I'm currently a third of the way through Eat, Pray, Love, the Feel Good Book of the Year. Bookslut tipped me off over the summer, and I put in my reserve at the library. (How ironic that publishing doesn't really pay enough for me to buy all the books I want to read, though I guess the case could be made that I should mainly be reading the books I work with. No matter.) Three months later, I finally got my hands on a copy. Everyone is reading this book, and while I usually avoid books like that, I do trust Jessa at Bookslut (even though she steered me wrong with Sharp Objects). I'd pretty much agree with the Slate review of it*, though I'm a bit more forgiving of the "(you should) like me" tone, because I do like the author, or at least the author's persona. Too often, I'll read a book by, or about, the super-privledged (she owned an apartment in Manhattan and a house in the burbs, c'mon) and not be able to get any empathy going.
My inability to empathise kicked in with The Year of Magical Thinking, where Didion is going through this really grotesque time of her life, and all I can think of is how many times she plugged her backlist, and how she whined about having to run the dishwasher all the time (um, hi, it's called hand-washing, some of us don't have the option). More importantly, I kept thinking about how if all this had happened to a working-class family in the States, the daughter would have been long dead, since they wouldn't have been able to afford the costly specialists needed. Also, the daughter's name, Quintana, grated. The Wiki on Didion has a great quote from Barbara Grizzuti Harrison:
When I am asked why I do not find Joan Didion appealing, I am tempted to answer -- not entirely facetiously -- that my charity does not naturally extend itself to someone whose lavender love seats match exactly the potted orchids on her mantel, someone who has porcelain elephant end tables, someone who has chosen to burden her daughter with the name Quintana Roo....
But back to Elizabeth Gilbert. She's likeable. Maybe it's because I got divorced about the same age as she did and spent my time howling on the bathroom floor. Maybe it's her general acceptance of the world: God isn't GOD, it's a (to coin a phrase from the Other Scottish Earth Sign) "general good intention of your choosing"; anti-depressants aren't the devil, but they're not a panacea either. She isn't every woman, but she's identifiable in myself, and I can only guess in the other women who've read her. It's why she keeps getting read. It makes me forgive her wealth (what a funny thing; I'm such a Marxist), her ability to travel with her huge publishing advance. I simply settle in, and care about what happens next. This is ultimately what makes a good book for me. I cared about Lilian in Away. I cared about the Sylvia Plath portrayed in the excellently written Rough Magic (though going back to Plath after reading that biography, I remained fairly unmoved, and unimpressed). Gilbert hasn't left Italy yet, and still has two countries to see. Still, I have a pretty good idea that I won't be let down.
The problem with library books, is that they tend to be hardcovers. It's only from really using the library system that I've been able to adjust to reading hardcover books. Still, I remain dedicated to paperbacks. This post on Literary Kicks sums up my feelings nicely, and also inadvertently makes a case against e-books.
*OH, HOLY SHIT. I just said I agreed with Kaite Roiphe. It's all over people. Where's my dagger? Let me fall upon it. I feel so incredibly dirty right now.