One Divisive Book!

My book club is reading Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert this month.  I started it but decided to stop about 75 pages in and pick it up again right before the book club meets in order to have it fresh in my mind when it’s time to discuss it.

As I’m sure you know, Eat, Pray, Love is a memoir of a 30-something woman who, after a messy divorce, takes off in search of answers in three countries:  Italy (eat), India (pray), and Indonesia (love).  This book has been a bestseller for months, staring at us from the shelves in Target, Costco, Borders and the grocery store.   It was touted by Oprah on at least 2 different shows, which is a lot of media hype in and of itself.   I resisted this book for a long time, but when the book club picked it, I had no choice but to give in.

So far I like her style; I like her sense of humor and turn of phrase.  She does not annoy me in the least.  Her descriptions of Italy, from the food to the men, are so vivid it makes me want to pack my bags.  Oh, wait, unlike Gilbert I have a family and responsibilities, and no one is going to pay me to go find myself.  Shoot.  Ok, I’m a little jealous, but I still like her.

So I was surprised, then, to get an email from a friend in my book club saying she thought Gilbert was a whiny bitch.  Such strong emotions!  It occurred to me that maybe this friend could also be a tad envious of Gilbert’s freedom to travel and not answer to anybody.  She happens to have two children with special needs and has a hard time getting out in the evening just to see a movie.

I was further surprised to read my blog friend Beastmomma’s  recent post about the book, in which she said,  “Eat, Pray, Love would have been a much better book if the author did not seem like she was patronizing and condescending to the countries she visited.”  I took that with a grain of salt, because Beastmomma is of Indian descent, so quite possibly she has a different viewpoint than many other readers.  Well it wasn’t long before a verbal fist fight ensued in her comments section.  People seem to either love or hate this book.  It has resonated with so many and pissed off so many others.

Have you read Eat, Pray, Love?  What do you think:  

Eat, Pray, LOATHE or Eat, Pray, LOVE?

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44 Responses

  1. It’s funny you should say this. I have stayed away from this book because I have heard a lot of mixed reviews on it. One of my book club members did not like it at all, and we usually like the same books. Maybe I’ll have to read it just to see what all the fuss is about!

  2. As I haven’t read this book, I really have no place to comment. However, I would not pick up this book for at least one reason, other than the fact that it’s non-fiction and I’d rather not read non-fiction: without having read her book, I don’t find her life to be something I’d want to read. Plenty of people go through divorce. I don’t read books about that. And why do I care that she travelled to other countries? How will that enrich my life? I’d rather read about our US Presidents or a famous painter or even someone who was horribly abused but overcame that. But a book about someone who got a divorce and travelled to other countries? Eh. I think I’ll stick to vampire novels and John Steinbeck.

  3. You already know how I feel about the book. FYI, I think everyone’s background and perspective plays into how they view the book. My being of Indian descent is part of my perspective, but did not make or break the book for me.

  4. I actually LOVED this book, although I have no idea why. For some reason, I really related to Gilbert and even though I have never done anything close to what she did, I for some reason felt considerable empathy for her and could understand what she was going through, in a weird way. The book just resonated with me and it’s now one of my favorites. Good luck with it.🙂

  5. Hi Beastmomma! I did not mean to imply that you didn’t like the book simply because of your heritage. What I meant is that you may be more sensitive to certain aspects of it, like Gilbert being patronizing and condescending to the countries she visited (one being India) where someone who is of a different background might not pick up on that. Hope I didn’t offend you somehow by what I said.

  6. I never finished the book but got to page 160 and was fairly happy with it to that point. I was supposed to pick it back up back in January for a book club assignment here in Okinawa but I never did. I know how the story ended and really after Italy her time and project in India wasn’t as “exciting” to me. I really liked her time in Italy and was ready to book a vacation there and eat, eat and eat.
    I did see Gilbert on Oprah and liked her enough in the interview. I day dream about writing myself but when I sit down to start something I find that my vocabulary is not quite as extensive as I might have thought and I get stuck. I also have soooo many exciting expereinces and great relationships I would like to write about but I get overwhelmed easily by the idea of getting it all on paper/screen.

