I ignored the Cheryl Strayed hype for a long time because ugh, memoirs, and also eh, advice columns. But I heard enough people falling over themselves loving on Tiny Beautiful Things that I figured I should at least check it out. And seriously, this thing is so good that you’ll probably be hearing about her memoir in this space some day, which is just crazy talk.
Anyway, this book is a collection of advice column questions and answers from “Dear Sugar”, Sugar being a formerly anonymous and always honest advice-giver. I’m not terribly much for advice columns, but I knew this one, and this book, was going to be perfect for me when I got to page 15 and found the following sentence: “The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of love.” Yes. This. A thousand times this.
Most of the questions Sugar gets, or at least publishes, are secretly about that one thing. Sure, on the surface they’re about a lot of things, from romantic relationships gone awry or not-yet-existent to family relationships of dubious quality to crises of faith and identity, but Sugar’s answers tend to boil down to one thing. Will this make you happy? Do it. Will it make you sad? Don’t do it. Will it make other people happy or sad? That’s not really your problem.
You might think that would get boring over 353 pages and 56 questions, but the fact that it doesn’t is a testament to Strayed’s writing. She could just say, “It’s not making you happy. Stop. The end,” but instead she says things like, “You mustn’t live with people who wish to annihilate you. Even if you love them.” She could even stop there, with simple and direct answers, but instead she throws in stories from her own life, which has been difficult in many ways and wonderful in just as many, to show the question-askers that yes, life sucks, but not all the time. Things may seem bleak now but they will be less bleak later. But only if you focus on making yourself the most awesome self.
It’s a powerful book. I am one of the lucky few who, in Sugar’s words, “have almost never had to get over anything,” and I know that I am lucky for it. But I also know that my time will come, and I am glad to be prepared in advance. And it’s lovely to see letters from people who share my low-grade neuroses, to know that I’m not the only one and that if I can see clearly the answer for the letter-writer, I may just possibly have an answer for myself.
Recommendation: For you. For everyone.