Eat Pray Love – Elizabeth Gilbert

Yes, I put my copy of this book in my produce drawer. Yes, I wrapped a necklace I got at the Varanasi ghats around the book. Please don’t judge me too harshly. I am not a professional, I’m just a woman trying to make it in a cruel, refrigerated world.

A side note: I’m going on my honeymoon shortly and will be gone until the beginning of October. Expect blog silence.

This is a controversial one for me.

Yes, the all-so-popular Eat Pray Love.

I tried to read this in 2009 during what has, thus far, been the roughest time in my life. I remember the font in my copy being over-large (a huge peeve of mine) and not being too enamored with the book, to the point where I set it down with the intent of picking it back up when things had settled down… and promptly lost it. I have no idea where the book ended up.

I went to see the movie when it came out. I’m sorry, but that thing’s a piece of shit. I tried to re-watch it earlier this week, immediately after having finished the book, because I did that with Wild and having read the book added so much to an already enjoyable movie, I thought having just read EPL, I’d magically find myself enjoying the movie.

I got halfway through it and stopped. It’s just… really bad. It doesn’t capture in any way the character or intent of the book. If it wasn’t for shared quotes, I would assume it was a B-level “inspired by” movie. Which is, admittedly, odd as Gilbert was credited as the third writer of the script.

Back to the book.

I enjoyed it, for the most part. The “pray” section in India was far too woo-woo for me. I’m all for yoga and meditation, but the rest of it… not so much. Having a guru or spiritual teacher, seeing energy, being at one with “God,” having blue light pulled through your spine, having a spiritual conversation with your ex-husband–no. I can’t. Even when I was little (and I mean little), attending church with my family, I didn’t believe in any sort of deity. I thought all the stories were very nice and also very unlikely and how could anyone expect me to take this seriously?

Things haven’t changed much in the last thirty years, I’ll say that.

Anyhow, EPL was far better written than I remembered, or expected. Her voice is strong and friendly, she’s self-deprecating and yet very accepting of all of her quirks and flaws, acknowledging them as such but not letting them lower her value in her own eyes. Which is an incredible quality to have.

But let’s acknowledge some random elephants in the room.

(1) This is the type of book I rail against: woman goes on journey due to broken heart/mind and finds herself/love. It’s such a damn trope and so very female. Men don’t do this. I mean, maybe they do, but there certainly aren’t books about it because that’d be “gay” and “weak” because it’s a distinctly female thing to do.

And I hate that. I hate that everyone expects that the female travel narrative is exactly what this book is: broken heart –> airplane –> redeeming love.

(2) Gilbert (the author, for those not paying attention) has received so much flak about being an economically upper-class white woman able to travel the globe for a year and not be swallowed by credit card debt or have her journeys impacted in some way by racism.

The latter, I get. Traveling while not white can be… very hard in some countries. (Certainly in America, but I have friends who have gotten harassed in countries I would not expect severe racism in so… not sure what to do with that.)

The former? Her parents had a Christmas tree farm. She worked as a waitress in a diner. And, in whatever way, she worked her way to that upper class life. She was the breadwinner in her marriage, at least according to this book. And, yes, there are privileges that come with being born white in America with business-owning parents. I don’t know her education level. I don’t know how much her parents made. I don’t know so much. I also don’t know why people think she comes from money. It seems like she made hers on her own.

(3) This book apparently inspired a wave of wealthy(?) white women to make this same type of journey in order to do what this book claims Gilbert did: heal themselves of major personal problems/broken hearts and find love/marriage with a sexy foreigner. I remember reading an article (years ago, so I’m not going to try to find it) about how this was impacting the environment and economy in the areas women were flocking to and it was… pretty weird.

(I mean, yeah, sure, I let a video game inspire me to take a big road-trip to weird places around America and one of those places was in a (fiction) novel I had read and then I ended up getting married there, but that’s all pretty different than going to Bali for some sexy lovin’. Right?)

