One Man’s Odyssey into ‘Eat, Pray, Love’

Travel Books: Elizabeth Gilbert's best-selling trans-global travel book is a fun read -- but don't expect Rolf Potts to embrace the fantasy

02.11.08 | 1:33 PM ET

Eat, Pray, Love coverLet’s pretend, for purely rhetorical purposes, that I—an American male journalist—wrote a travel book about a quest for sensuality and spiritual growth. Let’s say that the plot of my book could be briefly summarized as follows:

As I enter my 30s, I find myself emotionally unsatisfied. I have achieved professional success as a writer, I own a new house, and my wife is ready to have kids, but somehow it all just feels wrong in a way I can’t quite identify. Thus befuddled—and given to random jags of weeping and self-pity—I elect to assuage my unhappiness by shacking up with a cuter, younger writer-actress woman from New York.

Soon, I come to love the cute, young writer-actress in a way I could never love my wife. But then, due to social and personal uncertainty, I start picking fights with the writer-actress, who isn’t reciprocating my emotional intensity or sexual appetite. Meanwhile, my wife is making the divorce contentious because (for reasons I can’t seem to fully grasp) she is angry, and wants my assets and royalties. Since sparring with the increasingly disinterested writer-actress isn’t yielding the love and satisfaction I want from the relationship, I decide—amid further jags of weeping and self-pity—to settle my divorce, quit my job, take a year off and wander the world in search of sensual pleasure and spiritual epiphany.

I start by going to Italy, where I eat a lot of pasta, drive around and take some naps. I also study the language with a cute, younger Italian woman, and I frequently fantasize about having sex with her and her equally cute twin sister. I extol the virtues of these Italian women, who know how to treat their men—selflessly lavishing them with love and making them the center of attention. I pointedly ponder how nice it would be if the American women in my life had had the awareness to treat me that way. 

At the end of my Italian sojourn, I shell out for a new wardrobe and go to India to explore spirituality. Once in India, I go directly from the airport to an ashram to study meditation under the guidance of a Guru. I occasionally ponder the terrible poverty of India outside the ashram walls, but I can’t bring myself to actually leave the retreat for any substantial period of time because I’m enjoying my meditation studies—and travel in India can be darned uncomfortable! Fortunately, neglecting to experience the cultural context of my spiritual discipline does not keep me from having many fabulous spiritual epiphanies. Slowly, I see that I am learning tons about how to better live through a life that has been lacerated with the painful emotional legacy of success, wealth and leisure.

I end my journey by looking for “balance” in Bali, where I make many charming friends who constantly assure me how handsome and wonderful I am (one of them is poor—so I raise money to buy him a house, but I’m forced to get tough with him when he tries to finagle more money out of me). I have a wise old Guru in Bali, too, but I eventually stop seeing this Guru because I meet a lovely Brazilian divorcee businesswoman who wants nothing more than to have sex all day, drone on about how handsome I am and make declarations of unconditional love. 

Finally happy, I congratulate myself for having the inner fortitude to travel into the world and solve my problems.

Do you think American women would embrace this book and turn it into a bestseller? Or do you think American women would react with hostility at such a self-absorbed, culturally oblivious and vaguely sexist narrative? No doubt it would be the latter reaction—and I would be reduced to dodging rotten fruit at book readings.

Reverse the genders on this synopsis, however—turn the protagonist female—and you get the essential (if somewhat snarkily summarized) plot of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, the best-selling American travel narrative of the last couple years. Since an enthusiastic female readership has driven the success of “Eat, Pray, Love,” it’s tempting to conclude that women have serious double standards when it comes to defining acceptable behavior. 

Of course, part of the reason Gilbert’s book is so popular is that she writes with charm and insight, even as she presents herself as an imbalanced and not entirely sympathetic narrator. What might be derided as a cliched and blatantly male “mid-life crisis narrative” seems honest and soulful when distilled through the sensibilities a woman. Through such a raw and fallible self-portrayal, Gilbert allows female readers to vicariously examine their own lack of satisfaction in their lives—and ponder how travel might bring them spiritual balance. (For men, who are less likely to empathize, reading “Eat, Pray, Love” is like traveling the world with a lovely and intelligent girlfriend who can’t stop talking about herself: You’ve come to admire this woman—and you wish the best for her—but you wish she’d stop yapping about emotional minutiae so you could both look out and enjoy the scenery from time to time.)