  7. i haven’t read it, but the cover has taunted me from store to store. maybe i’ll put it on my list at the library or try to snap it up on paperbackswap.com.

    maybe you could write a mini-review when you’re done to help me decide if i should bother. but i’m a sucker for books that go abroad, so i might be a sitting duck with the italy trip.

  8. Lisamm I am afraid you may have offended more than Beastmomma as the other friend with the special needs children could also possibly take offense. When you have children who suffer in some way all their lives it leaves you very indifferent to peoples whining or perceived whining of things that are often self inflicted.

  9. I haven’t read the book and probably won’t pick it up. The author was on Oprah and I think I learned a lot about the story just from the hour long interview and don’t feel like I need to find out more.

  10. i too like to see different people’s perspectives on their travels–it’s interesting to see how 2 people can each experience a place so differently based on their personal life–i haven’t read this book yet, though i too have seen its cover everywhere. i think that’s something i am always curious about–how a person’s life experiences influence them. We are so varied in how we see the unexpected bits of our lives!

  11. Magik, well it certainly wasn’t my intention to offend anyone. I hope I didn’t. Maybe I should remove this post (?)

  12. lisamm, I respect your right to remove the post, but I think the discussion is part of the learning. If we have the opportunity to read the post along with the comments, we get to go through our own journey. You have stated that it was never your intent to offend, and I think that most readers will believe that.

  13. Lisamm — I’m really glad you wrote this post and am enjoying the discussion that has ensued. I think the deeply personal nature of this memoir elicits a deeply personal response in readers! I initially held off reading it because I found Gilbert annoying on Oprah, but eventually I picked it up and found her writing to be clever and funny — and I thoroughly enjoyed it! So, I immediately bought a copy for my sister, who then told me that she had started it and hated it! (I hadn’t given it to her yet, fortunately…). So, now I’m wondering why we all are reacting so powerfully to this woman’s journey?

  14. Thanks, everyone, for the comments. I thought about this while I was at the Easter service at church today (having read Magik’s comment right before we left) and decided I’m going to leave the post as is. I really don’t think my friend would be offended by what I wrote. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t read my blog anyway (although her sister does) but even if she did, I think she’d be ok with what I said, because it’s true.. she is tied down with responsibilities and I think it’s only human nature to be envious of those who aren’t. I’m only speculating that it’s envy that would elicit the “whiny bitch” comment, but maybe not.. Anyway, this has been quite interesting and I’m thankful for all the thoughtful comments.

  15. I haven’t read this book (I know it’s quite popular but being rather shallow the the title just did not appeal to me at all) but I think it’s the nature of very popular things that there are people who will not like it, and then everyone else is like, OMG you didn’t like it? It was soooo good, and then they get even stronger feelings about not liking it. Anyway, just my thoughts.🙂

  16. Sorry to stir things Lisamm just speaking from experience and the fact that it would never have been envy on my part…just total inability to grasp someones perceived whining when there is so much more to whine about at home.
    It is great that she gets to go to the book group with all you girls and I am so glad she has the kind of relationship with you that allows her to speak freely as the last thing she probably ever wants to do is sound whiny! Hope I did not totally spoil your Easter..see I am an egomaniac as well!

  17. Magik, I can totally see your point. I never thought about it that way. It is great that she gets to come to the book club and I know she looks forward to it each month. You did not spoil my Easter, btw. Hope yours was nice.

  18. I reviewed this book as well and had some of the same thoughts as you did. I didn’t love this book but I didn’t hate it either. I had a hard time feeling sorry for her and relating to her. She did sound quite whiny and very privileged to take a year off to go find herself. I also mentioned that I, too, was jealous of her travels.

  19. Hi! Thanks for visiting Hooked on Houses and leaving a comment so I could find my way to your blog. I’m not only hooked on houses–I’m hooked on books, too!–so I really love your site. I have a hundred things I’m supposed to be doing tonight, but instead I got sucked into reading your posts.🙂

    I’m fascinated by the way this book has polarized people, so I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on it and those of your commenters. It’s been a hot topic among me and my friends, as well.

