I just finished reading Piper Kerman’s Orange Is the New Black, and recently saw the movie adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, which I read a year ago and have been re-reading sporadically since.
These two books are ready for a smack down! Their similarities and differences are interesting to contemplate. Here goes:
Category: Appealingly flawed protagonist
Wild: I liked Cheryl’s candor about her approach to grief prior to the hike: bury it in drugs and sex. OITNB: Not so much. Piper comes across as shallow and short on self-knowledge compared to Cheryl. Is what we have here a born-to-be writer vs. an individual who came to writing as a way to capitalize on an otherwise-wasted year? Point to Wild.
Category: Supportive boyfriend
OITNB wins in this category. Larry is hands-down angelic. Could use a few flaws, actually, to make him seem real. Wild: It’s complicated. The ex-husband Paul is as supportive as he can be, given their situation, and it all rings true. Life–and love–are complicated. Let it show.
Category: Role of environment
The contrast between Cheryl’s isolation in a majestic (but ultimately uncaring) landscape and Piper’s immersion in a corrections institution where she is anything but isolated made for some good contemplation for this reader. Piper writes, “…a familiar jailhouse trope says ‘you come in alone and you walk out alone’.” Cheryl writes of a saying on the Pacific Crest Trail, ‘everybody hikes their own hike.” (I’m paraphrasing.) This one’s a tie. As for which would I want to be in, Wild wins hands-down.
Category: Comparability to others in genre
Wild: Interesting for comparison to familiar male “hero’s journey” literature of the Thoreau sort. (Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild comes to mind as a more contemporary comparison.) OITNB: Susannah Kaysen’s Girl, Interrupted comes to mind. There’s a certain “Look at me, I’m institutionalized” aspect to both that is a bit off-putting. This point goes to Wild.
Cheryl certainly worked the footwear for high dramatic effect in Wild. (I won’t spoil it by saying how.) Piper’s canvas sneakers ands steel toe boots do mark certain stages in her heroine’s journey. Tie.
Category: Is this a “stunt book”?
A stunt book is one where you set yourself a goal in order to get a book out of it. Goodreads offers a list. Eat, Pray, Love and Julie and Julia come to mind. Cheryl waited 15 years to write about her PCT hike, so I’d say she wasn’t cashing in on a stunt. Piper didn’t choose jail, so I guess hers wasn’t a stunt either. Draw.
Category: Emotional growth of protagonist
In Wild, Cheryl ends her hike stronger at the broken places. In an interview she said, “I knew that the wilderness was a place I felt gathered, I knew it was a place that brought me to the calmest, truest self… So it didn’t seem surprising that I decided to turn to that place in my sorrow.” Meanwhile Piper writes OITNB “…most of all, I realized that I was not alone in the world…” Both protagonists start from a place of stoic, “I don’t need ANYBODY” independence (and chutzpa). Both end with that stance replaced with a more connected, joyful, gratitude-fueled approach to life. Close to a draw, but point goes to Cheryl for articulating her growth better.
Category: Career launchpad
Cheryl is teaching creative writing and writes an advice column. Piper is a PR flak in DC. Point to Cheryl.
Category: Did I like it?
I loved Wild, both book and movie. I disliked the Orange Is the New Black tv series enough to try the book instead. Liked Piper better in the book than the tv show, but still found her a bit annoying. Point to Wild.
Wild: 7. OITNB: 3.
I borrowed OITNB from the library; bought Wild for my iPad (first book I read in eReader form.) I am perfectly satisfied with my choices.
What memoirs have you read recently? How would they score on this completely unscientific test?