Monday, April 30, 2007

The best parts of Eat Pray Love

So. What was that I said about wanting to record passages from each book I read, to remind myself what I liked about it? Then I go and finish what is easily my favorite book so far this year (and probably of last year, too... and quite possibly of the year to come), and I neglect to write anything about it? I am not sure what's up with that. All I know is that my friend Sarah wants to borrow my copy of Eat Pray Love, and I don't really want to hand it to her with a bunch of Post-it flags still sticking out, so if I'm going to document this book in any way, I'd best be doing it now.

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.


Maliavale said...

I put this on hold at the library after your first mention of it. It's still not available -- so I think I'll go buy it tomorrow. Thanks.

sognatrice said...

I *have* to get this. In fact, I don't know why I don't have it yet. Thanks for sharing the passages :)

steve said...

My girlfriend picked up this book - I've now got dibs on it next.

Minneapolis' word: holycraptheclimatesucksasstenmonthsoutoftheyear

lizgwiz said...

Okay, I'm going to read this book. Soon.

Wouldn't Minneapolis' word just be "cold"? (Hee. Sorry. And, of course, I'm not talking about its residents!) And now I'm wondering what Tulsa's word would be. Hmm....

-R- said...

The word to describe Minneapolis is lakes!

NancyPearlWannabe said...

You have convinced me. It's now on hold at my local library. :)

stefanie said...

Malia--Yeah, I checked the library first, too, but I knew with a hold list that long, it would be months before I got to read it. So I picked it up in a store and read a few paragraphs, and it definitely pulled me in enough right away that I knew I'd have no buyer's remorse paying for my own copy.

Sognatrice--I don't know why you don't have it yet, either!! I was totally thinking of you through so much of the Italy part of the book. I think you will love it (if even just for that section).

Steve--Oh, come on now. It's not THAT bad here! Why don't you just move to California if you hate it so much. Oh. Yeah. Right... ;-)

Liz and R--I don't like having either the lakes or the cold be what defines us, but I don't have anything better yet, so fine; we'll go with one of your suggestions. :-)

NPW--Good. I hope you like it! Like I said, I do worry that I'm overselling it and your expectations will be too high... It was recommended to me by a friend who praised it highly, though, and I still loved it, and based on our recommendations, two other friends have read and loved it, so I hope it's a safe recommendation.

Noelle said...

Stefanie, I normally agree with you on things (especially grammar,) but I didn't really like this book. Parts of it were fun, and it made me crave pasta all day long, but mostly I just wanted to smack Elizabeth Gilbert in the mouth for being so whiny.

I only know one other person who didn't like this book (and every day I work in the bookstore at least ten people rave about it) and she didn't like it because her ex is friends with the author.

But what do I know, I tore through all the Harry Potters, and my favorite book of the year, "The Road" has a big ol' Oprah sticker on it.

Stargazer said...

It's funny cause since the first time you mentioned this book I have seen it EVERYWHERE! In the small book shop at the train station, two different women at opposite ends of the park were reading it this weekend, my Mum just called to tell me about a wonderful new book she just got... I feel like the universe is telling me to read this book!!! I had to skip over some of your post today as I don't want to spoil some of it, but just felt the need to tell you of all my signs. Have a great day!

stefanie said...

Noelle--I really hope I have never given the impression that anyone has to agree with anything I write here. (I mean, sure, I mock people mercilessly if they don't see things my way... ;-) I chastise people for small offenses like making their own parking space or driving too slow, but it's all in fun and venting, of course.) In other words, I respect your opinion and it's no skin off my back if you didn't like this one as much as I did. I read a few Amazon reviews from people who felt the same way as you. Personally, I didn't find it whiny, but maybe that's just because I thought she balanced the whiny parts with the scolding-herself-for-being-whiny parts and because overall, the book was about her getting over dwelling on the negative. Again, that's just my take, of course. You say to-may-toe; I say... well, I say to-may-toe too, actually. You know what I mean. ;-)

Stargazer--See? Like I said, it's EVERYWHERE. This would ordinarily make me not want to read it. But in this case, I'm glad I did.

L Sass said...

I am totally excited to read this book!

Prep will definitely be a nice change of pace for you, though. Eager to hear how you like it.

Noelle said...

I'm glad we can still be blog friends :) No accounting for taste, I guess... Although I'm right there with you on the bad parkers. I saw a jerk in a handicapped space yesterday who left his blinkers on. That's going to be a big help to the guy in the wheelchair who wants to park there.

guinness girl said...

You totally can't oversell this book - it was amazing. LOVE.


Oh, PS, I hated Prep.

cupcake said...

I enjoyed this book and made all my friends read it too, however, I felt it was a tad bit overrated and there were times I got annoyed with Ms. Gilbert in the last section. The ending seemed a bit clich├ęd, which is probably why I was a little disappointed. This being said, I did enjoy the first and second section of the book because she highlights how important it is to number one, HEAL and number two, do the work it takes to become the person you want to be. I agree with you though Stefanie, there is a great deal of good to be taken away from reading "Eat, Pray, Love".

alaya said...

i'm reading the book now at the italian part. and i love it!
i just don't like the part about her divorce. so depressing...

Anonymous said...

You don't need to be a 30-something to relate to this book. I'm well out of my thirties and find it as close to my heart as any book I've read. I love her story.

Heather said...

I LOVED Eat Pray Love AND I just read Twilight. :)

Trixie Racer said...

Please add the "Followers" option to your blog so I can get auto updates whenever you post to your blog on my own Dashboard. It allows readers to follow the blogs they like best with no effort at all.

The way to do this is:
Go to Dashboard and choose Layout
Click on Add a Gadget
Choose Followers
Drag and drop on page where ever who like
Done! :)