    One friend says she thinks Gilbert will discover that something else is “the answer” to her life and write a book about it next, sort of how Sarah Ban Breathnach wrote a book convincing us life was all about marriage and family, only to be followed by a sequel telling us about her divorce and better living as a single woman. I guess we’ll have to wait and see if her prediction was correct!

    I personally think that any author who receives so much praise and an ordination by Oprah is also going to get a predictable amount of backlash from people who don’t get what the big deal is.

    I’ve bookmarked you and will be back. Thanks! -Julia🙂

  20. Lisa – I’m glad you aren’t removing this post. You said nothing wrong. We are all condescending in some respect–those who have fits about it are often the most condescending of all. The thing that gets to me is some people thinking that they deserve more than the next guy because their lives are just so hard. Boo-hoo, cry me a river! Everyone’s life is hard, so get over yourself!

    I felt kind of “meh” about the book, but I did enjoy Gilbert’s sense of humor. She seemed like the kind of person I could be friends with.

  21. I’m delighed to jump in on this discussion, I’ve blogged a little on this book, and as a twenty-something woman trying to be someone my grandchildren can be proud of, I found Gilbert whiny and uninspiring.

    The novel is padded with feel-good dribble that is fantastic if you accept the premise that is acceptable to live your day to day life in a manner that ignores your responsibility to be honest with yourself about your needs and desires. If Gilbert had been forthwright from the get-go about what she wanted out of her life, the novel would have never existed. Gilbert has, without a doubt, set feminism back a few years as she has abandoned her career and marriage to find the pasta, religion, and men that satisfy her. I only hope that she serves as an example to her readers to communicate with themselves with real honesty before they find themselves on bathroom floors longing for cliched and unrealistic experiences in foreign settings.

    Thanks, Lisa, for alerting me to this discussion.

  22. I secretly suspect this book of sucking, but that’s probably just the Oprah stigma. I know, I’ve liked most everything else she’s ever put a stamp on, but unless I’ve read it before it’s been Oprized, I usually look down on it with heaps of elitist scorn. It doesn’t help that the book I’m now reading, and with which I am helplessly in love, is an Oprah-er. I didn’t find that out until I was completely hooked. Damn.

  23. I was one of the few who picked up this book when it first hit shelves BEFORE I had ever heard ANY hype. I was interested in knowing about her journey because she does pursue a fantasy – hey! give up the ‘typical’ life and run around the world – how cool is that? AND the other reason is because she was exploring why she may not want to be a mother. A difficult personal choice. I enjoyed the book. Now, I have to go and think on how exactly she set feminism back by not knowing concretely at age 20 or so that she may not want to be wife and mother.

  24. I read this book several months ago and loved it. As a mother of two special needs girls, I often have thoughts about what other people are going through and think to myself, “What are they complaining about? At least they are healthy, at least their children are going to grow up and leave the house and live their own lives.” Is it right to be so judgmental of another’s life and how they view it? I don’t think so. It’s just human nature. They can only think the worst about what they are living through because they haven’t lived what I have lived through, and I haven’t lived through what you have lived through, etc. We only know what we know, and can’t really feel what it is like to be someone else to realize how trivial some of our complaints can be.

    Yes, I was envious of her ability to get up and go, to travel for a year with no responsibilities. Hell yes I would jump at a chance to have done that, but I personally don’t think she was a whiny bitch. She was only putting on paper the things in her mind that most of us would think but never communicate to anyone else for fear of seeming whiny, and apparently it partially backfired on her. She was writing a book. If she didn’t write down her thoughts and opinions, there would have been no assignment, and therefore, no book.

  25. oops. I accidentally posted it before I was done. I was just going to add that a book stating, “Look at Italy! It is beautiful and wonderful and I love everything about it! Look at India! It is beautiful and wonderful and I love everything about it! Look at Indonesia….” well, you get the picture. Anyhow, you know what that book is? A travel guide.

