Eat, Pray, Ask …

Have you read Eat, Pray, Love?  And if so, did you like it?

Here’s why I’m asking: I had one of the weirdest reading experiences of my life with that book.

Eat,_Pray,_Love_–_Elizabeth_Gilbert,_2007As you probably know, Eat, Pray, Love is a best-selling memoir written by Elizabeth Gilbert.   Following the demise of her marriage, she embarks on a journey of self-discovery that covers several countries and nine months.   She spends three months in Italy, where she dedicates herself to an appreciation of food; three months in an ashram in India, where she studies and practices meditation;  and three months in Indonesia, where she focuses on love (or so I have heard.  I did not actually get that far).

Before I go further, let me say that I honestly hesitated to write this post.  I mean, I’m an author too; I know how hard it is to read criticism of your writing.   But the fact is, I’m honestly curious about the fact that I did not get into this book.  I’d like to figure out why I didn’t.  I’d also love to hear from folks who did like it.

Here’s my story: a friend lent me this book , and I was eager to dive in.  The first section , where Gilbert describes the end of her marriage, her emotional breakdown, her reaching for spirituality, totally gripped me.  It’s not easy to expose your inner self that completely; I was rooting for her and pulling for her and utterly along for the ride.  She went to Italy; she ate a lot of good food; her descriptions made me hungry.  But then, slowly, almost without noticing it, I started to lose interest in the book.

I followed her to India.  I got halfway through her stay in the ashram and her description of the struggles of meditating … and then I realized that I had absolutely no interest in reading further.  I ran out of steam, totally and completely.  Never before have I started to care so little about a book that initially gripped me.

And I’m wondering why.

Part of me has to admit that yes,  there is a leetle bit of jealousy here.   I’ve traveled too, and I loved it, and I’d adore the chance to spend nine months finding myself in foreign countries.  And the snarky part of me says, “Okay, give me a huge advance to spend nine months abroad and write about it, and I’ll go have intense spiritual experiences too.”

But that is Bad Ginny talking.  Even aside from those petty thoughts, though, there was something about the book that just started to leave me cold.  And the more I’ve thought about it and talked to others about it, the more I’ve realized that it’s this: The book just does not relate to my life.

Yes, I eat, and I pray, and I love (granted, I do too much of the first, and not enough of the last two).  That said, I do all three as a working mom who never seems to have enough time to spend on myself.  And reading a memoir by someone who has the leisure to focus totally on herself for nine months just felt too far from my life to feel meaningful.  As a friend of mine said, “I don’t need to hear about how to find yourself in an ashram.  I need to hear how to find yourself when you are changing diapers and sweeping Cheerios off of the floor.”  That’s not to say that I can only enjoy books written by other harried working moms; far from it.  But the premise of this book just felt too remote for me to really enjoy it. Even those of us who don’t have kids have jobs, parents, friends, significant others, worship communities; we are connected to other people in significant and profound ways.  And we have to figure out who we are in the context of those relationships.  Putting it all on hold for nine months is not, for the majority of us, an option.  When I’m looking for inspiration, I want to hear how people do it in the midst of the staff meetings and the grocery shopping and the eleventh-hour trips to the post office to mail birthday gifts for your nieces.  That’s something I can relate to.

This is why the book didn’t do it for me.  It’s  my best guess, anyhow. And maybe I was too hasty to give up.  Maybe, if I’d kept reading, I’d have found something there that really resonated with me.

So I’d love to hear your thoughts: Did you feel the same way I did?  Or is there something about the book that I missed?

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