At this point, I could probably dust off some evolutionary psychology and examine all manner of male/female behavioral expectations, but I think this is less about behavior than the difference in how men and women read. In “Why We Read Fiction,” cognitive literary critic Lisa Zunshine argues that the pleasure of reading fiction is that it “lets us try on different mental states.” According to Zunshine, women read more novels than men do because novels explain people’s behavior through their feelings, beliefs, thoughts and desires. “They want to experience other ‘minds in action’—which is another way of defining ‘empathy’—much more than men do,” she writes.

Even though Zunshine was referring to fiction, the same idea could be applied to travel literature: In broad demographic terms, men like their travel protagonists to pursue outward journeys and physical challenges; women prefer the traveler’s inner journey, her emotional challenges. Thus, for those seeking a vicarious emotional experience, “Eat, Pray, Love” reads like a survival tale, every bit as harrowing and inspirational as a north-face ascent of K2. 

So while Gilbert’s tale is nonfiction, the appeal of “Eat, Pray, Love” lies in its sense of fantasy. Around the middle of the 20th century, pulpy American men’s magazines published what has come to be known as “adventure porn”—breathlessly told tales that involved hairy-chested men fighting crocodiles, exploring rivers and surviving diseases in far-off lands. Women characters didn’t figure much in these stories, unless they were helpless victims, hot-blooded savage-vixens or hookers. Though this era of men’s travel writing has been ridiculed, these stories no doubt lent a sense of escape to the working stiffs who read them—men who weren’t likely to ever leave the country, but enjoyed the vicarious problem-solving that came with the pulpy adventure.

The legacy of “adventure porn,” I think, is not the kind of adventure writing you see in Outside magazine, but books like “Eat, Pray, Love.” Instead of wrestling crocodiles in distant lands, our protagonist wrestles despair; instead of exploring rivers, she explores emotions; instead of surviving disease, she survives heartbreak. Men occasionally appear in this survivor’s tale, but they are as one-dimensional as adventure-porn wenches, and mainly serve as a sounding board for the protagonist’s feelings. When these men are giving our heroine love and help, she gushes with admiration; when they can’t intuit her emotional needs, she reacts with despair (and vague contempt). Rarely does she ponder what—besides emotional availability to her—might motivate these men in day-to-day life. 

Fortunately, I don’t think women read “Eat, Pray, Love” as a prescription for practical behavior. As with adventure porn, the pleasure of reading lies in its vicarious problem solving—the passive joy of projecting yourself into the protagonist’s shoes, pondering how you might hold up from situation to situation, and hanging on for the happy ending.

Call it “travel porn for women.” Just don’t expect me to relate.


Columnist Rolf Potts is the author of Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel, and Marco Polo Didn't Go There: Stories and Revelations From One Decade as a Postmodern Travel Writer. His stories have appeared in National Geographic Traveler, the New York Times Magazine and Conde Nast Traveler, as well as in “The Best American Travel Writing.”


49 Comments for One Man’s Odyssey into ‘Eat, Pray, Love’

Justin 02.11.08 | 4:54 PM ET

Although I’ve never read Gilbert’s book, I think the male version of “Eat Pray Love” has got to be Michael Crichton’s “Travels” which I thoroughly enjoyed—though for reasons I can’t quite pinpoint.

Your line: “You’ve come to admire this woman—and you wish the best for her—but you wish she’d stop yapping about emotional minutiae so you could both look out and enjoy the scenery from time to time,” describes “Travels” to a T.

Stacy 02.11.08 | 5:29 PM ET

Until I read the negative reviews on Amazon, I thought I was the only woman who didn’t like this book.  I didn’t even finish it, as that was the best way to stop the “yapping”.  Great review.

Julia Ross 02.11.08 | 6:47 PM ET

Stacy, you are not alone. Not for a moment did I find this book soulful or insightful. The only person I empathized with was the ex-husband. Thanks Rolf - a deft summary.

Amy T 02.11.08 | 7:03 PM ET

O, c’mon.

I might not ever backpack across Alaska, but I can enjoy reading Into the Wild. Staying in an Ice Hotel might seem like the lamest thing in the world to me, but I will savor every page of Palace of the Snow Queen.

Isn’t the whole point of reading that it can allow you to consider and understand experiences that you might never know in your “real” life?

If millions of women (and men) are reading this book, there’s a reason for it. Speaking from experience, I can say it’s not because it’s PORN.

