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