Ordinarily I'm not a bandwagon-jumper when it comes to books. The fact that there were 77 holds on this book at the Minneapolis Public Library should have swayed me against wanting to read it just now, not made me run out and buy my own copy. I'm snooty and above-the-norm that way. I'm kidding, actually. (Mostly, anyway.) I did, after all, read The Da Vinci Code and the first Harry Potter book, just to see what all the fuss was about, and I own at least three paperbacks with the Oprah's Book Club stamp of approval on them. And as it turns out, with Eat Pray Love, 208 mostly very favorable reviews on Amazon can't, in fact, be wrong.
I worry a bit that I'm overselling this book. Expectation is everything, after all, and if you go into it expecting it to be amazing, your hopes might be too high. Case in point: Titanic. All of you who saw it after James Cameron's ego swelled to the size of all of North America easily scoffed and turned your nose up, but I swear if you'd seen it opening weekend, before the hype-wagons ran wild, you would have left the theater crying just like me. Shut up; you would too. Just trust me on this, OK? Anyway, my point is that I'm well aware of the dangers of over-exposure. And yet, while I was reading Eat Pray Love, I couldn't help but recommend it with unbridled enthusiasm to damn near everyone I met. So passionate was I about this book that I told a meMarmony date about it, and when I sent him a follow-up message after the date and forgot to provide a link reminding him of the title, I actually wanted to send another note days later to pass along that info. Never mind that he hadn't replied to the first message and therefore obviously wanted nothing more to do with me. I didn't care about that; I just wanted him to be able to read this book, dammit!
Anyway, a brief summary, in case you aren't familiar with the premise of this one. Eat Pray Love is essentially a travel memoir, but it documents not just Elizabeth Gilbert's literal journey through Italy, India, and Indonesia (in search of pleasure, devotion, and balance), but also her journey through a bitter and painful divorce and a thirty-something crisis of self that is not entirely unrelatable to me (or many other thirty-somethings I know). It's a book about travel and culture and spirituality, but it's about a lot more than that, too. It's about accepting yourself and honoring your instincts. It's about letting go of emotional pain and baggage and finding peace even without any really satisfying sense of closure. It's about pursuing what makes you happy (and realizing that what makes you happy might be entirely different from what makes anyone around you happy). It's about bucking convention and figuring things out as you go. It's about realizing that spirituality and religion are not one in the same, and that God need not be a distant and separate-from-you thing. Oh, and it's also laugh-out-loud funny in parts, which was something I wasn't particularly expecting at first.
While I was reading this book, I felt happier and more at peace than I've felt at any point in recent memory, but it didn't immediately occur to me that I might have the book's influence to thank. I've also suddenly got an incredible urge to take a trip (a trip by myself, no less--something I've never done before), but it's much less of a stretch to realize where that urge came from, of course.
I was going to type out some favorite passages, as I've done with other books this year, but most of the passages I flagged as I read either lose their impact out of context or are far too long to quote. This list of notes and quotes is for my own reference, then, not for you specifically. (Sorry.) For my own ease in follow-up later, here are some of the parts I loved...
- The explanation in Chapter 15 of just why Italian is the most beautiful language in the world.
- Gilbert's description (on pages 62-63 of the first paperback edition) of how she had to declare a "pleasure major" in Italy--forgoing fashion, opera, cinema, skiing, fancy cars, and even art, to focus on a double major "in speaking and eating (with a concentration on gelato)."
- The description of Italian men on pages 66-67: "They're like show poodles. Sometimes they look so good I want to applaud... [They] force me to call upon romance novel rhapsodies in order to describe them." And yet, how there's been a shift in Italy in the last ten to fifteen years, so that these beautiful men no longer leer and pester women like they did for generations. "It seems Italian men have earned themselves the Most Improved Award," Gilbert writes.
- Gilbert's amusing struggles with learning a new language: "I work hard at Italian, but I keep hoping it will one day just be revealed to me whole, perfect. One day I will open my mouth and be magically fluent. Then I will be a real Italian girl, instead of a total American who still can't hear someone call across the street to his friend Marco without wanting instinctively to yell back 'Polo!'"
- The theory that every city in the world has a word that fully encapsulates it (Rome's is "sex," apparently), and my inability to decide what Minneapolis's word would be.
- Gilbert's thoughts (in Chapter 30) on having children ("Not all the reasons to have children are the same, and not all of them are necessarily unselfish. Not all the reasons not to have children are the same, either, though. Nor are all those reasons necessarily selfish."), and her acknowledgment (p. 95) that to step out of the cycle of family and continuity leaves you wondering what your purpose is or what measure you're to use to judge your success as a human being.
- Richard-from-Texas's explanation of what a soul mate really is (p. 149): "People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that's what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that's holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change you life. A true soul mate is probably the most important person you'll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then they leave. And thank God for it."
- The story in Chapter 50 that demonstrates we all brood; we all have some eighth-grade-caliber boy trouble keeping us up at night. The example that even Cambodian refugees who'd just been through the worst a human can endure wanted to talk to a therapist not about torture or starvation, but about relationships and lost loves. "This is what we are like," Gilbert writes. "Collectively, as a species, this is our emotional landscape.... There are only two questions that human beings have ever fought over, all through history. How much do you love me? and Who's in charge? Everything else is somehow manageable."
- The importance of choosing your thoughts (p. 178): "You need to learn how to select you thoughts just the same way you select what clothes you're gonna wear every day. This is a power you can cultivate. If you want to control things in your life so bad, work on the mind. That's the only thing you should be trying to control... On first glance, this seems a nearly impossible task. Control your thoughts? Instead of the other way around? But imagine if you could?"
- Gilbert's answer to those who've fallen away from religious teachings or been unable to commit to one religion's school of thought. "You don't want to go cherry-picking a religion," a friend of hers once said. Gilbert's reply: "Which is a sentiment I completely respect expect for the fact that I totally disagree. I think you have every right to cherry-pick when it comes to moving your spirit and finding peace in God. I think you are free to search for any metaphor whatsoever which will take you across the worldly divide whenever you need to be transported or comforted... You take whatever works from wherever you can find it, and you keep moving toward the light." (p. 208)
- The theory (p. 260) that all the sorrow and trouble of this world is caused by unhappy people. "Not only in the big global Hitler-n-Stalin picture, but also on the smallest personal level... I can see exactly where my episodes of unhappiness have brought suffering or distress or (at the very least) inconvenience to those around me. The search for contentment is, therefore, not merely a self-preserving and self-benefiting act, but also a generous gift to the world."
There's a lot more, of course, but as I said, I'm well aware these scattered notes aren't likely terribly helpful to anyone but me. So read this one yourself (or, you know, don't). If you love it half as much as I did, it won't be time ill spent.