Book Reviews

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

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“Life can be hard: your lover cheats on you; you lose a family member; you can’t pay the bills—and it can be great: you’ve had the hottest sex of your life; you get that plum job; you muster the courage to write your novel. Sugar—the once-anonymous online columnist at The Rumpus, now revealed as Cheryl Strayed, author of the bestselling memoir Wild—is the person thousands turn to for advice.

Tiny Beautiful Things brings the best of Dear Sugar in one place and includes never-before-published columns and a new introduction by Steve Almond. Rich with humor, insight, compassion—and absolute honesty—this book is a balm for everything life throws our way.” ~Goodreads

 

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Boy I could’ve used this book before I headed off to college some 20 years ago, however it wasn’t published until 2012. But even as I navigate this time in my life as an adult, mother and wife, this book hit me like no other memoir/non-fiction collection of essays I have ever read. It’s definitely one of my favorites.

It is Strayed “no holds barred” advice filled with compassion, humor and vulgarity that had me sit up straight and take notice. Her way with words felt like sitting down with a true friend who doesn’t pacify or mince words. Not only does her advice make sense and at times hit a nerve, she shares experiences from her past that connects the person seeking help, Sugar and the readers of the column.

When I first started this collection of letters and responses, I wanted to read it like a typical novel, plowing through page after page. But then I had to stop and tackle it differently by reading a few essays and then put it down to let the advice and information sink in a bit. Some were difficult to read. “Stuck” had me sobbing at the end having experiences with troubled youth myself. And her response to “WTF” was sheer perfection if not disturbing with her personal reveal.

Not all of the letters are sad, though. Each one has something the reader can take away and apply to life. I found myself highlighting  paragraphs of insightful advice that I will revisit time and time again. Here is one that hit close to home and I bet for many SAHMs out there.

Let me preface Strayed’s thoughts by saying this is one topic I have struggled with for the past 12 years when I decided to become at SAHM and only work very part time outside of the home as a tutor bringing in very little financially. I vividly remember a time as a very new mom going to a company dinner for my husband’s work. I was so excited to dress up and get out of the house and the evening went south when his co-worker called me “a lady of leisure” when I didn’t have an official career title. Boy it pissed me off! As someone who has worked since receiving my worker’s permit at 15 years old, I have always felt that people who work outside the home at “regular jobs” really don’t know the sacrifice and amount of invaluable hours that go into choosing to be a SAHM. But Strayed does in this piece “How The Real Work Is Done” where she gives advice about a partner who doesn’t bring much income to the relationship:

“The most common scenario in which it makes sense for one spouse to earn an income while the other does not is when the couple has a child or children who must be cared for, which goes along with a domestic life that requires constant vigilance of the cleaning, shopping, cooking, washing, folding, tidying up, taking-the-cat-to-the-vet-and-the-kids-to-the-dentist variety. In this situation and others like it, the “nonworking” spouse is often doing more work, hour for hour, than the “working” spouse, and though on paper it appears that the one with the job is making a greater financial contribution to the household than the one who “stays at home”, if you ran the numbers and figured out what it would cost to employ someone to do the work of the “nonworking” spouse, it becomes apparent that one should probably shut their big trap when it comes to who is contributing what.”

My hero! :)

And this one about whether or not to have children:

“I can’t tell you what to do. No one can. But as the mother of two children, I can tell you what most moms will: that mothering is absurdly hard and profoundly sweet. Like the best thing you ever did. Like if you think you want to have a baby, you probably should.

I say this in spite of the fact that children are giant endless suck machines. They don’t give a whit if you need to sleep or eat or pee or get your work done or go out to a party naked and oiled up in a homemade Alice B. Toklas mask. They take everything. They will bring you the furthest edge of your personality and abso-fucking-lutely to your knees.

They will also give you everything back. Not just all they take, but many of the things you lost before they came along as well.”

And this one from someone who signed their letter “Wearing Thin”:

“You have to stop feeling sorry for yourself. I don’t say this as a condemnation-I need regular reminders to stop feeling sorry for myself too. I’m going to address you bluntly, but it’s a directness that rises from my compassion for you, not my judgement of you. Nobody’s going to do your life for you. You have to do it yourself, whether you’re rich or poor, out of money or raking it in, the beneficiary of ridiculous fortune or terrible injustice. And you have to do it no matter what is true. No matter what is hard. No matter what unjust, sad, sucky things have befallen you. Self-pity is a dead-end road. You make the choice to drive down it. It’s up to you to decide to stay parked there or to turn around and drive out.”

Ah, I could go on and quote text after text from Tiny Beautiful Things. One essay after another was filled with such insight, it blew me away. I think what struck me the most when reading these letters seeking advice, I am sure the writers felt alone or weird or strange or hopeless. But everyone can relate to something in this book. And that makes us all feel very much less alone. Now, onto Wild and Torch.

 

To learn more about the fantastic Cheryl Strayed, her books and upcoming events, please visit her site here.

 

4 thoughts on “Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

  1. One of my favorites ever, ever, ever…and I so wish I had it going off to college, too. I’ve now bought at least four copies as gifts since I read it about a year ago and all together I think I’ve read it three times since then – it’s my go-to book when I’m stuck or just need a good moment of zen.

    • Couldn’t agree with you more Shannon!! I read a library copy and then couldn’t take it anymore and bought a copy when I started running out of those sticky tabs. I am going to buy copies as well for friends and family-great idea! I literally go back to highlighted parts when I feel sorry for myself or in a slump. Wonderful, wonderful book. :)

  2. This is what I call a nightstand book. There are a few books that permanently live on my nightstand because they are filled with wisdom and I go back to them again and again. This is one of them.

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