Review: Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
Tiny Beautiful Thing: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar is an audiobook of collected of letters and replies from the advice Dear Sugar, written and narrated by Cheryl Strayed.
The audiobook opens with an introduction from Steve Almond – and whilst normally I’d skip the introduction of a book, I was glad I listened to this one, as it gives the reader some important background that makes the whole book more relevant. The introduce explains how column started in an online literary magazine called The Rumpus, which Almond helped create, and that Almond initially started off as the writer behind Dear Sugar. After a year though, he realised it was not for him and instead asked Cheryl Strayed – a writer who he not only admired, but who had sent fanmail to the column herself, to take over. She said yes, and her honest advice caused a sensation.
As I said before, the audibook is a collection of letters from the column, broken into several parts each with a short introduction by Cheryl. The letters are all from anonymous writers, with one exception, who all want help, mostly with relationship and life problems.
To each of the writers who detail their troubles – from abusive family members, to relationship problems and worries – Cheryl writes back in a beautiful almost lyrical way. She encourages a sense of hope and a positive attitude. It sometimes sounds almost spiritual, and lovey-dovey – but the advice is grounded in reality, and is actually very practical. Behind the beautiful sentences she tells people how it is, and isn’t afraid to point out when they’re the problem, or to say that change must come from ourselves or that it involves hard work.
She also uses her own personal experiences, and sometimes those of people she’s known, as examples – something which made her stand out as an agony aunt, but also meant the original column had to be discontinued. I liked her use of personal experiences. She was obviously happy to share, and it is natural when someone opens up to you, for you to reciprocate. The examples were also useful and there to help make a point, or to show she’d been through a similar experience.
Some of the letters are truly heartbreaking and emotional, written by people in experiencing things some of us can’t even imagine, for example, two letters that stand out for me are those from parents who lost their children. Because of this I think this book would be a good read for anyone who needs solace, or perspective on their lives. Listening to these letters, you can also gain a small insight into experiences that some of us, may thankfully, never have.
Cheryl’s reading performance is good. She has a nice voice and reads in a soft, soothing tone. She is not monotone though, and puts emphasis where it is needed. She also makes a subtle change in her voice when she moves from reading the letters, to reading her own replies, like she’s slipped into her own voice – which I like.
Nonetheless, attempting to listen to all the letters and replies, for hour after hour, I personally found a bit wearing. Listening to the replies one after the other, particularly, the lyrical style started to feel a bit repetitious. Really, Tiny Beautiful Things is the sort audiobook you want to listen to in chunks – bit by bit each day, or by dipping in and out of it – over a week or maybe longer. Unlike a novel though, which you may read once, I’d keep it on my music player, because its the sort of audibook that you’ll want to return to, especially when you’re feeling low.
In summary, Tiny Beautiful Things is a very good audiobook. Cheryl’s style is kind, honest, and goregeously written and is advise worth listening too. The selected letters are all excellent choices and I bet there is at least one problem you’ll find yourself relating too. A recommended listen to anyone who needs a bit of perspective and hopeful, but practical, suggestions on life.