I Am Conflicted About Elizabeth Gilbert

I was walking the floor at Book Expo America (BEA) all by my lonesome, in between appointments and maybe staring into space a little bit, when I passed Elizabeth Gilbert signing her new novel The Signature of All Things at her publisher’s booth. The line was long and I hesitated, then moved on, only to frantically return in 15 minutes and get myself a copy.

I have CONFLICTED FEELINGS about Elizabeth Gilbert. I read Eat, Pray, Love, and while I thought her actual putting-words-in-sentences-in-nice-and-interesting-ways WRITING was really good, the subject matter was so annoying that I ended up turning my nose up at the book. A wealthy American white lady complaining about…what, exactly? The spirituality-lite? Leaving her husband because she doesn’t want to be married, then spending the rest of the book talking about men? Ergh.

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Except I could deal with it, apparently, because I didn’t fling the book away in disgust or even irritation. I finished it, thought about it, talked about it with other readers. Realized that judging the seriousness of someone else’s problems and the sincerity of their spiritual expression was probably a personality flaw of mine. Changed a little–all because of a book I kinda sorta didn’t even like.

Then I saw her TED talk, “Your Elusive Creative Genius,” and encountered the same sort of problem: the content is sort of hippy-dippy on the surface, but is actually full of interesting and thought-provoking points, and Gilbert’s way with words is engaging and unique. BUT ALL HER WHITE LADY PROBLEMS, UGH, talk about something other than yourself for once.

See also: Committed, the book she wrote after Eat, Pray, Love, all about how the government was forcing her to marry her not-American boyfriend and how she didn’t like that and how marriage is sort of weird, historically. She travels to a few native cultures and examines their marriage traditions, and cites a few studies about marriage, but mostly talks about how she has emotional baggage about it, etc. Again: the words! So great! The content: how much can one person talk about herself while pretending to not talk about herself? WHY DO I KEEP READING HER BOOKS? Why did I circle back around the BEA floor to get a copy of her novel and get a glimpse of her Oprah-lisciousness?

Because she’s fucking talented, that’s why. Because as I’ve evolved as a reader, an author’s personal foibles have become less important to me than their ability to put one word after another in a beautiful or interesting or new way. So I’ll read her new novel because I know she’s good at the words part, though a small part of me will be on the look out for whiny rich people problems sneaking their way into the story.

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Hold on, let me play you the world’s tiniest violin OK I KNOW THAT’S MEAN I’M SORRY.

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