So then let's begin this with Caveat #1:
Hi! This is my personal opinion! I do not wish to change your personal opinion should it differ from mine!
Also, I realize 100% that my opinion in this particular matter is super-personal, and reflects my own Issues with a captial "I". Fun! La la la.
If you liked this book, even a little bit, I am probably going to offend you. I'm sorry. I love you.
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I tried to pinpoint the exact reason Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat, Pray, Love" annoyed the shit out of me from the very first page, but I have had a hard time picking just one reason.
The most obvious one is that most anything dubbed "spiritual journey" is going to be hard for me to swallow. Such a notion puts me on squinty-eyed, folded-arm HIGH ALERT. My immediate response is: Why should I be listening to you?
And Elizabeth Gilbert just does not have a good enough answer. By a mile.
If her book were framed as a travelogue, I'd have at least been able to tolerate it. But the "my life was so hard and then I found the way" angle makes me all shivery with...well, as Em of Bemily calls it "douche chills." I was hesitant to even begin it.
BUT, I thought, Elizabeth Gilbert is supposed to be funny and likeable, so why not try? I mean, the premise of the book from like, thirty trillion feet away isn't awful: Woman goes on a year-long expedition to figure herself out following a personal crisis, plus eats food.
Okay, okay. Maybe not SO douche-chilly. I can dig it, right?
Here is the actual premise, though:
Cute, tall, blond woman who is moderately talented but hugely successful marries the seemingly perfect man and is juggling life as a travel writer who has an apartment in Manhattan AND huge home in the New York suburbs, woe is her.
One day, she realizes she is totally bored and filled to the brim with White Guilt, and wants to divorce her husband though she doesn't have the balls to even admit this to herself, so she spends a lot of time crying and then starts asking the universe for help.
Then she spends all these pages explaining why her divorce was so, so horrible.
She is infinitely passive-aggressive in speaking of her husband, blaming him without blaming him but blaming him, and trying to convince us (her) that he was absolutely horrible in the divorce proceedings, but won't tell us why because, she says, to do so is petty. But she works up the her-as-victim with all her might...so that when she then mentions how she moved in with her lover the second the separation started, we don't blink an eye. She's awfully obtuse about how and when she met this lover, because certainly that would only muddle the story.
Ahem. Back to the premise.
Divorce for her is very, very hard, very very very hard, and her lover isn't the answer, which makes everything even more hard. Eventually she asks the universe to end her divorce and it says yes, and then she decides to go on a year-long trip to Italy, India, and Indonesia. Except OH NO! All her money's gone from her trying to keep up the bills on the Manhattan apartment and house and divorce and so how will she do it?
And I can actually afford to do this because of a staggering personal miracle: in advance, my publisher has purchased the book I shall write about my travels.
So it is really just her premise that I hate.
Let me be as wise as I can be, understanding that I say this while wearing pink Crocs and a giant salsa stain on my shirt (mmm, wise): Every human being probably believes that they have experienced tragedy, because every human being HAS experienced tragedy. If the worst thing that has ever happened to you is that your pet iguana died when you were a kid, then that is the worst tragedy you know.
I'm saying for individuals, it's relative.
On the continuum of Human Tragedy, however, some things are just more tragic than others. And we all of us know this, inherently: What's divorce compared to Darfur? But -- sure -- we still have our everyday lives to lead, too. We need to think about and discuss our beliefs and religion and work and relationships and how we get through each day. Absolutely we do.
What I cannot abide by is not knowing the difference.
Not knowing the difference between tragedy and Tragedy; not knowing the difference between suffering and Suffering; and mostly, not knowing the difference between being a "soldier" and being unbelievably blessed and fortunate in the first place.
Bottom line for me: she had nowhere near the modesty or humility or perspective needed to make her spiritual "journey" interesting to me.
Don't try to convince me how hard your life is, when by objective standards it's anything but. Be honest with me: You were bored, dissatisfied, unclear, and guilty and embarrassed about feeling that way. Don't overplay your drama to win sympathy -- the harder you work to convince me how horrible your life was, the more you sound defensive about it. Nothing could undermine your Spirituality Credibility more than being disingenuous. I can't take spiritual suggestions from someone who doesn't even seem to know herself.
So that's my real, big issue with the book. Ms. Gilbert has seemingly no idea how lucky she is, or how self-centered and right, self-indulgent, her entire perspective remains. (I'll quote some of her more irksome passages below.)