I read EPL on a trip during which I was contemplating divorce myself. I knew what Gilbert was writing to be very true.

Maybe the haters are, like, happily married?

Don’t be a hater!

Eva Holland 02.11.08 | 9:12 PM ET

Hmmm. I enjoyed the snarky synopsis almost as much as I enjoyed the book! And despite agreeing with some of the points made here, this review hasn’t changed my enjoyment of Eat, Pray, Love.

My first quibble is with the female double-standard in defining acceptable behaviour.

“Do you think American women would embrace this book and turn it into a bestseller? Or do you think American women would react with hostility at such a self-absorbed, culturally oblivious and vaguely sexist narrative? No doubt it would be the latter reaction—and I would be reduced to dodging rotten fruit at book readings.”

Neither, really. “Self-absorbed, culturally oblivious and vaguely sexist narrative” could describe any number of wildly popular series of novels and movies that are aimed primarily at men - let’s start with James Bond and go on from there - but with the exception of the odd shot from Bitch Magazine, women generally just ignore these phenomena.

My second quibble is with the “adventure porn” comparison.

“Men occasionally appear in this survivor’s tale, but they are as one-dimensional as adventure-porn wenches, and mainly serve as a sounding board for the protagonist’s feelings.”

Firstly, I think you’re underplaying the male characters in this story a little bit. The Texan at the Ashram - I’ve forgotten his name, and my copy is making the rounds - felt pretty real to me, as did Luca Spaghetti (I could never forget his name) and the Italian twin. David and the ex-husband are, I think, shadowy out of necessity and good taste. Could you bring your most recent ex-loves to life on the page in every ugly detail? And even if you could, would you?

I also think you’re overplaying Eat, Pray, Love’s connection to “adventure porn” - or, to put it another way, underplaying that genre’s connection to ALL modern travel narratives. Female characters - heck, any minor characters, really - tend to be foils or cartoons in almost any major travel narrative these days, from Bill Bryson’s Mrs. Smegma in Notes from a Small Island to Paul Theroux’s three young hookers that just want him to buy them a plate of potatoes and a soda, in Dark Star Safari. (In fact, you could writea credible English Lit thesis about the “gritty” travel narrative and the inevitable appearance of the hooker with a heart of gold.)

(In fact, if Bill Bryson wasn’t happily married, I WOULD read his version of “Eat, Pray, Love” - no judgments of sexism or anything! Because, like Gilbert, he would be funny and self-deprecating, and it wouldn’t come across as sleazy or exploitative.)

Lastly, I don’t think that people’s enjoyment of the book comes just from a vicarious emotional rollercoaster, where they get to try on all sorts of wacky and distressing situations for a chapter or two, but from the way it speaks directly to their own, very real experiences. Elizabeth Gilbert absolutely nails the experience of a relationship (or two) crumbling, and her treatment of depression - that would be the “jags of weeping and self-pity” - is likely to resonate with anyone who’s experienced, or watched a loved one experience, that sort of suffering.

Courtney 02.12.08 | 1:09 AM ET

I completely agree with the criticism.  Although I found the travel aspect of the book interesting, I found her annoying.  Even more so because she makes a stand for women being able to live without men and without having children in the beginning (a choice made by some) only to ditch that “life choice” the minute a rich man with an accent takes an interest in her.

Waimea 02.12.08 | 1:47 AM ET

An excellent review by Potts.  I found the author articulate, skillful, at times quite entertaining, and utterly shallow.  She’s manipulated a host of fantasies for women who don’t have her money or leisure. A food-spiritual-sex tourist is still a tourist, never a traveler.

RayC 02.12.08 | 2:49 AM ET

As a man, I thoroughly enjoyed EPL - as I did reading the review! I think what Potts is doing with this review is precisely what Lisa Zunshine says the pleasure of literary fiction is - i.e. it “lets us try on different mental states.”

B. C. McDonald 02.12.08 | 1:14 PM ET

I am amazed to read a review of a book that I tried to read because so many women urged it on me.  I got stuck twice, then picked it up again after weeks or months, wondering, What am I missing that all of these other people see and rhapsodize about?

The book was shallow and self-indulgent.  At times, I shuddered with embarrassment for a woman who just had to share her tummy-gazing with the world.  Charming?  Articulate?  Not to me.  Vapid and facile are better descriptors.  She wrote that book to sell; it was apparent from the earliest pages.

