Friday, April 2, 2021

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ain't no party like a late to the party, amiright? Yes, no, maybe? Hey, that could be a book title! Hell, it probably is!

So, I finally read Eat, Pray, Love. Fifteen years after publication, but so what? (People still read Moby Dick and that came out in the 1800s and is boring AF.) I fully admit I only picked it up for a zoom book club (which proceeded to be cancelled the day of the meeting, which is just one of the reasons why you rarely catch me messing with book clubs anymore).

I actually gave this a whirl shortly after it came out and quickly lost interest. The reason why escapes me, but maybe it was early on when our protagonist fell to the bathroom floor and began to pray. At that point I probably wondered if the "pray" part of the title was more key than I first imagined, and if this was going to be heavily religious, which isn't my bag, baby. I may have wondered that back then because I wondered this time around, too. Only this time I plunged onward because it was for a soon-to-be nonexistent book club meeting that I wanted to attend so I don't become a full-on hermit. 

I even saw the hit movie starring Julia Roberts. Unfortunately, the only thing I recall from that film is the scene where she decides to not worry about gaining a few pounds and buy bigger pants. Cut to a montage of Roberts straining to squeeze into pair after pair of undersized pants, fighting the zipper like it's an Olympic sport, and she WILL take gold! Who decides to buy bigger clothes only to struggle into tight pants as if they might just fit loosely once you get those babies on? You know the second you stuff your ass in there it's not gonna work. Why not, I don't know, immediately grab a larger size? The director surely envisioned this as a funny montage, and maybe fans of the movie loved it. But I thought it was stupid as hell, and it has obliterated every other memory of the film for me.

This go-round, I came to the book ready to push onward. I also came to it having heard interviews with the extremely likeable Elizabeth Gilbert over the years, and I was ready to give my dream bestie a second chance. 

Gilbert takes us on a journey that begins with the breakdown of her marriage, which was also part of a crisis of the heart and spirit. It was a floundering in her world and who she wanted to be, how she wanted to live her life. This led to an amazing year, divided in thirds between learning Italian (and how to relax and enjoy both friends and food) in Rome, learning about meditation and feeling closer to God in India, and learning to balance wordly delights with spirituality in Bali. 

It's not a year I could've ever afforded to take myself, and I wouldn't have done exactly the same things with a year dedicated to learning about and improving my outlook if I'd had the chance. But we don't need to have the same opportunities to do all the things Gilbert did. We can enjoy tagging along by way of the special magic of reading, and maybe take away a few things to use in our own lives, too.

Unsurprisingly, the "eat" and "love" sections grabbed me the most. They were a delightful view of her inner life as well as the people and places she encountered during that time, and her experience of learning to see life and herself in a new way. There's a lot there to stop and think about for myself, like how can I live my life in a way that will make me happier? Who do I want to be?

The "pray" section was interesting for about half of the section, but it wore on way too long for my amount of interest in the topic. I pushed through. It was fine. I suspect people who are more spiritual than I or more interested in intense meditation would get a lot more out of this section.

I've worked a little on learning meditation in my life, but for me it's more about trying to be more mindful, and the heavy-duty stuff Gilbert dove into at the Ashram holds little appeal. For a while I tried mindfulness exercises at the suggestion of a therapist, and I want to get back to those. In the area of meditation and learning to control anxiety, the book, approach and attitude that was right up my alley was by the healthily skeptical Dan Harris in his book 10% Happier. I also found some easy and accessible mental exercises in The Little Book of Mindfulness by Patrizia Collard.

One other thing you need to know about Gilbert: she writes extremely well. It's no surprise she could fund a trip like this using her writing skills, and that was before she became famous.

"All of us are swaying like kelp in the dark sea current of night," she wrote, describing chanting her way through the evening with a group in India as a celebration on New Year's Eve. She added: "As the minutes pass, it feels to me like we are collectively pulling the year 2004 toward us. Like we have roped it with our music, and now we are hauling it across the night sky like it’s a massive fishing net, brimming with all our unknown destinies." 

With writing chops like that, I will definitely be looking into more of her books. I also want to check out her Ted Talks. If you ever see a podcast or show interviewing Gilbert, it's worth giving it a go even if you haven't read her work yet. She's a force of nature, one that exudes positivity.

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