In the past few days there was an uproar on social medias over an article in which a writer admitted that she was seriously, furiously envious of the success of another woman writer. What she envies is the success the book and its author enjoy, the trumpets we’ve all heard after its publication. She envies the publicity, the noise, the buzz, whatever marketers call it, the New York Times best-seller list, the book club selection, etc. And as much as she wished to find this success unwarranted, once she got around to read the book, she had to confess that even she finds Wild well written and worthy of praises. As one can imagine, Schickel’s post elicited comments and responses such as Diana Wagman’s one in the Los Angeles Review of Books.
And like many, Wagman remarked that Strayed’s successful writing doesn’t seem to have “inspired [Schickel] to work harder and to write more.” Which is what any good book should do for a writer, no? At least it does to me. And if I was amused by the controversy, and interested by the frank confession of envy and its analysis, I was far more taken by another post about Wild published in July by Richard Gilbert, where he takes the book apart to bring its structure to light and see what makes it successful, and what he, as a writer struggling writing his own memoir, could learn from it.
I had ordered Wild at the end of June, but left it behind when taking off to Europe, since I knew that once there I would not be reading in English that much. But as soon as I came back and finished the book I was then reading (more on this later), Wild was first on my list. First because I have a memoir in prose to write in my future, because I’m writing a somewhat memoir – hidden in poems – right now, and because I’ve become addicted to memoirs in general… So, I read it. Too fast: like other readers, I could not stop reading until sadly I got to the last pages. Sadly, because as Strayed seemed to wish to keep walking in the end, I would happily have kept reading. And like Gilbert, I wanted the author to reveal her secrets, how she transformed herself in an accomplished writer between the time she left the trail and the moment she published this book. I admired how the trail became the guiding line, the spine (Gilbert’s expression) of the story, and how she was able to hang off of it the rest of what she had to say. I had some reservations about some aspects of the story – or maybe reservations is not the right word, more “frustrations”- : for example, I regretted that the Strayed’s sister did not have more of a presence in the book, leaving me wondering about her. But all in all it was details, and certainly did not make me like the book less.. And it sent me back to my own project, gave me ideas. It did not leave me envious, but more grateful that somewhere a writer showed me that it is possible to do it, to write in an astute and compelling way, to make what is ultimately a personal experience something that readers can relate to.