(4) I was embarrassed to be seen reading this book in public. I sat in such ways that people couldn’t see the cover. I hid it in my bag or my lap whenever possible. It was a shame read. And it shouldn’t have been.

I was ashamed in the same reason I partially hide Harlequin Romance novellas when I read those in public–because I’m engaging in a stereotypically female activity. Something that a “certain type” of basic-bitch women do and I don’t want to be seen as feminine or basic-bitch.

Even though the book is written well. Even though I enjoyed it very much (save for India). Even though it’s an amazing best-seller with a (bad) movie attached to it. I didn’t want to be lumped in with its readership. It’s female or homosexual readership. Because manly men don’t read books like EPL.

Why is that?

This is long enough already. I could muse on this for pages and pages.

Quotes to ease your curiosity:

“Let it be sufficient to say that, on this night, he was still my lighthouse and my albatross in equal measure. The only thing more unthinkable than leaving was staying; the only thing more impossible than staying was leaving. I didn’t want to destroy anything or anybody. I just wanted to slip quietly out the back door, without causing any fuss or consequences, and then not stop running until I reached Greenland.”

“I have always felt, ever since I was sixteen years old and first went to Russia with my saved-up babysitting money, that to travel is worth any cost or sacrifice. […] I feel about travel the way a happy new mother feels about her impossible, colicky, restless newborn baby–I just don’t care what it puts me through. Because I adore it. Because it’s mine. Because it looks exactly like me. It can barf all over me if it wants to–I just don’t care.”

“I love my pizza so much, in fact, that  have come to believe in my delirium that my pizza might actually love me, in return. I am having a relationship with this pizza, almost an affair. Meanwhile, Sofie is practically in tears over hers, she’s having a metaphysical crisis about it, she’s begging me, ‘Why do they even bother trying to make pizza in Stockholm? Why do we even bother eating food at all in Stockholm?”

“My sister’s faith is in learning. Her sacred text is the Oxford English Dictionary. As she bows her head in study, fingers speeding across the pages, she is with her God.”

“I came to Italy pinched and thin. I did not know yet what I deserved. I still maybe don’t fully know what I deserve. But I do know that I have collected myself of late–through the enjoyment of harmless pleasures–into somebody much more intact. The easiest, most fundamentally human way to say it is that I have put on weight. I exist more now than I did four months ago.”

“We are singing in Sanskrit, as always […], and I’m trying to become a vocal mirror for the voices of the lead singers, picking up their inflections like little strings of blue light. They pass the sacred words to me, I carry the words for a while, then pass the words back, and this is how we are able to sing for miles and miles of time without tiring. All of us are swaying like kelp in the dark sea current of night.”

“If I were going to have such a short visit on earth, I had to do everything possible to experience it now. Hence all the traveling, all the romances, all the ambition, all the pasta. My sister had a friend who used to think that Catherine [the sister] had two or three younger sisters, because she was always hearing stories about the sister who was in Africa, the sister who was working on a ranch in Wyoming, the sister who was the bartender in New York, the sister who was writing a book, the sister who was getting married–surely this could not all be the same person?”

“I’m not interested in the insurance industry. I’m tired of being a skeptic, I’m irritated by spiritual prudence and I feel bored and parched by empirical debate. I don’t want to hear it anymore. I couldn’t care less about evidence and proof and assurances. I just want God. I want God inside me. I want God to play in my bloodstream the way sunlight amuses itself on water.”

“I have a history of making decisions very quickly about men. I have always fallen in love fast and without measuring risks. I have a tendency not only to see the best in everyone, but to assume that everyone is emotionally capable of reaching his highest potential. I have fallen in love more times than I care to count with the highest potential of a man, rather than with the man himself, and then I have hung on to the relationship for a long time (sometimes far too long) waiting for the man to ascend his own greatness. Many times in romance I have been a victim of my own optimism.”