Love Pray Eat

That’s right. I changed the order after reading Roger Ebert’s review the other day, a review that concludes like so:

The audience I joined was perhaps 80 percent female. I heard some sniffles and glimpsed some tears, and no wonder. “Eat Pray Love” is shameless wish-fulfillment, a Harlequin novel crossed with a mystic travelogue, and it mercifully reverses the life chronology of many people, which is Love Pray Eat.”

I haven’t seen the film, though I will, probably sometime next year on Netflix.  But I have read the book, twice. The first time I read it as a beach read when it came out in paperback in 2007 or so, mostly because of the Italy chapters (I was planning a trip to Italy), which I still like the best because of the descriptions of Rome, Venice and the yummy food (I, too, went on a quest for the perfect gelato, though if I ate as much as Gilbert ate, I, too, would have gained instead of lost weight. Yes, I lost weight in Italy–all that walking everywhere). 

The second time I read it was last week: I’m teaching a Memoir course this fall, and I’m anticipating at least a few students will ask me why I didn’t include Elizabeth Gilbert’s book on the syllabus.  (One student  already has emailed me about the book, interestingly.)

It reads better the second time, mostly because I’m already over the “she’s so full of herself” response that many readers have to the self she presents us (beautiful, talented woman with a book contract gets to travel the world and eventually meet Felipe, who seems to be a combination of the Old Spice Guy and Antonio Bandaras).

Or, maybe this time, just two weeks before I’m required on campus and the whirlwind of academic life begins again, I was just more willing to enjoy the ride.

I’ve spent  months reading dozens of autobiographies and memoirs in preparation for this class, and this one was one of the few (Under the Tuscan Sun comes close) that was such pure fantasy.   The Italian twins (one shy and scholarly; one more stereotypical Italian). The all-knowing yet still dripping in sarcasm Richard from Texas.  The Australian hotty who thinks e-mail is too impersonal. And, of course, Felipe, the Brazilian gem merchant who spends hours physically pleasuring our Elizabeth.  Add the lovingly detailed food of Italy, skim the Pray sections, pausing only when Richard’s name is mentioned, and leap to the sex in Bali and this is a great end-of-summer read.

In keeping with the romance/fantasy plot structure of the story (not that there’s anything wrong with that), our Elizabeth remains celibate for most of the book, with moments of sensual release through food in Italy, yoga and meditation in India, and finally, after months of such foreplay, including an aside on the sudden ineffectiveness of her usual masturbatory fantasies involving firemen or Bill Clinton, sex with our Antonio Bandaras/Old Spice man in Indonesia.

On NPR last week, I heard an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert where she discussed her new book, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage*, and while her marriage to Felipe (aka Antonio) sounds sweet, she had no problem admitting that he is, on a daily basis, quite boringly consistent.   

I’m guessing few students will ask me to add that one to the reading list.

*Time magazine’s Mary Pols has an interesting comparative analysis between Gilbert’s and Julie Powell’s (of Julia and Julia) books on marriage, preferring the more self destructive Powell to the tedious Gilbert–Powell’s is called Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat and Obsession).

Young Women Memoirs: Suggestions?

The other night, I held individual conferences with my advanced composition students to discuss their progress on drafting their researched essays.  Since this is a great group of students (I’ve written a little about them here) the 4 hours flew by with conversations ranging from “how do I cite a source that cites another source?”  to “how do I best juggle multiple sources?” to “should I begin by discussing Science Fiction or Dune itself?”

But my last student conference was with a young woman who, uncharacteristically, hadn’t handed in a rough draft to discuss, so I was curious and concerned about her all evening wondering if she would show up.  She did. Her essay is on how children of war are affected morally: a complex, intellectual topic for a first year student.  We briefly discussed her progress on the paper before getting to the real issue: she sheepishly admitted, at the same time dismissing its importance, that she had just broken up with her boyfriend of 5 years (they have been seeing each other since she was 15), and, as a result, she’d been couch surfing all week, thus the missing draft. 

I tried to assure her that it was, indeed, a big deal to break up with a boyfriend, especially one she was with for such a long period in her life, and that I understood completely.  She promised to get me a draft as soon as possible, recognizing that she was now ready to “bury” herself in her school work after a week (!) of mourning.

But here’s where the women’s memoirs come in: she is hiking this summer, alone, on the Appalachian Trail, and hoped to write a memoir about it.  Right now she is keeping a daily journal leading up to the big trip–but she was finding such daily notations unsatisfying.    Yet she didn’t quite get my suggestion that she approach her note taking more organically rather than impose such an artificial structure: I told her to think of the tag clouds in bogs, but she doesn’t read blogs. 

So what I’d like to do is recommend some memoirs for her to read before she heads off to her big hike.  Here are a few I’ve thought of, but I’d love suggestions, especially of works by younger writers that I’ve not included here:

  • Alice Koller/The Unknown Woman or The Stations of Solitude
  • Anne Lamott/Travelling Mercies
  • Annie Dillard/An American Childhood
  • Patricia Hampl/A Romantic Education
  • Dorothy Allison/Trash
  • Sallie Tisdale/Stepping Westward