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.