  26. Now that I’ve had time to sit and think on it, I hope I didn’t come across as too harsh. Sometimes when you’re stuck at home all day with two kids that don’t talk to you, you find things to argue about just for the sake of arguing. (wink) Oh, and Lisa, if you lived here I’d be happy to come decorate your house. : )

  27. Jeez, I’m just not getting some people’s arguments. How has Ms. Gilbert set feminism back? It’s the people that say she was wrong that are trying to keep women in the Dark Ages. So what if she decided to travel and have new experiences? What the bloody hell is wrong with that? Why are women still expected to be more self-sacrificing and nurturing than men? Why are they still called whores if they decide to have multiple sexual partners? Heaven forbid if a woman should EVER decide to be completely her own person and make her own decisions about her own life! And if she ever has an opinion that seems even the least bit controversial, she is called a selfish bliznatch. It’s the narrow-minded gender police that are holding feminism back, not Ms. Gilbert!

  28. I think that this book had a lot of potential that it wasted getting bogged down in other things. For me, she wasn’t so much whiny but annoyingly repetitive about things that didn’t relate to her topics or move the memoir forward in any readily apparent way (Swammy G and that mantra she fought so hard against could have been one chapter, not 15). I never got past India, but I kept thinking that I would have enjoyed that section so much more if that guy from Texas actually wrote it. When she misquoted Losing My Religion, I couldn’t take it any longer. Here’s a link to my review : http://literatehousewife.wordpress.com/2008/02/27/60-eat-pray-love/

  29. Thanks for commenting on my blog! I think the best thing about this book is how everyone seems to come away from it with a slightly different perspective. I think Richard from Texas should write a book about his journey to India. =)

  30. It’s a book people. I liked the book. I didn’t over analyze it. I just read it. I was more intrigued with the self-discovery.

    I didn’t like how she got out of her marriage and how she talked about being a mother. I understand some women don’t want children. It just rubbed me the wrong way.

    I laughed out loud with this book. I thought about what I need to do in my life to find peace. That’s what Gilbert did. She was on a mission to find her inner peace. That’s it.

    I hadn’t heard anything about this book. I needed a book for my 101 list. I enjoyed. We don’t have to analyze everything to death all the time.

    I’m not sure how she set feminism back? Then again I’m a SAHM and my husband supports me. I must be setting women back as well.

  31. Wow. Lots of good thoughts here! I put off reading the book for a long time. One, because it was getting lots of hype, and two, it deals with a religious/spiritual journey, and I’m just not into that. I can’t remember what finally made me pick it up (maybe because she does write about travel and I looooooove travel books), but I did, and I didn’t regret it one bit. I saw her speak last year, and at one point she mentioned she tried really hard not to be a turkey about the spiritual stuff (you had to be there to fully get the comment, I think). I appreciated her candor, her sense of humor (in the book and in person) and the fact that she managed to write about her spiritual journey without me feeling like she was preaching to me. The Italy part was my favorite, the India part my least favorite, but I think that is just reflective of the places I’ve been/want to go.
    Plus, I like her writing style…I found it engaging. If I had to pick between her and Frances Mayes, I’d go with Gilbert any day. But, everyone has their likes and dislikes about authors. It’s interesting to me how this book in particular seems to get people fired up.
    And chartroose, I don’t understand the feminism comment either.

  32. Hello Lisa (and everyone else), I am not offended by what you said. I just wanted to point out that the fact that we all pick up and are sensitive to different aspects of books based on our backgrounds and heritage. One of my good friends who is also of Indian descent LOVED the book; I do not think you can generalize people’s views or explain why they feel a certain way about the book (or any book) because of their background. You saying that you took my criticism with a grain of salt because of my heritage would be similiar to my saying that I take your perspective with a grain of salt because you are Anglo or a woman or a mother or living in California. You might not be offended, but it may give you reason to pause. Does that make sense?

  33. HI Beastmomma, That does make sense. I sincerely apologize and want you to know that I truly meant no offense.

    I’m a little blown away by all the comments about this. This book has really struck a chord with so many.

