Friday, April 11, 2008

Eat, Pray, Love

I'm a bit wary of Oprah's almost god-like influence over the nation (or at least the publishing industry), so after Oprah recommended Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love I had no desire to read it—until I heard about the backlash against the book. Suddenly, I had to know what kind of book could produce such strong reactions of love and hate.

Now that I've finished, I cannot figure out what all the uproar is about. I neither love nor hate the book. I like some parts and dislike others. It is, after all, just a book and not a piece of sacred scripture.

Eat, Pray, Love covers a year in Elizabeth Gilbert's life as she strives to overcome grief and depression by finding balance in her life. I did not read the book as a how-to manual for overcoming life's difficulties. Instead, I approached it as an interesting travelogue similar to Eric Weiner's The Geography of Bliss.

Gilbert's first stop is Rome to experience pleasure (eating) and to learn Italian. She has a good sense of humor, and I enjoyed the vignettes she shares about her four months in Italy: the friends she makes, the sites she sees, and (most importantly) the food she eats.

This part of the book did inspire me; I now want to study languages as diligently as Gilbert, and I want to have the confidence to eat alone at a restaurant. I visited Rome once, and I had no plans or desire to return, but Gilbert made me see the city in a different light and has convinced me to visit again.

After delighting in 100 pages of Italy, I entered the book's second section, and it was like stepping into a swamp of molasses. Gilbert travels to an Ashram in India to meditate for four months. I believe in spirituality, and I respect Gilbert for seeking spiritual health and healing.

Unfortunately, I have little patience, and I couldn't imagine anything more difficult and tedious than spending hours upon hours in silent meditation—until I read about the hours and hours Gilbert spent meditating. These passages were just plain boring and painful for me to read, and I slugged through over 50 pages before I could bear it no longer.

In the midst of Gilbert's chanting, I found myself having my own other-worldly experience as my mind wandered away from the text. Suddenly, an internal voice came to me, saying: Stop reading this sludge. Skip this passage. Set yourself free.

This advice seemed absolutely brilliant. I mean, surely even Elizabeth Gilbert herself would urge me to follow this spiritual guidance and skip the India section. I did and felt immediate relief and freedom—almost a sense of nirvana.*

Moving on to the Bali section was a relief and almost as delightful as returning to Rome. Although Gilbert continues to meditate, this final section once again contains portraits of the people she meets and the experiences she has in Indonesia.

I am not going to start eating more, praying more, or loving more after reading this book, but it did keep me entertained for several hours.

*I did eventually return to this section, believing it is unfair to write a review if I haven't read the entire book. My opinion about how tedious this section is did not change.

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