Book Review – Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed: What is this ‘life’ thing, sis?

I have 104 Highlights/Notes marked on Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things – my highest ever in the six years of Kindle reading. 

This book is a series of advice columns addressed to “Sugar” that was run at The Rumpus. I know the reputation advice columns have but stick with me here. This isn’t an ordinary advice column of sappy life-advice that tells you to tattoo YOLO on your forearm. 

Strangers ask another stranger (Sugar) about their problems on love, life, paying bills, relationships, sex, and every other possible topic under the sun. 

Sugar, later revealed, was beloved Cheryl Strayed. And if you have read (or watched) Wild, I assure you this book has a better writing style. I’d take this book over Cheryl’s memoir any day. 

There is nothing more human than knowing someone is experiencing the same things that you are. This book will give you that in the most meaningful and most painful of ways. There are some problems here that will sound relatable to you (some you have lived, some you will understand), and then there will be others that you cannot imagine to bear (but your heart will throb with pain anyway). 

You’d think that no one could cry while reading an advice column – but then you’d be wrong. 

Sugar doesn’t just advise people, she narrates a time in her life when she faced a similar problem. She has “been there,” as the extended title of the book suggests. When the Internet was (and is) a rabbit-hole of how everyone’s life is better than you, this advice column gave strangers the comfort to know that someone is there, someone is suffering just as you are, someone understands. “Dear Sugar” column was the unconditional love of the Internet. 

After so many essays (or columns), I had to put away the book to sob and collect myself. So many stories about Cheryl’s life in this book live within me – by “live” I mean that I think about it at least three times a week. There is the story of the girl that Sugar taught who came from an abusive home and who had “made it” when Cheryl saw her working a decade or so later at Taco Bell. Then there was this woman who lived in “Planet My Baby Died.” There was a man who wrote about his son’s death at 22 in the form of a list because he couldn’t bear to write the letter any other way, and in turn, Sugar responded with a list of her own. My favorite essay remains, “How to get unstuck.” 

If books were a religion, this book would be my Bible (don’t quote me on this, because five years ago, my Bible was Man’s Search for Meaning). 

I am also going to give you some cons of the book to keep the analysis/review/rants I do wholesome:

Shortcomings of “Tiny Beautiful Things

I am starting this section because I think I had just stumbled onto many books at a time when I needed to read them (serendipity?) and not because I was bias-free. 

1. Some advice in the book can come across as a “Just Do It/Snap Out Of Your Problem” – unhelpful to those who may have underlying mental illnesses that disable them to implement change. There is almost no regard to that possibility in the majority of the columns. 

2. The personal-narration of her own stories that Sugar offers can sometimes stretch for too long without getting to the point. A couple of times, I forgot what the original question was because the advice went on for too long. 

3. As an extension of the previous point, many columns can come off as having too much unnecessary personal information. It can feel like a memoir sometimes instead of an advice column. 

4. The nicknames in the book can feel a little forced & drab, especially if you read many columns in one sitting. 

Conclusion

I’ll be honest, I struggled to find the shortcomings. Even if you aren’t a fan of non-fiction, advice columns, or Cheryl Strayed, I’d still suggest you give this book a shot. 

You can test out the waters by reading some of the columns still available on The Rumpus. And if you love the book as much as I do, I have excellent news: Dear Sugar is back!

I honestly expected some gooey advice in this book, like “Don’t value beauty so much!” but I was bawling 25 pages in. The only disclaimer that I’d like to give you is that the first essay is not indicative of what is to come in this delicious book. As Sugar would say herself, hold on, sweet pea. 

Find this book on Amazon here.

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