An Exciting Announcement

Did you ever stumble upon one of my rambling reviews of a book that came out 10 years ago and think, “Man, I wish she did this with movies, too!”

WELL GOOD NEWS, FRIENDS.

You’re looking at the new Managing Editor of the soon-to-launch film site, The Cinessential!

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A passion project between a few like-minded movie nerds, we’ll be dissecting one of the world’s great films each week. You’ll get a series of essays exploring each flick-of-the-week’s themes, histories, and impact on pop culture. Oh, and I’m really excited about it.

Don’t worry, though—I don’t plan to stop posting here!

Book reviews should still be appearing more or less monthly, but I might start directing you to the new site from time to time as well.

As soon as the site’s live, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, I’ll still be here reading and writing for you and no one at all.

-S

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Wild

mourik-web1I’ve loved Cheryl Strayed since before I knew who she was. While her work moved me profoundly, the name “Cheryl Strayed” meant nothing to me. To me (and countless others), she was simply “Sugar.”

“Dear Sugar” to be precise.

The now famous letter “The Truth That Lives There” was one of the very first I’d read, and I remember the way it shook me to my core. A collection of readers all looking for a way out, wondering if they deserved one, if they were right to want one, and instead of judgment or rationalizations, Sugar boldly says,

“Go, even though there is nowhere to go. Go, even though you don’t know exactly why you can’t stay. Go, because you want to. Because wanting to leave is enough.” (Emphasis mine.)

In one letter I understood that readers spilled the darkest parts of their hearts to Sugar because Sugar would do the same. She’d talk about her past, her divorce, her parents’ divorce, her mother’s death and the rocky road it took to get her here, to you. Her words were mesmerizing. Her responses were always more than just advice; they felt like poetry. So who was this mysterious woman who could tell strangers baring their souls to her what they needed to hear all while baring her own as well?

Finally, in 2012 she revealed herself to us and the world as Cheryl Strayed.
In 2012 she released Wild.

I read Wild, Strayed’s debut memoir, in about three days, though “read” is putting it mildly. I devoured it.

Wild is the story of Strayed’s experiences on the Pacific Crest Trail—a 2,659-mile hike that winds its way from Mexico, through the Colorado Desert, over the Sierra Nevadas, all the way to Canada. Her decision to hike it is made almost on a whim. She sees a travel book in the grocery store and can’t stop thinking about it until before she has time to second-guess herself, she’s buying gear at REI and selling off her belongings in preparation for three solid months in the wilderness. Too little time to hike the whole distance, but enough to still be a mind-bending feat.

The real “why” behind it all is the most interesting part. Having just entered a particularly dark period of her life, Strayed is looking for answers anywhere she can find time. Instead of being a recent college grad with the world at her feet, she’s a young college dropout whose marriage has disintegrated, whose mother is dead from a sudden and aggressive cancer diagnosis, and whose self-destructive behavior has her spiraling downward fast.

In short? She’s lost and it’s clear that it’s the trail she hopes can ground her, whether she realized it at the time or not.

And so her adventure begins. As she takes one heavy step after another, stumbles on one obstacle after another, falters at one crossroad after another, Strayed uses her trademark style to put us there right alongside her. Her writing is effusive and lyrical and it never lets up, which made every moment of her journey a joy to read.

Her words wormed their way into my heart in just the same way that her responses would when she was Sugar. I felt like I was growing with her. It felt like we were in it together.

“Until now, I hadn’t even truly understood the world’s vastness—hadn’t even understood how vast a mile could be—until each mile was beheld at walking speed.”

It’s hard to express just how much I loved this book. Watching Strayed go from this terrified and confused woman to someone braver and stronger and more confident and accepting of herself than she ever thought possible resonated with me profoundly. This book made me want to live. It made me proud of my own journeys. It made me feel a kinship with the author. It made me want to get out into the wild and breathe the same air she did.

I would read it again and again. Maybe one day I’ll even read it on the PCT. When I was done, anything seemed possible.

The Buried Giant

buried giantFor fans of Kazuo Ishiguro, The Buried Giant was two distinct things at once: the author’s first novel in a decade and a sharp departure from the rest of his oeuvre. For me, though, it’s all I know. Despite the massive success of both Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day, it was The Buried Giant that served as my introduction.

Over the course of the novel, we follow an elderly couple (Axl and Beatrice) as they search for their son while grappling with a mysterious and pervasive amnesia that they refer to only as “the mist.” The mist blankets the post-Arthurian world that they inhabit, preventing them not only from remembering where their son has gone or why he’s disappeared, but even things that only happened a few weeks ago. All of it hangs in an impenetrable fog.

We watch their relationship shift as they fight to remember their past, while at the same time facing a question with the power to change everything: will they still be the same people—and more importantly, will they still love each other—when they remember their history?  

I can’t say if the sparse, purposefully flat writing I encountered shares any similarities with Ishiguro’s previous work. I can say, however, that my first thoughts were of Gawain and the Green Knight, courtly love, and Arthurian folklore. If his goal was to capture the feeling of those 14th-century tales, then job well done (though let’s set aside the fact that I generally don’t enjoy writing like that for now).

There was something about the world created in this book that I absolutely loved. Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table never felt more real or more unique to me than in this story. The mythical king’s history seemed less like fairy tale and more like fact.

And yet it pains me to admit that overall, The Buried Giant was a bit of a slog.

Despite being a slim 317 pages, it took me a solid month to get through it. Every time I picked it up, I’d find myself intrigued by the world building, but it was always, always a struggle to pick it up in the first place.

By the end, I was desperate for a book club to discuss it with. I couldn’t help but feel that whatever there was to unpack was whizzing by over my head.

As I think about the book now, despite having only read it little more than a month and a half ago, I’m beginning to wonder if the same mist plagues me. I remember so very little about the book. The overall gist, sure, but what I was supposed to get out of it? How it made me feel? What I honestly liked, what I didn’t?

None of that has stuck. I forgot it as soon as I closed the cover.
I’d definitely read more of Ishiguro in the future, but The Buried Giant isn’t something I’d come back to.