaster of a life that maybe don’t have a direct correlation but certainly have meaning to the person seeking help. Sometimes, she doesn’t actually give much advice at all. Instead, she simply points out what the asker has already stated and shows them that they already had the answers they were looking for all along. She offers a new perspective, but she’s not always wiser or more enlightened than anyone else.

She’s just a person. Seeking the same answers to the same questions. And hoping that through all the muck and grime that is life, we’ll all be able to see those answers a little more clearly.

This book was fantastic in that I felt it was completely relatable for anyone, even those not experiencing those issues or asking those questions.

Each person had a specific question: What should I do about my cheating husband? How do I stay away from my abusive father at Christmas? How do I make this man leave his wife for me? Where would I go if I left my abusive boyfriend? How do I come to terms with my terrible childhood?

These questions aren’t relatable. I don’t have these problems. Some do, but a lot of people don’t.

The beautiful part about the book is that Cheryl Strayed didn’t have the answers to these questions either. So she talked about life. Her own, her stories, things she’s experienced and witnessed. And somehow it all made sense. Her stories taught us a little bit about the human condition. That we all want to belong, we all want to be loved, we all need to put ourselves first, we all want to be happy.

The questions are different, the experiences are different, the stories are different. But the truth is all the same.

Cheryl Strayed didn’t tell them to disown their fathers, leave their husbands, or cut ties with their boyfriends. She simply pointed them in a direction they would need to go so they could figure out the answers on their own.

No one has all the answers for us. We are the only people who are living our own lives. We need to figure it all out for ourselves, and we’re the only ones who can find the answers.

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