Confession: I’m fascinated by advice columns, and pounce on new ones by my favorite columnists as soon as they appear. What people are willing to reveal in the context of seeking help, the desperate situations they find themselves in, the complicated and nuanced ways in which lives can go awry: I can’t get enough, and each columnist satisfies a different type of curiosity for me. I’ve learned about sexuality from Savage Love and dysfunctional relationships from Dear Prudence, and even way more than I ever thought I’d know about cloth diapering from Amy’s Advice Smackdown. The best columnists also provide a master class in developing distinctive voices as writers, which helps provide a natural transition into personal writing about marriage and parenting (I’d highly recommend Savage’s The Commitment: Love, Sex, Marriage, and My Family and The Kid: What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Go Get Pregnant to anyone).
Dear Sugar at The Rumpus is a wonderful example of how an advice columnist can give insightful responses while also becoming a three-dimensional voice in her own right. Sugar shares as much with her readers as the writers share with her, while still maintaining the kind yet forthright voice and advice they seek. Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar is a collection of Sugar columns and responses, many familiar and others new, but it really reads like a memoir, one aimed directly at you, one that resonates deep in your heart and gives you the gift of indelible phrasing and bottomless compassion.
Turns out Sugar’s alter ego is writer Cheryl Strayed, write of the immensely popular memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (Vintage), which I read and loved a few years ago. If you read and loved Wild, you should get yourself some Tiny Beautiful Things.