'Eat Pray Love' Book Club Discussion
After finally reading Elizabeth Gilbert's enormously popular 2006 memoir, Eat Pray Love, I could write an entire review about any one of these observations:
- The story embodies everything wrong with bourgeois Western spirituality: it's self-centered, consumerist, and privileged without even knowing it.
- Gilbert offers a self-made spirituality, one that encourages readers to "cherry-pick" whatever rituals from various traditions make them feel better, without examining those traditions' history or ways they flat-out contradict each other. For Gilbert, faith is primarily therapeutic, not theistic. And of course, her faith and mine clash on many points.
- If Gilbert talks the way she writes—(lots of parenthetical jokes) and ALL CAPS and italics!—she would exhaust me in about five minutes.
The book (whose film adaptation starring Julia Roberts comes out tomorrow) follows the newly divorced and seriously distraught writer on her trek to Italy, India, and Indonesia in search of psychic healing and spiritual insight. "Eat" takes place in Rome, where the 34-year-old savors the Italian language and an abundance of gelato, margherita pizza, and enough pasta to widen her waistline a couple blessed notches. "Pray" chronicles Gilbert's four-month stay in a secluded ashram in Muktananda, where she gets up at 3 every morning, learns how to chant Sanskrit and meditate for hours, and meets Richard, her "big Texas Yogi" friend, who always has a well-timed word of advice. "Love" follows Gilbert's stay in Bali, Indonesia, where—surprise—she falls for a significantly older, wealthy Brazilian named Felipe who calls her "darling" and makes tender love to her for days upon days.
Gilbert has a hard life.
And it would be easy for me to wax self-righteous and analytical about Eat Pray Love, which has spawned a slew of film-related products: a fragrance line, special tourist packages, a three-day blitz on the Home Shopping Network, even a phone app. Yet I wanted to approach this memoir with as open a mind and heart as possible. I wanted to assume the best about Gilbert, to see the goodness that one friend saw: "[U]nderneath many of Gilbert's Eastern-leaning articulations of theology and worldview is a deeply Christian narrative that involves a fall, a search for God, and an experience of divine grace that is taken not only for the self, but extended to others as well."
Whether Gilbert's memoir echoes the biblical story of creation, fall, and redemption is something to be discerned by Christian readers in community. But I think believers, perhaps women in particular, might glean at least one nugget of wisdom from Eat Pray Love:
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