Wednesday, December 19, 2007

In Which I Actually Finish and Enjoy (!!!) a New York Times Bestseller
Frankly, Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert had several strikes against it. For one, it is a #1 New York Times Bestseller. My experience with best-sellers is not the best and I could offer a list of incredibly disappointing books which have left me wondering why trees are dying for literature. Then there was the Oprah Winfrey endorsement. Although I can’t say that I have disliked her choices I can say that many of her choices have been emotionally draining and not the most uplifting. Or maybe I haven’t quite caught onto the whole Oprah phenomenon and, after a year of being home nearly every day when her show is on without managing to watch an entire episode, this may speak more about me than her or her choice in books. Finally, why on earth would I want to read a book about a woman who gets to live in Italy (where I would love to visit let alone live!), then moved to an ashram in India to study meditation (do I really need to explain the allure of this one?), and finally ended up in Indonesia trying to merge the two extremes of the passion and indulgences of Italy with the spiritual discipline and austerity of India. But then Saila recommended it. I didn’t jump immediately to start reading it. Then Ann recommended it, strongly. Now my ears were perked because I know how these things go and when I am supposed to read a book, I am really left no choice. Still, it took a third recommendation from someone I barely know to make me bite the bullet and buy the book. The book itself is divided into three sections. Eat, pray, love. Italy, India, Indonesia. Pleasure, devotion, balance. After a divorce Gilbert’s life is falling apart and she is inspired to undertake this year long pilgrimage to discover herself, her purpose, and she writes about her experiences (with amusing parenthetical asides) with easy yet powerful candor. Eat/Italy/Pleasure Is it any wonder that I enjoyed this part? Food. Architecture. Food. Beautiful men and women. Food. Language. More Food. Living in Rome Gilbert visits other cities and explores various restaurants. And she gains weight. Of course! But then she explains that she had lost so much weight before leaving for Italy, due to the emotional upheaval of going through her divorce, that she probably needed to gain some weight and . . . How she manages to not make the reader hate her is remarkable! Pray/India/Devotion A quick visit home to America for the holidays and she is off to India just in time for the new year. She goes to the ashram of her guru, a nameless spiritual leader with whom Gilbert had already been studying before she arrived. (Gilbert intentionally never gives the name of her guru to avoid possibly inspiring readers to follow an inappropriate spiritual path or giving her guru an unwelcome celebrity status.) Although I loved reading about Italy, this section resonated more deeply for me than did the former. Love/Indonesia/Balance I was fully prepared to love this section most, feeling the progression of my pleasure moving forward but this part of the book was ultimately the most tedious for me. I didn’t really care about the people Gilbert met and I wasn’t sure that what she experienced was either inspiring or necessarily inspired. (Part of the problem probably lies in the fact that I mistakenly read a blurb in the back of the book about her next book in which you learn something that is a spoiler of sorts. In other words, you know how this part of the book is going to end. In further words, don’t read the blurbs in the back of the book!!!) She says herself that the way her book is ending is almost too neat. Had I read it in a novel, I would have accused the author of being lazy, of not knowing how to end things so she decided to tie it all up in a bow. However, this is a memoir and sometimes life does this to you—sort of lets things all fall into a pace and rhythm where, surprise!, it all feels so nice and neat. And this book, although it seems in some ways a little contrived and convenient, still manages to be interesting, informative, and amusing. A delightful year-in-the-life memoir. (BTW, I’ve since read reviews that claim that this book was/is inspirational and life changing and . . . well, I may have missed all that. It was a fun book to read but I don’t feel changed or significantly inspired by it.)

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