This blog is basically about how good books are nice and bad books are the pits. And then I get grumpy.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

I was finally tempted to pick up Eat Pray Love after seeing the Julia Roberts cover where she's licking gelato off a spoon with coy enjoyment. Roberts' beauty paired with old Roman buildings and Italian ice cream made it seem promising. Publishers know very well that we judge books by covers.

So now I'm reading it and I have to tell you I don't particularly like it. I'm somewhere around page 18 now, admittedly not far, but even up to this early stage I've come across so many of the trite writing cliches authors tend to love but at some point learn to control. Elizabeth Gilbert - it's weird to say this about a professional writer - uses them like they're original thoughts.

Take her talk to God on the bathroom floor, for example. Basically, she claims it's her first foray into prayer and she introduces herself by declaring her name and telling him that it's nice to meet him. As though this is something the reader might miss, she underscores it by telling us it was just like at a cocktail party. Then she apologizes for disturbing him.

Do people like this exist? This whole I-have-no-idea-how-to-communicate-with-a-being-whom-I'm-told-knows-everything-thing is hard for me to buy as a reader. At least it is the way she describes it. This is sitcom stuff that's been done forever.

There seem to be annoyances on every page and I wonder if I'll make it through this book.

There also seem to be a lot of people (Julie and Julia author Julie Powell, for instance) who seem to be writing about projects they have done and it's beginning to feel so contrived. Do these people actually do things and watch themselves do them for extended periods of time just so they can write about their experiences later as though said experiences happened in a normal organic way? Or do they know all along that they're going to write a book?

I don't know, but I kind of think the latter can be argued very persuasively by reading the intro to Eat, Pray, Love. Gilbert explains to us that she changes people's names in her book for their privacy. That's great and normal, but then she gives us this reason for the name-changing:

"This is out of respect for the fact that most people don't go on a spiritual pilgrimage in order to appear later as a character in a book. (Unless, of course, they are me.)"

So, I guess she admits a book was the plan to begin with. I'm being very cynical here. I mean, she's a writer. Of course, she's going to write about this big event in her life. But, people don't do these things "in order to appear later as a character in a book...Unless...they're me"? Probably just bad wording, but the cliched and cloying nature of the writing doesn't help inspire a belief in the authenticity of the back cover's claim that Gilbert's year-long journey was a way for her "to examine three different aspects of her nature." Unless, of course, the examination was meant to generate a book. Not exactly the way any of it's been marketed, I think.

Is it so naive to think people still have experiences in life and and only later decide to write about them? No. But these self-indulgent self-discovery and exploration themes that seem to have been popping up for years now are getting old and tired. In the same way that reality shows aren't really 'real,' these books seem to be too self-conscious for their own good.

Perhaps the movie will be better. I'm hoping the rest of the book will, too.

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