Recently I read the New York Times Best-seller Eat, Pray, Love by novelist and journalist Elizabeth Gilbert. The book was handed to me by a good friend as a “must read” after it was also recommended by everyone from my college roommates to Diane Keaton. Needless to say, there was and still is a lot of hoopla surrounding this memoir. And so, as with anything that carries such high expectations, I tried to approach Gilbert’s tour de force with an open and unbiased mind.
By page 20, I was telling everyone I knew how wonderful this book was. I recommended it to coworkers, friends, friends of friends, family members, and I alerted all who had recommended it that the book was, truly, wonderful. I felt enlightened, liberated; my skin would tingle with urges to reinvent myself. I shopped online for international cookbooks, looked up train tickets prices to Brazil, and searched for classes in the city that could teach me how to do yoga without having to chant to a sun god.
By page 75, however, I was singing a different tune. As Ms. Gilbert’s journey wore on, I liked her and her soul searching self less and less. I’m sure this was not the intent of the author; you are supposed to sympathize, relate to, or at least enjoy the protagonist. And I suppose I did, to some degree. Liz is witty and charming and has the potential to be laugh-out-loud funny. But she can also be self-congratulatory and narcissistic, which I expect is an occupational hazard with a spiritual memoir like this. Yet I could not get past her ever present whine over her failed marriage and sticky rebound romance. I also could not accept her travels across the world as beneficial for anyone but her already inflated ego (which is accidentally obvious under a guise of self-deprecation).
Now, that may seem a little harsh, and to be fair, there were good bits of advice and revelations in the book that I should probably harvest and use in my own life. The title speaks for itself. Eat (well), pray (more often), and love (without expecting everything you want in return). Good advice and possibly wonderful results if these habits are taken seriously. The problem is, not everyone can get paid to scamper off to Italy, India, and Indonesia in search of God, men, and canolis to discover these things. I couldn’t help but wonder, what were the less than wealthy natives thinking while this white American woman was traipsing around in search of peace and refuge from her depressing New York love life. I can only imagine.
Not that I am any better. And, perhaps part of the reason I began to dislike her so much was because I saw parts of myself in her. We judge others by their behavior, but we judge ourselves by our intentions. Though I may intend to be thoughtful and sincere, I could easily appear the opposite by letting myself ramble on about unimportant personal matters or forgetting a good friend’s birthday. There is a fine line between saving yourself and serving only yourself. I am sincerely glad that Elizabeth Gilbert found light in a once dark and meaningless world, but I fear that her story gives false hope to the abundant crop of Americans who feed off easy fixes to serious problems. Want to lose weight faster? Drink this shake. Want to make more money? Sign up here. Want to feel better about poor life choices? Go on vacation for a few months and drink tea and meditate.
Oscar Wilde said some wonderful things in his lifetime, though I question if he ever did anything else besides come up with clever quotes for uncreative writers to insert into their own writing. Regardless, some of his quips and sayings are quite wise, and often I read them like I should read scripture, repeating it over and over until it becomes part of my thoughts. Often throughout the book I waited for Liz to do something original without being guided by a guru, wise civilian, or lover. Then I remembered Wilde’s words. He said, “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” Though this bothers me, it is also reassuring and very significant in Gilbert’s life.
Bottom line: I do believe Gilbert had good intentions, but the hype over her memoir was excessive and I did not really enjoy the book as much as everyone said I must. Don’t hate me. Nothing about the book is life changing or revolutionary. The only thing she really accomplishes is spending enough time away from men to stop crying and obsessing over them, thank goodness.