Tiny Beautiful Things: A Fellowship of the Worms Event

December 15, 2014 Book Club, Memoirs 26

Greetings Bookworms!

It’s time, it’s time! I’ve been really excited to talk about Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things with you and it’s finally time! Yaaaaaaaaaay! WARNING: We will be discussing the WHOLE book. This will no doubt include SPOILERS. This isn’t a novel, so I’m not sure how you can really spoil it, but I feel like I should warn you anyway. If you did not read the book and would like to participate, pick up a copy of Tiny Beautiful Things and give it a read. This post will be here waiting for you when you finish. Now that the particulars are out of the way, I’ll remind you of the premise here. I’ll pose questions in bold and answer them in regular type.  If you don’t want your opinions influenced by my rantings, stick to the bold first. Feel free to answer them in the comments, or if you’re so inclined, leave a comment linking to your review of Tiny Beautiful Things on your own blog! I fully encourage shameless self promotion, so if you’ve reviewed this don’t hesitate to get your link on.

smarty-mcwordypants-199x3001. Did you ever read the “Dear Sugar” column on The Rumpus or frequent any other advice columns? I’ve mentioned before that I think I’m part bear, right? I mean, the minute it starts getting cold, I get the uncontrollable urge to eat everything in sight and hibernate for the winter. Apparently I also live in a CAVE because I didn’t know Dear Sugar was a thing before this book. Pitiful. But, more evidence of my bear-dom, so I’ve got that going for me.

2. Sugar uses a lot of terms of endearment in her responses. Do you like them? Does it bother you when you’re addressed with a term of endearment in real life? There’s something about being called “honey bun” and “sweet pea” that makes hearing difficult advice more bearable, in my opinion. Strayed’s use of the terms just made me want to hug her. In real life, it’s a whole lot more complicated. If a woman addresses me as “honey” in a genuine tone of voice, I kind of like it. It feels sweet and sisterly. If a dude calls me “sweetheart” condescendingly, my blood gets to boiling. That feels creepy and/or douchey. If a dude of any age has a English/Irish/Scottish/Australian accent and calls me “love” in virtually any tone of voice, I’ll squeal with delight. I have a wildly varying and unfair set of standards, don’t I? Maybe I should just stick with encouraging people to call me “Katie” and leave it at that.

3. Did any of the advice/questions make you uncomfortable? I wasn’t necessarily made uncomfortable by any of tinybeautifulthingsthese stories, but some made me desperately sad. I mean, the girls she mentored? The ones who’d “make it” if they grew up to hold a job at Taco Bell? My heart, my heart, MY HEART!

4. Did any of Sugar’s advice resonate with you? There were a number of essays I found touching (some hit closer to home than I’m willing to admit publicly), but “The Ghost Ship that Didn’t Carry Us” really hit me in the feels. It’s not so much that I’m torn about wanting kids, it’s more the idea that major life decisions lead you down a certain path that completely eliminates certain other possibilities. If you’d gone to a different college, what would have happened? If you’d taken a different job, where would you have ended up? If you chose to take a big risk or chose the path of least resistance, what would have happened IF? Sugar just GETS it, and MY WORD I want to hug the woman!

5. Strayed infused the “Dear Sugar” column with a heaping helping of memoir. Did her personal anecdotes add or detract from the advice she was trying to give to her readers? For me, Strayed’s personal asides only added to the book.What made Tiny Beautiful Things so powerful for me was that it felt like Sugar had been there. I don’t want to take advice from someone who’s always made the right decisions. I want to hear from someone who has royally effed things up and managed to come out wiser on the other side. We’re all broken, but we’re all going to be okay. Even when we’re not. It’s complicated, but you know what I’m saying, right?

Sound off, Bookworms! I want to know your thoughts. Tackle some of the questions in the comments, or if you’ve written a post on your own blog (discussion or review, anything goes!) LINK IT UP! 
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26 Responses to “Tiny Beautiful Things: A Fellowship of the Worms Event”

  1. Annabel Smith

    This is my first time with the fellowship, squee!

    Oh my gadz, I can’t even believe how much I loved this book. Who wouldv’e thunk a book of advice column letters could be so funny, so deeply moving, so life affirming? and such a page turner? I’ve already bought it for 2 friends and a whole heap more will be getting it for a gift.

