May 3rd, 2011


Eat. Pray. Love. Read.

 “In desperate love, we always invent the characters of our partners, demanding that they be what we need of them, and then feeling devastated when they refuse to perform the role we created in the first place.”
 - Elizabeth Gilbert, "Eat. Pray. Love."

As a self-admitted pedant and a book snob I’m a big believer that what you read defines who you are. And somewhat like in “High Fidelity” I judge compatibility with someone based on whether or not our favorite books would “even speak to each other if they met at a party.”

Back in the day when I was in denial about the bitterness I felt over a person from my past starting to date again, it made itself evident in a comment I made about the girl’s reading habit.
“So what is it that you two have in common?” I asked, as if really invested in his well-being. Though looking back I think I was doing a poor job masking my jealousy.
“Well, she reads a lot. And you know how much I appreciate that,” he offered naively. Or maybe purposely: to point out that, no, in fact I wasn’t the only girl that read, and actually I wasn’t “the only” girl that anything.
Surprised by just how much that stung, I spat out, “What exactly? Self-help books?”

Coming from me it was an insult, and it was interpreted as such. And frankly, I still feel that if to you “Men are from Mars. Women are from Venus.” then you should probably not go around telling people that you like reading. Maybe you can list unsuccessful book-shopping as a hobby. But not reading. Granted, you may someday graduate to grown-up books. But until then, don’t tell anyone that you read, because they just might ask you “what?”

Armed with this delightful open-minded approach I encountered Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat. Pray. Love.” a few years back when it had just come out. A friend was going through a tough divorce, and was clutching the book like it was a life raft. “Grow a backbone” I thought. “Is reading about some girl’s divorce and meanderings all over the world in search of her self really going to help you through this?” Besides, I thought, maybe if my friend got a book deal out of her divorce, things would be easier for her as well. Needless to say, I was skeptical when the book made The New York Times Bestseller list so many weeks in a row. And all the ooh-ing and ah-ing that accompanied the obvious financial success, the tossing around of words just as “self-discovery” and “emotional voyage” arose an absolute aversion in me. And then came the worst of all evils, the absolute death of a good book, the death sentence handed to a piece of art by making it into a piece of popular culture: the movie. Things went from bad to worse when it turned out that the author/the main character were to be played by Julia Roberts.

“Buh-bye Elizabeth Gilbert, it’s been nice not knowing you. Enjoy the cheesy movie and rolling around in all that dough…”

But then my writing instructor mentioned “Eat. Pray. Love.” in class as a good example of a successful pattern in a memoir book. The book, she said, was split into 3 sections: one for each country where the author had travelled. The 3 parts of the title each spoke of the experience she had had in each respective country. The number of chapters, 108, was split evenly among the 3 different sections: 36 each. And the total number of chapters wasn’t arbitrary either; it corresponded to the number of beads in a japa mala: traditional Hindu or Buddhist prayer beads that are used during prayer and meditation. Something akin to Western rosary beads.

Well, if you put things this way, I just may be curious enough to get the book. Although, Ms. Gilbert, don’t expect me to contribute to your amassed fortune – I bought the book used.

And even still, this was nothing more than just professional curiosity, seeing as we were learning about how to use pattern in our writing. But boy, was I surprised when I started to read and it dawned on me that I had dog-eared half of the first 50 pages. As reluctant as I still am to admit it, this book just may actually have some wisdom to it. Not only that, but also this wisdom comes to me at a time when it is most needed. I read and I see my thoughts reflected in the author’s thoughts, my worries and my internal battles ravaging somebody else’s mind, my conclusions finding the words to come to life through this book that I fought tooth and nail not to read.

The “Eat” section of the book, which describes Gilbert’s experience in Italy, I devoured in less than a day. “Pray”, detailing her life in an ashram in India, is going a little more slowly, mindfully. I find myself putting the book down and allowing myself to really muse on some thought or another quite frequently. I haven’t made it to Indonesia yet. But even if I get nothing more from this book, it’s already given me plenty. There were enough cues to initiate insight and churn my thoughts and direct them in the right channel. And I’m actually really glad that I was so adamant against reading this book before. That’s another little Liz Gilbert wisdom for you: all in its due time.

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Le Fabuleux Destin

The original foursquare

Just as everyone is going gaga over new technologies and trying to beat each other in the number of social networks, through which to proclaim their coolness, I wanted to remind people of the Four Square before there was foursquare.

Four Square by Franz Kline, National Gallery of Art