Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I did not want to like this book.
I even waited until I had an e-reader so that I could surreptitiously peruse its pages without anyone seeing the silly cover and the silly title and the silly middle-aged lady reading a book by another silly middle-aged lady about how to handle a midlife crises through food, God and sex.
Gilbert sets herself up as a serious seeker ("Sincere spiritual investigation is, and always has been, an endeavor of methodical discipline. Looking for Truth is not some kind of spazzy free-for-all, not even during this, the great age of spazzy free-for-all.") while at the same time writing in a voice that sometimes screams "hippie-dippie ohm-chanting flake!" and other times screams "look how silly it would be to be a hippie-dippie ohm-chanting flake!" She writes in such a self-depricating, reader-depricating, tongue-in-cheek fashion that the moments that resonated with me, and there were many, tended to get lost in the quotes like "...since I have introduced that loaded word-GOD-into my book, and since this is a word which will appear many times again throughout these pages, it seems only fair that I pause here for a moment to explain exactly what I mean when I say that word, just so people can decide right away how offended they need to get" or "And while I do love that great teacher of peace who was called Jesus, and while I do reserve the right to ask myself in certain trying situations what indeed He would do..."
Cheeky, right? Funny. I admit to giggling. But am I supposed to giggle at someone's spiritual journey?
But then she turns around and writes things like, "I'm still deeply ambivalent about mood-altering medications. I'm awed by their power, but concerned by their prevalence." Deep, resonating stuff. No cheek.
So what to make of this book?
I have no idea. It suffers from an identity crisis; serious tome of self-discovery or goofy Bridget-Jones-Diary of finding oneself?
It's both. And perhaps the same qualities I'm decrying as inconsistent made it readable for me; almost as if by so openly inviting my scorn she effectively defused it. No one wants to slog through a self-congratulatory memoir like this one could have been. But if I can laugh at Gilbert's idiocy while simultaneously respecting her quest then maybe I can see what she did as more than just possible for me but slightly probable, even. Maybe. If I can get an advance for the book I'm going to write to pay for the venture. Maybe someone will see this well-penned review and give me a six-figure advance to go to the Maldives. Because I want to go to the Maldives before they are underwater. And I'm sure I could write alternately deep, thoughtful, meaningful prose interspersed with amusing stories about why I'm such a blooming idiot. Anyone want to take me up on that?
I promise to relax while in the Maldives. I've always enjoyed the countries that engage in the siesta and the cafe culture where true success means you get to sit sipping espresso or wine while the rest of the rat race passes you by. Gilbert is with me on that one;
"Generally speaking, though, Americans have the inability to relax into sheer pleasure. Ours is an entertainment-seeking nation, but not necessarily a pleasure-seeking one. Americans spend billions to keep themselves amused with everything from porn to theme parks to wars, but that's not exactly the same thing as quiet enjoyment ... Alarming statistics back this up, showing that many Americans feel more happy and fulfilled in their offices than they do in their own homes. Of course, we all inevitably work too hard, then we get burned out and have to spend the whole weekend in our pajamas, eating cereal straight out of the box and staring at the TV in a mild coma (which is the opposite of working, yes, but not exactly the same thing as pleasure). Americans don't really know how to do nothing"
The Italians have an expression; bel far niente - the beauty of doing nothing. Italians also get "beauty" more than Americans do. The world is corrupt and unfair; Italians tolerate incompetency in so many professions, but never in art ... "In a world of disorder and disaster and fraud, sometimes only beauty can be trusted. Only artistic excellence is incorruptible."
Gilbert also has a wonderfully sketched metaphor that describes the conflict and cooperation of fate and choice better than any other attempt I've ever read;
"We gallop through our lives like circus performers balancing on two speeding side-by-side horses--one foot is on the horse called "fate," the other on the horse called "free will." And the question you have to ask every day is--which horse is which? Which horse do I need to stop worrying about because it's not under my control, and which do I need to steer with concentrated effort?"
And what of organized religion? Don't get "...too obsessed with the repetition of religious ritual just for its own sake. Especially in this divided world, where the Taliban and the Christian Coalition continue to fight out their international trademark war over who owns the rights to the word God and who has the proper rituals to reach that God, it may be useful to remember that it is not the [ritual] that has ever brought transcendence, but only the constant desire of an individual seeker to experience the eternal compassion of the divine. Flexibility is just as essential for divinity as discipline."
Hells yes again.
So my final verdict? Read this book but don't expect it to deeply change your life. And then, when you're done, give me an advance for the self-exploration memoir I'm going write in the Maldives entitled "Laughing My Way to Enlightenment." I promise you, you're going to love it.
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