    1. I had read one of Sugar’s advice columns, the one to the girl who is depressed because she hasn’t published a book yet. That gets shared a lot among aspiring writers and i’d seen it around the traps but beyond that no, never read ’em, and probably wouldn’t because no advice column could ever be this good so what would be the point.

    2. So I can call you ‘love’ then? I’m pretty much the same as you on this – double standards all over the place. It depends entirely on context. When people say sweetheart in a condescending way I fell like bopping them one.

    4. The advice that most resonated with me was the breathe through it stuff. I have never been through anything like losing a child but the idea of not trying to ‘get over it’ just learning to live with it, made so much sense to me. I have been reading a lot about buddhism this year and it felt like it had that underpinning. Acceptance.

    5. Knowing she’d been through her own shit made her advice so much more palatable. If she’d had a privileged and painless life, I would have thought ‘what would you know about suffering? how dare you?’ but instead I thought, you’ve been there, you know. She is a brilliant storyteller too. her own experiences are shaped so beautifully into perfect stories, and tied so beautifully to the advice she’s giving.

  2. AMB (Koiviolet)

    Thanks for hosting this group, Katie! I’ll get back to your questions later (I’m too crazed this morning), but I will say that this book was a very uneven experience for me. Some of the letters resonated with me, while others did not. I was particularly upset by the letter she wrote to “Stuck,” who was in a situation somewhat similar to one I found myself in 7 years ago (except that my daughters lived). I wouldn’t have appreciated Strayed’s advice, but then again, I wouldn’t have asked for it.

    Overall, though, I’m glad I read this collection. It’s good to branch out from the type of books I usually read.

  3. Heather @ Capricious Reader

    We must be twin spirit animals, cause I’m like a bear in winter too. I’m like a bear in summer too, but the bear that exists in winter. I’m just a winter bear all year.

    I loved Dear Sugar. I mean, I loved the parts I read. For ME, it was too long and depressing. Letter after letter, where no one seemed happy and SUGAR dispensed wise advice. Let’s just say, I’m with AMB.

    Tootles, Ethel

    • Words For Worms

      It definitely did have its depressing moments, though during some of those I wanted to make mental notes to remember how much worse it could be the next time I melted down about Christmas shopping.

  4. ThatAshGirl

    First off, I’m totally freaked out by advice columns. Do people check them every day on the chance theirs is being replied to? I mean how else would you know!?!? And what if they never answer it.

    Anywho. I totally have a Scottish friend who calls me both Love and Doll. And it’s pretty awesome. And when little old ladies call me Dear I’m ok with that. Younger women calling me dear and it’s condescending. Especially when they’re like, be a dear and go do this. Cheesy pet names bug the heck out of me though.

    • Words For Worms

      I’ve always wondered that too! Do they check back with fingers crossed? How do you keep tabs on that sort of thing?! I wouldn’t like being called “dear” by a younger woman asking me to fetch something, but I don’t mind the occasional “hon” in the right tone. It makes me feel like I look young, obviously, to be addressed as a peer.

  5. Megan M.

    I really want to read this! I’m obsessed with advice columns, but I hadn’t really heard of Dear Sugar until recently when Captain Awkward mentioned her, and then when it was revealed that Sugar was Cheryl Strayed I was intrigued because there was so much good press about “Wild” (which I also want to read, and see the movie!) I’m positive I would love this.

  6. Rory

    I have not read this, but I did finally read Wild last week and I liked it. I think it would help in reading this (unless her background is fully discussed?) to know what she’d been through.

    • Words For Worms

      I’ve got big plans to read Wild. Tiny Beautiful Things touched on a lot of personal stuff, but it wasn’t written in a linear fashion, so I’m excited to get a clearer picture.

  7. kristin @ my little heart melodies

    I linked my original review above, but as for the questions:

    1. I never heard of Dear Sugar before Tiny Beautiful Things, either! (Although I did know about The Rumpus already). I picked it up over the summer on audio for a long drive, after I had already read and loved Wild by Strayed.

    2. YES, the endearments bother me. I find them extremely condescending. (Except when coming from beloved, elder family members.) It didn’t bother me while listening, though, that’s just part of the book and they weren’t addressed to me personally.

    3. Some of the advice made me uncomfortable… so much of it boiled down to “just do it,” which is of course way easier said than done, and she sometimes would answer questions by firing back a bunch more questions, so I don’t know how applicable or helpful her advice actually was. I didn’t feel like that was the point of the book, though—it was much more a memoir presented in an unconventional way, I felt.

