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Wild, the Movie vs. the Book

POSTED BY prbythebook ON December 18, 2014

WILD_movie_posterby Elena Meredith, @elenameredith

Whenever a book is adapted into a movie, an argument quickly ensues: which is better? Naturally, readers always prefer the book, while the movie-lovers didn’t even know the story was based on a book (ha, I kid!). I rarely prefer one over the other—I love a striking visual and a moody soundtrack as much as I love reading a beautifully written passage or an interesting detail about a character. For me, each medium is its own unique sensory experience and choosing between the two simply boils down to a question of time: do I want to invest 10 hours into this story, or just two and a half? (Or both?) For example, Gone Girl is a book I wish I’d wasted two and a half hours watching instead of eight hours reading. On the flipside, I spent a year reading A Song of Ice and Fire series, and will gladly watch hours of HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”

I put this question to the test this week with Wild: the memoir vs. the movie. Several of us on the team recently read Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail in anticipation of the movie’s release last week. The story is about Cheryl’s 1,100-mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert to the Oregon-Washington border and the personal struggles that compelled her to take the hike in the first place.

The book was well-touted by Oprah, so maybe all of America has already read it, but if, like me, you’re just now getting to it and trying to decide between the movie and the book, here’s my analytical breakdown. I tried not to reveal any (major) spoilers.



Length/time invested: 315 pages (can’t remember how long this took me to read, but I think it was five or six nights, so probably 6-8 hours.)

Runtime: 115 minutes

Goodreads rating: 3.9 out of 5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes rating: 92%

Protagonist: 26-year-old Cheryl Strayed (who makes a cameo at the beginning of the movie). Cheryl wrote the book 14 years after the trip, based on her journals. I found her writing very entertaining. She carries little threads throughout the book that make you smile every time they come back.

Leading lady: Reese Witherspoon, who at 38 still looks 26, and does a fantastic job of portraying Cheryl’s “dark side” during her grief.

Hiking pain-o-meter: 8 out of 10. You can’t WAIT for her to get those new boots. The book is much more detailed – you feel Cheryl’s pain, fear, dehydration, the weight of her pack “Monster,” and the loss of every single toenail (spoiler alert: it’s way more than one).

Hiking pain-o-meter: 5 out of 10. Lots of grunting and panting noises, which I didn’t imagine while reading—it’s a marathon, not a sprint, Reese. Only one toenail lost (right at the beginning of the movie, so finish your popcorn before it starts).

Characters: Cheryl’s encounters with people along the Pacific Crest Trail are all meaningful and delightful—you feel that deep sense of bonding they have over sharing this physical experience. The details of her mother’s death in the book hit very close to home and left me sobbing—Cheryl writes in the universal language of grief, all-too-well understood by those who have experienced loss.

Characters: Like with most book-to-movie adaptations, the cast of characters was cut in about half, leaving out some important relationships and bonding time to focus on several main actors. I would recommend reading the book to experience the weight of some of those conversations. (Though I thought Paul, her ex-husband, seemed way more interesting and lovely in the movie.)

Visuals: I haven’t been on any of the PCT, so my inner movie projector couldn’t quite grasp the vastness of the landscapes in the Mojave or the Sierras. Though I felt transported back home to Minnesota during her upbringing in Duluth, mentions of Minneapolis and her mom’s visit to the “real doctor” at Mayo Clinic (in my hometown).

Visuals: Beautiful vantage points of the PCT. If the book failed to inspire you to hike at least part of the PCT, the movie shows such breathtaking landscapes you’ll start planning your trip tomorrow. (Go! Now! Before everyone else who saw the movie.)

Soundtrack: None since I read at night, listening to the fan. I think Cheryl mentions several significant songs in the book. In the appendix, she has a great list of “Books Burned on the PCT” (you’ll have to read/watch the movie to find out why…). I’m adding a few of them to my to-read list.

Soundtrack: The movie features songs from Bruce Springsteen, Portishead, Simon & Garfunkel, and Evan O’Toole, a little boy with a stunningly beautiful voice, who sings “Red River Valley” (tissues required for this part). I loved Cheryl/Reese’s singing of songs that turn into “trail brain” lyrics. Marathon runners, you know what I mean.

My rating: A+

A heartbreaking, yet soul-redeeming story about the things we do to overcome pain in life. The book really lived up to the Oprah hype for me.

My rating: A

An accurate portrayal of the book, worthy of its own praise. I’ll watch it again.

So which will it be—movie or book? If you enjoy the great outdoors and a challenge, or have experienced the loss of a family member, or if you love California and/or Oregon, or if you’re a woman, and like books, and like movies, do both: read the book AND watch the movie. I really connected with Cheryl’s story and can’t recommend this book or movie highly enough.

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What We’re Reading: Pop-Up Peekaboo! (and more)

POSTED BY prbythebook ON December 5, 2014
What We’re Reading: Pop-Up Peekaboo! (and more)

by Stephanie Ridge, @stephanieridge The crazy (lack-of) sleep patterns of new parenthood can be harsh on the reading habit. When I was asked to write a “What I’m Reading” post today, I had no choice but to hit up my child’s bookshelf. For the first time, I’m on the other (non-professional) side of children’s literature, experiencing it through my own child’s eyes. So in lieu of […]


5 Must-Use Thanksgiving Cookbooks

POSTED BY prbythebook ON November 24, 2014
5 Must-Use Thanksgiving Cookbooks

by Paxton Kelly, @PaxtonKelly3 Thanksgiving is just around the corner, folks! Whether you have extended family flying in from out of town, your college kids are heading back home, or you’re inviting your neighbors from down the street, you’ll want to ensure that your table is well-fed and happy. With just a few days left […]

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5 Literary Halloween Costume Ideas

POSTED BY prbythebook ON October 31, 2014
5 Literary Halloween Costume Ideas

by Paxton Kelly, @PaxtonKelly3 It’s Halloween! If you are anything like me, then you have waited until today to either figure out what  you are going to dress up as or you’ve decided, but haven’t bought your costume yet. My situation falls under the latter. I’ve decided to dress-up as Mary Poppins, one of my […]


What I’m Reading: Gone Girl

POSTED BY prbythebook ON October 24, 2014
What I’m Reading: Gone Girl

by Paxton Kelly, @PaxtonKelly3 During the school year, I find it incredibly difficult to read. If I choose to sit down and read for pleasure, well…I can kiss that A on my Adolescent Lit paper goodbye, because my focus will be committed to my book. My weakness: overindulgence. I plan on reading one and somehow […]


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