On Reading “Eat Pray Love”

(Note to Readers: Is anyone besides me starting to think that rather than calling this blog “Dating In the Odyssey Years” I should perhaps have called it “Not Dating in the Odyssey Years, But Thinking About Someday Dating While Reading Bestselling Books by Elizabeth Gilbert”? Just wondering.)

There are a multitude of lame explanations for why I’ve gone this long without reading “Eat Pray Love.” They include: laziness, bitterness, and the persistent anxiety that there are other More Important Books that I am more ashamed of not having read.

But perhaps the most significant reason—as well as the most lame—has been my stubborn resistance to doing exactly what I did this morning: that is, being That Girl on the Plane Reading “Eat Pray Love.”

(I must tell you that my resistance was not helped by the fact that my friend and colleague D, who insisted—heroically—on getting up at a ridiculous hour to drive me to the airport, casually and sincerely mentioned in the car that he likes to read Dickens on airplanes; as I told him, this made me feel bad about myself not just because of my chosen travel book, but because I like to read Dickens exactly nowhere.)

Anyway. For a while I did kind of celebrate being one of the approximately twelve single white women under the age of fifty who had not read the book. Like a badge of anti-solidarity, or something.

But then, as you may recall, I saw and kind of fell in love with the woman who wrote “Eat Pray Love.” And for all of my frustrations with her new book, I would be lying if I said that I didn’t take great pleasure in reading it.

Plus: I am, after all, trying to be a writer. I am trying to be a writer with a style not terribly different from Elizabeth Gilbert’s. And, need it be said, I would not object to being a writer with popular and financial success not terribly different from hers either. Clearly—like anyone—I’d be ecstatic to achieve some small fraction of either one. Which means that trying to figure out how she got it is not a totally irrelevant exercise. In fact, it’s probably a worthwhile endeavor.

This, at least, is what I told myself this morning as I sat beside a mustached, middle-aged Texan shamelessly devouring his mystery novel and took comfort in the thought that: I may be That Girl on the Plane Reading “Eat Pray Love,” but at least I am That Girl on the Plane Reading “Eat Pray Love” With a Pen!

What was I doing with said pen, you ask? You know, making like a good MFA student and trying to read “from a craft perspective:” noting shifts in tense and structural strategies and underlining those sentences I found brilliant (on men in Rome: “They’re like show poodles. Sometimes they look so good I want to applaud.”) and those I found irritating (on a group prayer session to some obscure Indian guru: “I instead felt my soul rise diaphanous in the wake of all that chanting.”)

Mostly, though, I used that pen to signal—to no one, it would seem, but the oblivious passenger next to me—that I am not just another of the fifty million devoted and desperate women who read this book. I am special. I am different. I am reading this not for philistine pleasure—or, worse, because I too am desperate, though we all know by now that I am—but for lofty, artistic and practical purposes. I made sure to periodically pull out my Moleskine notebook to jot down thoughts for this blog as well as further reinforce this perception.

I made it through about three quarters of the book, but I may need to save the rest for my trip back to Albuquerque: I’m in New York for the weekend, and I’m not sure there are enough writing instruments or Moleskines within the five boroughs to make me truly, fully comfortable being That Girl reading “Eat Pray Love” on the Subway.



Filed under Love Life

9 responses to “On Reading “Eat Pray Love”

  1. wendy

    oh god how I hate Eat, Pray, Love. my mother lent it to me to get my opinions for the book club she was leading on it and love for my mother is the only reason I got past page 2. I found the author to be self-centered, unaware and ungrateful in the most grating of ways. My mother remarked “you haven’t had this much ire for a book since Vanity Fair”, but of course, that was fiction so it annoyed me less. My only vindication on my response to this novel is that the WWII era ladies in her book club had the same reaction. Maybe you’ll find more insight than I did and will be able to prevent being “That Girl” again by buying a Kindle.

    • Thank you for the Kindle suggestion – I did think of that while I was writing and forgot to mention! A whole other can of worms, I guess…
      I’m not sure I completely share your ire for the book, but I can understand what you speak of. I think she gets away with a lot of narcissism because she’s so completely honest, and people respond to that. But I’m not done yet!

    • Megan

      I am so glad to know I’m not the only one who hated this book! I rarely just absolutely dislike a book, but I came away from this book with absolute disdain for it and its writer. She seemed , like you said, “self-centered, unaware and ungrateful in the most grating of way” and I have not understood people’s fascination with her book. Maybe people relate to her conversationalist tone of writing, but I just got angrier the more I read.

  2. Julia

    I just read your article on NPR.org and really liked it. Just traveled to your blog and really like it as well! Must say I’ve still not read Eat, Pray, Love — and would just like to make a suggestion — perhaps 3/4 of the book is all you need to read 🙂 It’s still meeting some kind of requirement that you have tried it on to see if it fit… Thanks for the writing!

    • Thanks for the reading! Perhaps you’re right…we’ll see how much grading I get done: if there’s plane time left, I might need to see how it all turns out! (I mean, I know how it all turns out, but you know what I mean…)

  3. DG

    I also disliked Eat, Pray, Love. Don’t waste your time on it!!! there are better things to read!

  4. richard vargas

    elizabeth, just took the time to catch up on your posts. good stuff here. i really like how you are using the blog to cultivate an audience. your voice conveys a candid and honest tone, which goes a long way in establishing trust with the reader. and your wit is always a pleasure to read. (god, i sound like i’m back in the workshop. sorry.)
    i guess my question is: once you find a partner, and i have no doubt that you will, are you going to blog about him? just wondering how most guys would react to that. would he know beforehand what you are going to post about him? i suppose this is one of those “new”considerations we must think about with the advent of instant mass communication. i’ve read columns by famous writers (Dave Barry comes to mind) that poke fun of themselves and their mate, so i know it’s being done all the time. but a running commentary on a relationship in the fragile stages of two people just getting to know each other? just wondered about your thoughts on this…

    • Richard, thanks so much for reading and support and feedback. And: good question. I addressed this a little bit in my “On Dating While Blogging” post…but the truth is, I have no idea. I didn’t even mean to start this blog (I just wanted to build a website with links to my essays and then realized I have no idea HOW to build a website, so made it a blog…and now, as you can see, I can’t stop!) and I am taking it one day at a time. I think it depends on the person and the relationship and I agree that it would be difficult to embark on something with such constant scrutiny…but also, at this moment–and I realize that this is ironic–feel very far from being in a position to deal with this problem! So…no good answer, besides: I’ll cross that bridge then!

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