I never got with her to Bali—I was too mortified as a female to share even my gender with a person who drew such an empty portrait of India.

I heard via bush telegraph that she married a South American dude and is living the American dream.

Patrick Farrell 02.12.08 | 5:34 PM ET

I’ve seen the comparison of pulp romance to pornography before, and the claim that they share the qualities of escapism and fantasy. I have no dispute with your finding these qualities in the book under review. But as you are apparently well read in, if not sympathetic to “travel porn for women,” I wonder if you’ve had a chance to see any “sex porn for men”?

What sort of external stimuli and problem solving do you see us men so curious about? I guess the fantasy and escape involved in masturbating to ‘sex porn for men’ does have the “outward journeys and physical challenges” you’re talking about.

In any case, breathless tales of solitary-man adventurism - hairy chested and hooker hounded no less - have roots dating a little farther back then their appearance in pulp form. Gilgamesh anyone? Come to think of it, travel porn for men also seems to predate the fairer and shallower sex’s feeble jaunts into the genre.

Think of Robert Pirsig’s John Nash-esque journey into divine self-absorption and intellectual glory. Let’s see if it meets some of your criteria, reading “Pirsig” for “protagonist”: “Instead of wrestling crocodiles in distant lands, our protagonist wrestles despair”, while other characters “mainly serve as a sounding board for the protagonist’s feelings.” Sounds similar.

Patrick 02.12.08 | 8:28 PM ET

I just finished reading “How to Talk About Books you Haven’t Read” Pierre Bayard, Raincoast Books, and I think,
“Eat, Pray, Love” is clearly intended to be just what it is; a copy of the kind of book that the reviewer has constructed.

John M. Edwards 02.12.08 | 8:31 PM ET

Hi Rolf:

I haven’t read the book “Eat, Pray, Love,” but it sounds a little derivative. What comes to mind, methinks, is “Eat, Drink, Man, Woman.” The cover resembles a Hallmark Card. Or a “secret” bodice-ripping romance.

If I was flat out on my back with a hangover, guzzling soda to replenish my body water content, I suppose I’d idly flip through a book that promises not to push the boundaries too much.

I doubt I have time to read it, though. But it is indeed occasionally nice, only time to time, mind you, to half-read about “emotions” (you know, flowers and candy and stuff) rather than, as you say, “wrestling crocodiles.”

Anyway, I don’t mean to be mean, but my book proposal “Three Months in Gascony” was carefully peeled from the slushpile and slamdunked into the trash barrel—all because of a chance resemblance to “A Year in Provence.” So we’re not sure, yet, if derivative works, without a punchline, sell like hot cakes or not.

And, Rolf, could you e-mail me the address of your literary agent?

Megan Hicks 02.13.08 | 2:17 AM ET

I have to admit, the first part of the book was difficult for me to get through, I was like, “ok, got it, you’re depressed.” But as she left Italy I was more intrigued. I totally disagree with what the guy was saying, it’s an interesting and humorous take on the book, but let’s face it, unfortunately we live in a man’s world.  And if we want to go out and be with younger, better looking, foreign men then we deserve it! Men have been doing this for years and now it’s our turn! And really, it’s just about her life, who are we to judge?

Michelle Jay 02.13.08 | 5:37 AM ET

Put out a book like this and you’re inviting people to judge. Of course, if all you want is unalloyed admiration that’ll annoy you.

I have no objection to us our own version of porn in the shape of romance bodice-rippers and travel porn. Just gets a bit embarrassing when we then get moralistic about men’s.

Simon Smith 02.13.08 | 12:18 PM ET

The book you describe at the top of your article is a pretty accurate summary of Henry Miller’s entire oeuvre. The difference seems to be that women’s fantasies are travel porn, men’s the status of art. Who cares if you can relate to the book or not? It wasn’t written for you?

Peggy 02.13.08 | 2:37 PM ET

I am relieved to find other people who disliked Eat, Pray, Love as much as I did. I thought Gilbert, tiresome, whinging, and a wordy writer to boot.

Some have said the success of this book is a result of mass marketing rather than masses reading it. I think it was a marketing phenomenon first. It was hard to find when a literary agent recommended it to me last June. Then, a few months later, the book was everywhere! The public loves reading whatever everyone else is reading, whether or not it is good.