    4. Her advice didn’t really resonate with me—I admit I’ve lived a fairly charmed life (no major life-altering devastations or traumatic events) and wanted for little. And again, I felt like her “advice” was posing more questions back at the inquirer or saying “just do it.” I probably wouldn’t have asked for advice, anyway.

    5. I found the memoir part to be very engrossing! It added to the richness and enjoyment of this collection in my opinion, and I wonder how it must have been to read this in weekly installments rather than one fell swoop.

    • Words For Worms

      You’re right, a lot of the advice boils down to “you already know the answer, just get on with it.” Though, sometimes that’s the sort of thing I imagine one needs to hear. At least, I do sometimes.

  8. Leah @ Books Speak Volumes

    Okay, I read this book a year ago, but I love it SO much and I want to talk about it 🙂

    1. I had never heard of Dear Sugar before this book. Advice columns are sooo not usually my jam.

    2. I’m fine with being called ‘honey’ by old Southern ladies, but I HATE being called ‘sweetheart’ or ‘darling’ by men who aren’t my boyfriend. And I like Sugar’s use of endearments. It’s surprisingly endearing.

    3. Nothing made me uncomfortable, but some things made me very sad.

    4. There are a few columns that I have read over and over again. The Future Has an Ancient Heart and the title essay have gotten me through some tough times. And The Ghost Ship That Didn’t Carry Us was really thought-provoking, although I’m giving more and more credence to my hunch that I really don’t want kids.

    5. I love that she included personal anecdotes. I like feeling like she’s been there, that her advice isn’t coming from a vacuum.

  9. Shannon @ River City Reading

    1. TBT was the first I heard of Dear Sugar, though I’d heard of Wild. I was reluctant to read it because advice columns are so, so not my thing.

    2. I didn’t mind the sweet peas because I think they’re part of her persona, but I do think they get a little much through the course of the book. I keep reminding myself that the columns were never really meant to be read back to back, though, which is something that was brought up in the Literary Disco podcast episode on the book that I think is really important. If you’re only getting one or two sweet peas every week, it doesn’t seem so overwhelming.

    3. One of the things I love about Sugar is that she’s willing to tackle everything from the most basic advice to stuff that makes some people uncomfortable. I listened to her podcast today and she talked about deciding to answer the WTF? question, which I think most advice columnists would have thrown out, but ended up being such a fantastic response.

    4. The first time through, there were several pieces that really struck me, but like Kristin said…it mostly seemed like a collection that said “just do it” (one I really enjoyed, though). I didn’t realize how important that was until I got in a bad spot and needed someone to tell me in so many different ways. Now, I know which pieces to go to for different days and different mantras. It’s like a good friend.

    5. They really only added for me. I don’t know how well I’d take advice from someone who didn’t have much life experience behind it, or at least a good, strong opinion.

  10. Trish

    I’ll call you honey anytime! Sugar! I’ve always been a big proponent of TOEs (I ALWAYS tell my husband before bed “goodnight lovey lou”), but it does feel weird being on the receiving end.

    So, I didn’t finish. But I’m loving the book. I think I just decided that I didn’t want to blow through it TOO quickly. Hopefully this means I’ll still finish it ONE DAY, though.

  11. Megan M.

    As I mentioned to you on Facebook, I finally got to read this. Wow.

    1. I didn’t hear about “Dear Sugar” until after the column was over and Strayed had been revealed. I heard about it from another advice column I read (and read and read) which is Captain Awkward. I love advice columns. I read CA and Dear Abby a lot, and sometimes Dear Prudence and sometimes Ask Polly.

    2. I loved all of the “honey bun”s and “sweet pea”s and the occasional “peach”. Loved. In real life, it depends very much on the person saying them. Do I love you? Yes? Call me whatever food item you want. Do I not love you? Then please don’t.

    3. I can’t think of anything that made me uncomfortable. Sometimes I was like “Wow, that is BLUNT” but if you can pull that off, I love it, and Sugar pulls it off.

    4. Oh god yes. There was at least one line in almost every letter that made me sit up straight with recognition. The letters that touched me the most were: “The Future Has An Ancient Heart,” “Ten Angry Boys,” “Tiny Beautiful Things” and the “WTF” letter that I can’t seem to remember the title of.

    5. I loved all of Sugar’s personal stories. All of them. I sincerely hope that my children think of me with the same love that she thinks of her mother – and that I don’t have to be dead young for it to happen.

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