I saw the movie before reading the book, and it did justice to the memoir. The film brought some amazing images to the screen. In fact, the author made an appearance early in the movie, as a driver wishing her younger self luck on the trail. Images that stuck with me from the film were losing one boot in the middle of her 1,100+ mile hike, and then throwing the other straight afterward. The quizzical fox cocking its head and looking at her in the snow. How small she was in the vast landscape. Trying to load her heavy pack. Packing the wrong fuel. Comic moments with dire consequences.
The movie used some narration and quotes to help hear the interior voice of the hiker, but with the book you get more of a feeling of being along on the journey.
Reading about the grueling endurance needed to hike the Pacific Coast Trail will likely be the closest I come to the experience of a long trek. Strayed made me feel as though I were along with her on the journey, without having to suffer under the heavy weight of a pack or the pain of losing toenails, building callouses, and missing meals.
Strayed brought books along on her travels, and as she was finished the pages, she tore them out and burned them to help keep her pack lighter. One of the exceptions was The Dream of a Common Language, a book of poetry by Adrienne Rich. She didn’t read it on the path as she’d already memorized so much of it, but she didn’t burn any pages either. I'm still mulling over what that might be symbolize. The ties between some of Rich's poems and Strayed's journey are obvious.
Strayed is causing a bit of a book-buying flurry at Amazon, as people who purchased her novel are also likely to put this book of poetry in their cart.
Here's a sample:
My swirling wants. Your frozen lips.
The grammar turned and attacked me.
Themes, written under duress.
Emptiness of the notations.
They gave me a drug that slowed the healing of wounds.
I want you to see this before I leave:
the experience of repetition as death
the failure of criticism to locate the pain
the poster in the bus that said:
my bleeding is under control.
A red plant in a cemetery of plastic wreaths.
A last attempt: the language is a dialect called metaphor.
These images go unglossed: hair, glacier, flashlight.
when I think of a landscape I am thinking of a time.
When I talk of taking a trip I mean forever.
I could say: those mountains have a meaning
but further than that I could not say.
To do something very common, in my own way.
"Rich's poems do not demand the willing suspension of disbelief. They demand belief, and it is a measure of her success as a poet that most of the time they get it. . . . The affirmation and the occasional moments of pure joy in these poems are quiet but fully earned."--Margaret Atwood, New York Times Book Review