I could not finish it—too shallow for my taste.

leslie 02.13.08 | 3:24 PM ET

Well, good. When I read EPL, I thought I was the only woman in the world who didn’t like it. And I think it is worth considering how readers would feel if the same point of view came from a man.

paula 02.13.08 | 3:51 PM ET

Blah—the title alone is enough to make me retch. (the review was super-fun, though). What ever happened to witty women of substance?  Let’s everyone pick up some Jane Austen.

Peggy at Serendipity Traveler 02.13.08 | 10:27 PM ET

It seems this book succeeds in
coming alongside many women who have had
relationship issues in which perhaps they do not yet know themselves, point the blame to the other and push the esacpe button. It is hard to look in the mirror at yourself, it is easier in the short run to run, i wonder about the long run success of the short term commitments that proliferate today.
Do self absorbed women ever acquire emotional maturity and intelligence, do they ever get to know a deeper true self?
If mothers still allow daughters to play with barbie dolls we will always have books like this one which demean the very words woman and love.

John M. Edwards 02.14.08 | 6:02 PM ET

Hi Again:

I’ve changed my mind. I’ll drop a copy of Lizzy Gilbert’s book in my Amazon cart, I don’t know, say, maybe tomorrow, I guess.

It is indeed Valentine’s day, and this mere trifle or peccadillo might make a potentially good gift, in lieu of a chocolate sampler, or that mouthwatering fruitcake delivered by UPS, for that hot bod waitress I’ve been vaguely eyeing for the past several months.

I know that all I have to do is suit up, adjust the clichéely jaunty chapeau at a discreet angle on my oversize noggin, stuffed with cranial juice and computer-perfect powers of perception, then arrive like jack lightning upon the doorstop of my belle, book in hand, for the you know what of.

John M. Edwards 02.15.08 | 11:57 PM ET

Hi Yet Again:

While I was trying to find E. Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love” online, I suddenly wondered if she might in fact be related to Melissa Gilbert from “Little House on the Prairie.”

Emboldened, I tried to Ask-Jeeves a review. As I foodled around the book-swapping cognocyberi, I came across some fat f—- from Alabama on Amazon, with exactly my same name, who fancied himself a book reviewer.

I’ve never met the so-called Alabaman John M. Edwards, but I exploded with rage that some tripped out doppelganger might be pretending to be me at local oyster festivals. I hope this is not some ingenious ploy to blatantly practice ID theft, with a hack and a wheeze.

susiej 02.16.08 | 7:06 PM ET

What a brilliant review of a book.  This book left me wondering why it had been coined in the media as a “self-help book” on how to find yourself. Although I loved your parody of the male version,I found an emptiness in the original female version as written. As a Mother to four boys who thinks being able to travel alone to Target is a luxury, I often wondered if Liz could “find herself” if she were thrown into the real world where most of us live everyday.  And yes, I think I could find myself if I were given an expense account to eat all I want in Italy, Pray in India and Love in Bali.

Natalia 02.20.08 | 12:05 AM ET

I enjoyed Rolf’s critical take, though ‘porn’ strikes me as a fairly loaded word to use in this context. Self-indulgence certainly suffuses EPL. Perhaps if the book had been ruthlessly edited, so that we didn’t have to hear quite so frequently about the desperately difficult, sad, heart-wrenching breakup (I mean really, we got the picture by the third agonized description of the marriage’s failure); perhaps if the author wasn’t quite so invested in detailing every little thought and peeve of the self/ego as she attempted to navigate the challenges of the ashram; perhaps if we could have been spared the blow-by-blow of events in Bali (because by then my interest was flagging, and I desperately sought the epiphany, the final insight, the thrust of it all),—I might have come away with a better feeling about the book. To me it was an exercise in spirituality lite. Editing could have saved it, but too often, the publishing world is entirely willing to indulge these sorts of me-me-me accounts. Being caught up in first person ruminating is the domain of diaries and journals, but can become insufferable for a reading audience when in the hands of an author this self-involved. My prescription: Eat Less Pasta, Pray With More Selflessness, Love More Intelligently.

Rebecca 02.21.08 | 1:38 AM ET

Sounds like sour grapes to me, pal. Bet you wish your book was a seemingly unstoppable bestseller.
Women’s travel porn for everyone! Yay!

