For quite some time, I purposefully – and quite successfully I may add – avoided reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia. Before even picking it up, I stereotyped the book as a “chick flick” on paper. And to an extent I was right. It is, as the subtitle suggests, one woman’s search for everything. But what I didn’t expect when I picked up my copy during the Borders Books close out sale was that I, as a guy not interested in touchy-feely emotional journeys, could related to Gilbert’s travels.
I sighed as I opened the cover of Eat Pray Love. I had heard so many bad things, as well as a few good ones, about the book turned movie and I just wasn’t sure I wanted to get into another story I would only put down a hundred pages later. I suppose, though, that there was more to my mindset than that. As a friend recently told me on another topic, “When people hear about how great something is, they just want to tear it down. We can’t let anything get too big without our permission.” And I had yet to give Elizabeth Gilbert my permission. Not that my permission really matters at this point, she made it big off her New York Times bestseller, but my stamp of approval was nowhere to be found.
I tried to fight Gilbert’s words from the start. I didn’t want to read about such a great time she had traveling the world “finding herself.” I wanted to tear her down before I even gave her a chance. She grabbed me quickly, though, pouring out her soul as she discussed her personal hardships, the reasons for her year-long journey and Eat Pray Love. And while I have never gone through anything like she did, I was nonetheless able to relate to her. I have had and do have issues of my own from which I was able to draw compassion for her situation. The story really pulled me in and, within a few chapters, I was hooked on her journey of pleasure (Italy), devotion (India), and a balance between the two (Indonesia).
“It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else’s life with perfection,” explained Elizabeth Gilbert, talking about the ancient Indian Yogic text, the Bhagavad Gita. It was at this point, on page 95 of the movie cover version of the book – which received a protest from a friend, although the original cover was not available at the clearance sale – that I was hooked on Eat Pray Love. That single line struck a cord with me so deeply that it was virtually impossible to put the book down; every night, coming home from work, I would pick it up and read until I was about to fall asleep. And all that – excuse me while I get sappy – because, no matter how many idiotic things I’ve done in my life, I finally felt as though I had permission to be perfectly imperfect.
Elizabeth Gilbert’s journey of healing was once described to me by a friend as whiny. I had yet to finish Eat Pray Love when I heard this, but was instead in the middle of what she described as the whiniest part of the whole book. I could understand what my friend meant, but a strong sense of compassion for Gilbert had developed in me by this point and I was unable and unwilling to criticize her for pouring out her soul for the whole world to see. I could tell, despite the text being quite conversational and easy to read, that it was painful for her to put her journey on paper for the world to judge. At times she was obviously even downright frightened, but that only inspired me to stand by her even more.
I wouldn’t necessarily say that Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love was the best travel book I’ve ever read. Far from it, really. But I would admit that it is certainly high up on my list. It was a fantastic story on so many levels and it has so much to offer, that I would quickly recommend it to a select group of friends – it is not for everyone, there is no doubt about that, but for a select few who are willing to give it a chance, they will fall in love with it as I did. So, it is safe now to say, Eat Pray Love has received my personal stamp of approval.