I’ve been reading Eat Pray Love. And I’ve been really embarrassed by it. And I hate myself for that.
My time to read is primarily in transit, or in bed. Usually I’m not fussed by who watches me read on public transport, but this last week has been really tough for me. The first in-public session with this book happened at the Melbourne Writers Festival, where I went to a café that I felt confident nobody I knew would go to, then I felt the need to Tweet my excuse for reading it, as a preventative measure – just in case someone I knew walked in.
The excuse is that it’s a work thing – I’m reviewing Elizabeth Gilbert’s forthcoming historical fiction novel for The Big Issue, and in order to write about it in context I need to know what Elizabeth Gilbert’s other work is like, especially Eat Pray Love, because it was so wildly successful. This doesn’t change the fact that I already had a copy on my shelf which I’ve “been meaning to get to” for six months or more. Someone I respect a lot told me that it’s really not that bad, and I wanted to test this out for myself. I’m also a big believer in having to read the bad books to hate them sufficiently and articulately. Without reading Twilight I’d never have known that repetitive phrases like “topaz eyes” and the fact that everyone in Forks “lopes” everywhere are just little indicators of really clunky writing. I’d also not have known that I’d race through the book, the pages practically turning themselves. Wildly popular books become wildly popular for a reason – I’ve said all this before.
On the tram, reading Eat Pray Love, I found myself holding the book against my lap, or tilting it forwards in such a way that anyone near me could see the pages, but had absolutely no hope of seeing the title. A few weeks ago I saw an old lady who’d covered her book in a makeshift slip made of junk mail. I considered this tactic briefly, and decided that doing this post-Fifty Shades tells people that you’re reading erotica, and you’re ashamed of it. To be honest, I’ve read erotica on public transport, and I was fine with it. Eat Pray Love was a more embarrassing experience..
I got a little out of the book I didn’t see coming, but it mainly lived up to my expectations. Elizabeth Gilbert reads as privileged and hard to relate to, and her ‘transformation’ from privileged woman in the US to privileged woman in Italy, India and Indonesia didn’t exactly change my life or make me feel empowered. This is what I expected. I didn’t expect to enjoy bits of it, like her record of ashram life in India – this is where she seems to touch a little on the wider-world awareness that the rest of the book lacks.
What I got mostly out of reading it though, is the fact that I’m an incurable book-snob. Tipping my book away from fellow commuters lest they judge me, I knew this said more about me than it did about them. I’d pre-judged this book and its readers – it doesn’t matter whether I was right about the book or not.
So I didn’t love your book, Elizabeth Gilbert, but I’m not sorry for that. I am sorry for thinking myself above it, and for deciding I knew what it was before opening it. I don’t want to be a person who draws lines around what’s worthy without consideration.
I will continue to read bad books, listen to bad music, and watch bad films just to be sure.
11/09/2013 at 9:20 pm
I love this post. I once ripped the cover off a book to read on public transport because it was something like ‘Living with Verbal Abuse’ or ‘The Single Woman’s Guide to Sex’ (it was *either* one of those, not one of). And I never defile my books. I’ve also avoided reading Eat Pray and turned up my nose at it. But Elizabeth Gilbert’s Ted talk, which was excellent, made me think: hmmm, maybe I should read it. But I just can’t bring myself to even buy it.
11/09/2013 at 9:28 pm
YES! Her TED talk is great, isn’t it?
I do love to see the ways people hide their reading in public, I think ereaders solve a lot of problems in that respect.
I’m a ways into her new book, it’s not bad. It’s definitely not Eat Pray Love. 🙂
12/09/2013 at 9:48 am
Ah but then I can’t bring myself to do the e-Reader either because I poo poo that as well. Betwixt and between. Happy BD by the way, for the blog.
12/09/2013 at 10:01 am
That is a pickle. I don’t entirely embrace ereaders, but they are functionally helpful in situations like this one…
Thanks for the well-wishes, Jenny.
12/09/2013 at 12:29 am
Go ahead: be a book snob proudly. I am such a book snob I won’t even read the book!
12/09/2013 at 1:02 am
Going through this very same thought process now, while reading David Marr’s book on Tony Abbot. It horrifies me that anyone on the tram might think it’s a glowing paean to Abbott. So I defaced his pic on the cover. (It also just felt really good to give him a stupid goatee and glasses.)
12/09/2013 at 8:35 am
Haha! This is brilliant. Good fix to a tricky situation.
12/09/2013 at 5:17 pm
I definitely relate to this (although I absolutely loved Eat, Pray, Love) but I try not to be ashamed of my guilty pleasure things.
01/10/2013 at 10:47 am
In Japan they sell book sleeves just for that purpose.
Read ‘Commitment’, it’s a much better written book than ‘Eat Pray Love’ (which I didn’t hate but irked me due to its histrionics). I actually received ‘Commitment’ in a vollie goodie bag at the Sydney Writers’ Festival so figured it must’ve been okay and it was actually very good writing.
01/10/2013 at 6:42 pm
I’ll have to check Daiso (Japanese $2 shop popping up all over Melbourne) and see if they have any. This sounds sensible.
Glad ‘Commitment’ improved her writing – The Signature of All Things’ writing was much better than Eat Pray Love, so she’s clearly evolved as a writer, I’m just not a huge fan.