Stacey 02.21.08 | 10:14 PM ET

Yes, there does seem to be some double-standard in how women (and men for that matter) react to this book—because yes, if the gender were reversed the protagonist would surely be called misogynistic or chauvinistic or simply a sex-craved jerk.  In that case, the narrator wouldn’t be much different than one of Hemingway’s or Kerouac’s.  And I don’t think their work should be discredited (or is) for presenting a certain mentality or hunger for adventure, just as Gilbert’s work shouldn’t be discredited for presenting the realities of her emotional life. 

As for the adventure porn—while Hemingway might paint a vivid picture of Spanish bullfighting, and Kerouac shows the madness of the American night, Gilbert takes another angle and writes about travel in a way that exposes more than the sheer adrenaline of it—she offers a self-effacing glimpse into her own personal conflict, doubt and fear—which is often lacking from more masculine-driven “adventure porn.”  I like to think that her version of porn includes a real plot, real dialogue, and characters with true, conflicted, albeit sometimes shallow, emotion.  And for some of us (men and women alike), we prefer a little bit of heart in our adventure.

B. C. McDonald 02.21.08 | 11:25 PM ET

I have read these comments for a week or two, and this last one I simply do not understand.  The different views on this book are not a gender thing—women and men both see the shallowness of this self-centered “adventure” travelogue.  The book is not about Italy or India or Bali.  It is about the author.  That is not true of Hemingway who projects himself through a character’s personna (that could indeed be himself but is not blatantly so,) which gives the reader some distance.  I can’t relate this book to Kerouac; I read On the Road so many decades ago that its possible self-indulgence is lost to my memory.

maria 03.03.08 | 3:26 PM ET

if it’s adventure porn, and sexist adventure porn at that, i’ll take another helping.

Rolf, so sorry to hear that you’re bitter about a book someone wrote, and sold successfully.

seriously?

Sophie 03.14.08 | 11:52 AM ET

I found Eat, Pray, Love annoying but I was in India and judging by the number of Western women there I saw clutching it (roughly all of them)I felt I had no choice but to read it. And yes, I wanted Gilbert to stop nattering at me.
The changed genders scenario is compelling but it’s not like we haven’t seen that sort of thing in a large canon of, for example, novels by men about men (often academics) seeking respite from the tedium of midlife with young women.
And I just watched Manhattan again recently, widely considered Woody Allen’s masterpiece. While there is of course much to adore in the movie, I was distracted by the bizarre casual attitude towards Woody’s relationship with Tracy/Mariel Hemingway. He was even supposed to look noble for breaking it off from her ...
We’re just not used to seeing women behaving badly in the ways men do so it’s startling.

Ollezaza 03.16.08 | 12:33 PM ET

Wasn’t this book recently outed as fiction, one of growing number of supposedly non-fictions?

Sophie 03.16.08 | 5:11 PM ET

I don’t think so, or Oprah would have to fall on her own sword.

Garnet 03.24.08 | 8:14 PM ET

Am most amused by the people here who’ve missed the point. It’s presented as a memoir—that is, non-fiction—yet is a wildly unlikely tale that seems entirely constructed in order to please its target audience. And yes, this clearly does matter; both the book’s sales and its perceived importance would have suffered if were promoted only as what it is—a high-tone beach book, and an escapist fantasy for people who think themselves spiritual.

Grace Pedalino 03.27.08 | 12:06 PM ET

I read the book because it was highly praised by someone who I respected. Unfortunately, I hated the book and really don’t feel like finishing it. She may as well have had her experiences in Paramas, NJ (all due respect to Paramus). I found Ms. Gilbert’s writing style smug, and self-congratulatory. Her insights seemed rather shallow to me. I handed it to my husband to read since I just wasn’t getting the appeal of the book. He couldn’t read it either. So, does her best-sellerdom reflect the numbers of people reading the book or the way the NY Times collects its data?

Loved Rolf Potts’ male version of the book.

jv 04.15.08 | 6:21 PM ET

So, Rolf, when does your version of the book come out?

patsy colorado 05.01.08 | 1:58 AM ET

THANK YOU. I hated this story, this woman did not have my sympathy. She had to decide between eating veal in venice or a ashram in India. Poor thing! If she only had a clue of what some choices women really have. Just because Oprah extolled the virtues of this book, it didn’t mean I had to like it. I HAD to read it for my book club and I felt my money and time was wasted, there are so many other GOOD stories out there.

