17 January 2008

Eat, Pray, Read Faster

I'm pretty sure I'm one of the last people in North America to read Elizabeth Gilbert's surprise best-seller EAT, PRAY, LOVE. The tripartite memoir about Gilbert's world travels following her divorce got its own "Oprah" special, has been optioned for a movie by Julia Roberts and can be seen in the hands of at least half the people on your next flight.

I understand why it's become such a phenomenon: This book is eminently, compulsively readable. How readable? I started it around 6PM on a Saturday, read it on the train somewhere, read it on the train home and kept reading until I finished it at 2AM on Sunday. My friend Pearl pointed out that your experience with this book lives or dies on how well you tolerate Gilbert's presence, and for the most part, I didn't mind her as a character-slash-narrator. I didn't agree with some of her choices, but I wanted to know how it all ended up nonetheless, which led me to characterize it as an emotional page-turner. (Not a thriller, but suspenseful in its own way.) Also, unlike a lot of nonfiction, I didn't feel like it was too over-researched after the fact. Sure, she went back and put in quotes and some facts, but she didn't try to cram the book with Everything I've Learned.

Still, here's why I won't be making room for EAT, PRAY, LOVE on my permanent shelf: I didn't find her journey all that inspiring -- at least parts of it. I didn't want to run away to India and meditate for six hours a day, nor did I have any desire to go to Bali and live in a small house in the middle of nowhere. I realize the point of a memoir is not usually to make the examined life look worth living, but I felt like in some way Gilbert was selling it to me as some kind of Reality Improvement package, and I wasn't buying. Even in the part I wanted to buy into -- the first section of the book, in which Gilbert takes Italian lessons and conducts her own eating tour of Rome -- I thought, "There must be more happening than what she described." She claims to have gone to only one museum during her time in Italy, and I'll let her have that, but I still felt like there was more she did and wasn't telling... starting with, for example, taking notes she would eventually use to write the book. (Gilbert includes the fact that she sold the proposal before she left on her yearlong journey, something I appreciated.)

I also felt that the ending was just a little too neat, even for someone who believes in fate as much as Gilbert does or claims to. Her year made her "better," but I wasn't completely convinced she learned anything. I guess the sequel to EAT, PRAY, LOVE will make that clear, if I ever read it. It won't be at the top of my list, though.


Linda said...

You are not the last person to read it. I just started reading it the other day. I love it but I'm still in Italy. But I agree that it's very readable. And I think a lot of people like Gilbert.

Emily said...

There's a sequel?

She did marry the dude.

Anyway, I totally wanted to run to India and Bali. I really related to her need to like clear out the interference in her head. I guess I read it a while ago, so I don't remember it very well, but I really did feel like doing what she did would help me with my own life, even if maybe she didn't learn anything from it.