  34. Thank you Lisa. I am glad that we could have a good discussion about this.

    Yes, this book does invoke LOTS of responses!

  35. Didn’t know one book would revoke such a response…I’m planning on reading this book based on a recommendation from a friend. She loved it. Another friend hated it. They want me to be the tie braker.

    About Keeper and Kid: You know, I actually asked the librarians for the book but they said it would take 5 weeks to even order it, so I entered your book giveaway. Then on Saturday I got a phone call saying the book was in. Go figure.

  36. Our book club read the book and then had a special dinner party featuring food from all three countries. It was really fun.

    We had a lot of mixed reactions to the book. Most people did resent her because she had so much freedom to travel and yet was sad. She left a marriage and refused to say what it was about her husband that was so bad. I liked the book and probably would have really endorsed it more if I had discovered it, but after all the hype (some ladies on Oprah were calling it their “bible”) it just didn’t seem to live up to all that. She IS a wonderful writer, but I just yearned for her to give me “something” to explain her unhappiness with her marriage. I needed some explanation that would allow me to cheer for her after she trashed her marriage commitment and went off to “be on her own”. And then she started a new relationship within a year after saying that.

  37. We discussed this book last month with a group of retirees and my boss thought it was going to be a BIG disaster. She didn’t like the book at all and she thought the group would feel the same way. Before beginning a discussion, I like to poll the room on who liked the book. Everyone raised their hand except for one! Pshew! 😀

  38. I actually loved the book – really loved it – and so I too was surprised that my book group hated it so much. same kind of complaints – whiny, privileged, etc. My opinion is that she can’t help being born into a bit more money than some of us, any more than we can help being born a little lower on the money ladder. And besides, she didn’t just wander off and do nothing for a year – SHE WROTE A BOOK.
    Okay, so I have some strong emotions, too.

  39. Wow- Sounds like I need to be a bit more controversial on my blog! I love all of these comments!

  40. I’m online researching for our book discussion tonight on EPL. Liz and I had some things in common. I travelled in my 30s and my first marriage ended in divorce. Although I didn’t have an affair, like her, I’m the one who wanted out and I had lots of guilt about that. I’ve also practiced yoga and meditation off and on since my teens.

    I’m 53 and probably older than most of you, I wasn’t jealous of her travels. I had my years of travel before I was married again and had children, and I traveled alot in before my first marriage. I was lucky enough to go see India and Italy and many other places. And hopefully I’ll travel again when hubby and I are retired and all the kids are out of the house. To those of you home with kids who might be jealous of her travels, I say don’t be. Nothing compares to the joys of family, at least for me.

    Was she whiney? Well, most of us middle class Americans have it pretty good, but we all still whine at times. Understandable. But I’m uncomfortable of the trend in society these days of “spirituality” being another commodity one needs, like a new car and house. and all it takes to get it is a few classes or a trip to an Ashram. Like, I said, I practice yoga and meditation and I’m also involved with my church (UCC). This gal spends a few months in India and POOF, she’s one with the cosmos. Give me a break.

    Remember, she knows at the get go that she’s writing a book about her experiences. It was all so self centered to me. And I wouldn’t be surprised if many of the events were only in her imagination. She was writing a book, people! If she had only been on these journeys for the journeys sake and LATER decided to write about it, I might feel differently.

    The other thing that bothered me, maybe b/c it reminded me of myself in my 30s, was her puppy dog need to be liked. She wants everyone to like her and approve of her. It was painful to read sometimes.

    So, while much of the book was entertaining, I didn’t find much “meaning” in it. Just a funny young woman who tells some funny stories, but gets boring sometimes with her self centeredness.

    My prediction is that Liz WILL have a child someday and she will turn into ubermom and then we all can read about how fulfilled she is (again.)

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  42. […] few Books on the Brain readers, some of whom left comments HERE and HERE, asked if I would post about the Eat, Pray, Love discussion at my book club meeting.  We had an […]

  43. […] reading the discussion on Books on the Brain regarding Eat, Pray, Love, I think Gilbert’s memoir would find a […]

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