Jennifer Melville 06.25.08 | 3:04 AM ET

I just finished and enjoyed the book. Reading the other side of the story (negative) also balances thoughts. I did like the book. Either you are like that or not, either a soul searcher or not one(possibly more of a realist.)
There is always 2 sides to every story/book. Until I read a blog I would not have felt any wway negative to the book. Perhaps meditation and less dialogue is better.
Jennifer

Chuck Adams 07.06.08 | 4:28 PM ET

I’d suggest the men (and women) who are turned off by “Eat, Pray, Love” to give Kira Salak’s “Four Corners” a try. Sure, Salak goes through the same inner journey of ‘why am i doing this?’ and ‘i’m a woman and about to be raped—why am i doing this!” while she transits Papua New Guinea, but does it with a stronger voice, better writing and does it all with very limited funds.

Personally I’m tired of writers with fat bank accounts literally floating themselves around the world in micro-bubbles (which, judging from Potts’ tone, so is he). These travelers’ frustrations turn into “should I wear orange or blue in Bali?” rather than “should i walk the 3 miles or splurge on the dollar ride in the back of a pickup truck?”

I think the real issue here is the age-old divide between “tourist” and “traveler”? that, and the quality of the writing.

John 07.10.08 | 11:05 PM ET

Being an older man who has seen a lot of life, I found the book entertaining, sometimes witty, and more honest than most people in this commentary area.  What struck me about the book was that it was a vivid portrait of a woman suffering through the Post-Feminist Era in America.  I think our times today are difficult to navigate for women and for men.  Ms Gilbert must find her own way, no tradition or Christian guidance will suffice for her.  But she really doesn’t have what that takes, and after destroying those around her, she finally seeks refuge in New Age non-sense.  This is not a story of self-discovery but a story of an unsuccessful attempt to deal with a world which has changed the rules.  At least she tried.

candice 07.11.08 | 12:35 PM ET

I"m only in the middle of reading this book, and my feelings about this book are… ambivalent.  Sometimes I relate so well and I have the same rushes of emotions that the author consistently talks about.  Other times I want to throw the book down in disgust that someone could talk about herself so much, could bring up with person she is in love with SO MUCH.  As if I care.  But after reading this review of the book, I know how I feel.  As a woman in such a fast paced world, in a culture that preaches “freedom!  freedom!” but has SO many expectations of me, so many roles I’m expected to play- student, worker, wife (eventually), mother (eventually), friend, babysitter, housecleaner… the list continues a little longer… but, so many roles.  So many of these tacit expectations, that more than anything, it’s overwhelming.  I"m only 22 and sometimes I feel like I’m going through a midlife crisis 20 years early.  But this isn’t about just me.  This book offers another outlet and another solution for other women, perhaps experiencing the same type of heartache or hopelessness, or confusion, or all three.  It’s not easy for all women to take themselves to the gym or get their butts off of the couch to run and use exercise as their path to healing.  Some, or none, have contemplated, seriously considered, or in fact medicated themselves with anti-depressants, not getting the results they wanted.  So many reasons why women would turn to this book as a source of hope and help and comfort.  The author brings up a very good point at the beginning of the book, about learning from others.  Yogis and Gurus are teachers of their practice.  They are experienced and more knowledgeable than a new, incoming student, and therefore can teach what they know.  This is exactly what the author is doing.  She is sharing her experience, she is being honest, and funny, and sharing thoughts and feelings that many- men, women, children, the elderly- may never feel comfortable enough to share in their lives.  But for someone else to do so, someone else’s honesty and experiences, sharing what they have learned, how they healed… well, it may just be what it takes to get someone off their butt, stop the tears, and shine a little light of hope, as dim or bright as it may be.  Doesn’t matter.  It’s a start.  There is no reason to be angry or hostile towards this book or its author.  If it helps just one person, isn’t that what matters?  Isn’t that what this book was written for?

Pedro Cabral 07.26.08 | 3:49 AM ET

well obviously this book isnt for you. i, on the the other hand, enjoyed it. it was insightful on spiritual practices. and i related to the gilbert’s unconventionality and love to travel.

as for double standards, youre right. there is a double standard in the memoir. a woman can do the things in the book and it’s all cute and fun, whereas a guy would not look the same. but then again there are double standards for all sexes, races, orientations, and whatever else… so dont take it personally.

Jody Tresidder 08.15.08 | 12:47 PM ET

Rolf,
Here is the reason you are brilliant.