It should not go without noting that I also found the book to be sloppily written. Rather than work her learnings into the story, so that the format of the book would become self-evident, she spends the preface explaining it to you. Her tenses shift throughout the first 50 pages, jumping forward and backward without rhyme or reason. And every time she goes to make a bold statement, she backtracks through heavy-handed use of self-deprecation.
Plus (and what's much worse), I don't think she commits to what she's writing. Is Eat, Pray, Love a spiritual guidebook? I'm sure she'd say no. Does she hope that people will glean lessons from her writing? I'm sure she'd say yes. So um, what was the point? I'd love to hear Ms. Gilbert answer that very question without a passive response. The idea that it's "just one woman's journey" seems very wishy-washy to me. Either you have a point of view and a purpose, or you don't.
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I know, I know. Pot, kettle much?
I went through the same divorce at the same time (literally), for maybe similar reasons. I wrote about it on my personal blog. (Helllllooooooo
Except I don't have any advice at all.
Okay, that's not true. Here. Here is the entirety of My Book On Divorce: "Divorce sucks big donkey doodoo and but life goes on anyway, damn it, and then so do you, eventually. In the meantime, here's a cocktail and a pair of sweatpants -- you'll be needing both."
And I should totally get a bazillion dollars for that.
I'm getting side-tracked.
I love blogging and I love reading blogs and the point (or one of my points, whatever) is that I read more genuine, more inspirational, and more well-written tales from normal, non-funded everyday people on my Google Reader than this "#1 New York Times Bestseller" and I just have to wonder if publishers will ever get it.
Why was this book so noteworthy?
Why was this author paid to go find herself and write about it? About a hundredteen billion people would KILL for that opportunity -- OF COURSE ME TOO -- and would at LEAST have the good sense and graciousness to recognize it as something to be a thousand percent humble and thankful about.
Rather than recognize that she was fantastically lucky for getting an opportunity like she did, she took what I consider to be a fairly low road. She treated the funding/publishing aspect as an after-thought, and then expended all kinds of energy trying to convince us just how deserving and in need of this journey she was.
Yes, well. It's really easy to be Spiritual when someone else is footing the bill and you've already got the book deal.
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Where I quote some parts of the book without permission.
I don't actually think that I would dislike Elizabeth Gilbert in person at all. I just -- man, oh, man. Blogging has opened my eyes to what naked/brave/real/genuine writing is like, and this book isn't it.
Maybe I'm just being bitchy.
...my one mighty travel talent is that I can make friends with anybody. I can make friends with the dead. I once made friends with a war criminal in Serbia, and he invited me to go on a mountain holiday with his family. Not that I'm proud to list Serbian mass murderers amongst my nearest and dearest (I had to befriend him for a story, and also so he wouldn't punch me), but I'm just saying -- I can do it. If there isn't anyone else around to talk to, I could probably make friends with a four-foot-tall pile of Sheetrock. This is why I'm not afraid to travel to the most remote places in the world, not if there are human beings there to meet. People asked me before I left for Italy, "Do you have friends in Rome?" and I would just shake my head no, thinking to myself, But I will.
Okay, now that I've quoted it I can see how it's not so bad. But if you're all into reading this and you're trying to understand why you're supposed to feel sorry for the author and you then come across this paragraph about how she makes friends with EVERYONE, can you see how I might be all, "YOU POOR THING YOU."
Lastly, let me reprint what appears on page 32. I think it shows quite well the kind of spirituality that Ms. Gilbert is about. It is cute and accessible, and I get it. Except for where I don't at all.
Here is her "petition to God" that her friend insisted she write -- because she would NEVER have done it on her own. Only because her friend made her. Because of her humility.
She wanted her husband to sign the divorce papers. Clearly, there was nothing more she, personally, could do to end the conflict, so she asked God.
Please intervene and help end this divorce. My husband and I have failed at our marriage and now we are failing at our divorce. This poisonous process is bringing suffering to us and to everyone who cares about us.
I recognize that you are busy with wars and tragedies and much larger conflicts than the ongoing dispute of one dysfunctional couple. But it is my understanding that the health of the planet is affected by the health of every individual on it. As long as even two souls are locked in conflict, the whole of the world is contaminated by it. Similarly, if even one or two souls can be free from discord, this will increase the general health of the whole world, the way a few healthy cells in a body can increase the general health of that body.
It is my most humble request, then, that you help us end this conflict, so that two more people can have the chance to become free and healthy, and so that there will be just a little bit less animosity and bitterness in a world that is already far too troubled by suffering.
I thank you for your kind attention.
Elizabeth M. Gilbert