Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
Publisher: Vintage, 2012
Where I Got It: From Amazon Vine
Why I Read It: I LOVE reading advice columns and I wanted to check out the author’s book Wild but got to this first
My Rating: 4 stars
I’ve always been a sucker for advice columns—from gobbling up Ann Landers and Dear Abby columns in the newspaper to reading Dan Savage’s Savage Love columns. Reading people’s letters scratches my voyeuristc itch, and I enjoy trying to think of what advice I would give for particular situations. Tiny Beautiful Things is a collection of letters and answers from the Dear Sugar advice column from the online magazine The Rumpus. This is simply the best advice column I’ve ever read. It transcends the short pithy advice of Ann and Abby and digs deeper than Savage Love (as well as being a bit less bawdy).
What makes Sugar’s advice so meaningful, fascinating and readable is that she shares herself and her life experiences (of which there have been many) in her answers. This makes her advice feel authentic and thoughtful. When she’s writing about the difficulty of cutting off ties with a toxic parent, her advice rings true because she’s had to do it herself. When advising a woman to leave a relationship despite feelings of guilt, she shares the details of the demise of one of her own romantic relationships. By sharing her experiences and life lessons so candidly and openly, Sugar’s advice feels like it is coming from a place of love and experience—from a friend versus an advice columnist.
Her loving-kindess is apparent throughout her responses (she routinely calls her letter writers “sweet pea”), and her advice always felt well-considered and spot-on. She rarely provides short answers, but takes the time to address each issue and to share the reasons why she is giving particular advice. As with the best advice, Sugar’s responses are often simply reflecting a mirror back at the letter writer. Often, those who are writing for advice already KNOW what they need to do … they just don’t want to make the difficult choices they know they need to make. By acting as an understanding and sympathetic friend—yet a friend who will tell you the unvarnished truth and not let you take the easy way out—Sugar provides both the advice and the encouragement to seek the path that will lead to real growth and peace. There wasn’t a single instance in the book where I disagreed with Sugar’s advice, and I often found myself feeling uplifted and encouraged even when the situation at hand did not relate to my own life at all.
Reading this book is like getting advice from a sympathetic and wise friend. If you happen to be experiencing an issue covered in one of the letters (and chances are you have or you will as the letters focus on the very fundamental issues we all face as humans), I suspect that Sugar’s advice will speak volumes and provide a helpful perspective to get you on the right track. And even if your life is going swimmingly, I still think we can all find some inspiration and guidance from this book. It is, at its heart, about how we all struggle to get through this life with dignity, love, grace and respect but often fall flat on our faces despite our best efforts. That we can always pick ourselves up and try again is what Sugar reminds us over and over and, really, who doesn’t need to remember that lesson?
Note: Although the online Dear Sugar column was written anonymously, Sugar’s identity has been revealed to be Cheryl Strayed, whose memoir Wild was released earlier this year. Based on this book, I will definitely be reading Wild to learn more about this most interesting person who gives such wonderful and caring advice.
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