I wrote this comment the other day during a discussion about the vogue for “misery memoirs” at Metafilter:

“In olden times - reaching a spike during the Victorian era - true travel memoirs were the biggest bestsellers.

So opportunistic hacks shamelessly made stuff up—describing cannibals where none existed, or finding forgotten tribes, or manufacturing lurid adventures of unprovable courage and derring-do in conveniently remote places. It sold by the ton.

I’ve a half-baked theory that these misery memoirs have replaced the accounts of the travel liars.

As the real world has become pretty much thoroughly explored, we look to internal voyages of discovery.

And to top the grunge of the most recent misery memoir, the hack practitioners create even more shocking accounts of themselves and their inner landscapes.

It’s “here be monsters” all over again!”

[End of my quote]


So I was - obviously -squealing with pleasure to read your brilliant words - quoted below (and I also did not care at all for the Gilbert book):

“The legacy of “adventure porn,” I think, is not the kind of adventure writing you see in Outside magazine, but books like “Eat, Pray, Love.” Instead of wrestling crocodiles in distant lands, our protagonist wrestles despair; instead of exploring rivers, she explores emotions; instead of surviving disease, she survives heartbreak.”

Bingo!!

John Z 08.18.08 | 7:36 PM ET

I actually ended up reading this book as well - never thought I would read a book like this in a million years! It wasn’t as good as I had anticipated, but it had some redeeming moments.  More than anything I think the book is decent since it tells us to take a step back from ourselves and fix whatever is wrong with us internally.  I reviewed it on my blog in case anyone is interested.

http://lovelifeandthelawofattraction.blogspot.com/

Amanda 08.19.08 | 2:53 AM ET

This review was so funny and so true.

It highlights how truly bad this book really is. For the life of me, I don’t understand what women see in this book… and I am woman who’s been through depression, divorce and spiritual exploration.

For me, it was the self pity and the loathesome EATING in Italy that really make this book awful. Not only is it appalling travel porn, even moreso, it’s very crass spiritual porn.

charlie 08.23.08 | 10:11 AM ET

i just finished reading this book and really enjoyed every chapter. not all books will have the same reaction from everyone, because not everyone is hoping to gain the same thing from it. this book had its very insightful moments and it also was a story. i would not enjoy this book if it were purely based on spiritual notes throughout the entire book. it is more enjoyable to read a story and find the hidden spirtual content the book has that effects you personally on your own. not when it’s soley fixated on throwing out spiritual lines. besides, this was about HER journey. i don’t think she was trying to put out that it was purely based on ‘spritualness’-alone.

Jane Gilmore 09.01.08 | 5:58 PM ET

Ho hum.

Cristine 09.01.08 | 9:17 PM ET

Rolf,

First of all, you are hot.  I’m travelling to Italy in May, would love to hook up.

Second, I think you are completely right about the book.  Ok, I havent read the book and I’m not really interested, it does seem like sappy Oprah bullshit that American women for some reason seem to eat up. I dont get the women in this country.  They like to whine alot and cry and give “girlfriend hugs” and it all makes me embarrased to be a woman, really.
Yes, I have been guilty as a woman of of overindulging in my emotions but at some point I even get sick of the, what I like to call, talky talky.  Too much talky talky.
These women who watch Oprah and read this ridiuclous bboks need to simply wake up and realize men aren’t living up to their expectaiotns becasue the women themselves are boring and expect every one to entertain and please them.
Props to you for reversing the sexism.
Its not the 1950’s - time to take personal responsibilty and quit whining.
Never complain, never explain.

:)
Cristine

MQ 09.03.08 | 8:31 PM ET

The book you describe at the top of your article is a pretty accurate summary of Henry Miller’s entire oeuvre. The difference seems to be that women’s fantasies are travel porn, men’s the status of art.

Maybe that’s because Miller at his best is ten times the writer Gilbert is, an actual artist.

marriage counselors 09.29.08 | 12:41 PM ET

I believe that this title is great! This is what a man should do to have a wonderful life and without any stress. Congratulations to the writer.

danny 10.30.08 | 3:39 PM ET

I think the book is worth reading. At least it gives some kind of relaxation unlike many others of this type…

rpar 11.02.08 | 7:00 PM ET

To John Z:
Eat Pray Love deserves to be read but only once. I agree that book doesn’t have anything special, but all the same, people can learn something about man’s character.

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