Love Or Hate “Eat, Pray, Love”?

Have you read “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert? If so, did you love it or hate it or was it just “eh”?

Well, I have not read the book, but enough folks around me have shared their opinions about the book. I know of one woman who, after a few chapters into the book, absolutely loved the book. Others who have read the book, and mind you they were all women, were turned off by the author’s story – divorce leads to travel, food and love with a dose of whine.

Minus the divorce and travel it sounded a bit like “Julie & Julia” to me, which I enjoyed in the theater but never bothered to read the book…I did end up buying Julia Child’s French cooking tome but I digress.

The general consensus was that Gilbert’s book was a whiny memoir, but I came across this op-ed piece (via Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed) and had to ask all of you who have read the book or decided not to read it like I did based on the reviews.

Jessica Wakeman contends that:

“…Eat, Pray, Love the book (and soon, “Eat, Pray, Love” the movie, starring Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem) has turned out to be a lightening rod of controversy in the most disappointing of ways. The negative reactions to “Eat, Pray, Love” show just how resentful, bitter, contradictory, and quite frankly, hate-filled we are towards a woman who does something for herself.”

So far there are 401 customer reviews that rate the book 1 – star on Amazon out of more than 2,000 total reviews. I’m an author, but I’m not that kind of author – New York Times best seller kind of author, and I’d be lying if I said/wrote that I wouldn’t want to be that kind of author. NYT best seller? But with the fame comes the crap, and I’m not that good of a writer nor do I really want to deal with more crap. But it’s worth thinking about whether or not the criticism is, as Wakeman writes in her opinion piece, gendered and taking shots at Gilbert because she is a woman doing what Wakeman contends would have been an adventure story had a man lived the same life and written about.

There was similar criticism of the movie “Julie & Julia” – mostly but not exclusively from male movie reviewers. My thought at the time was that the movie critics were taking themselves too seriously and perhaps not understanding that this was the coming-of-age story for one almost-30 woman. Yes, Julie Powell was whiny, which is why she needed something else to ground her. Lucky for her, pounds and pounds of butter and bacon fat helped ground her, and she happened to gain some self-awareness and some success.

Is/was the criticism of “Eat, Pray, Love” or “Julie & Julia” gendered? Are readers (and are they predominantly women?) doing the same thing they accuse Gilbert of doing – whining and complaining – but about someone else’s success instead of about their own average lives? Or would the book even mattered had it been written about and by a man or would the publishers have looked at it and thought “this is nothing new”? Perhaps the issue of gender isn’t so cut and dry; isn’t it possible that a big reason this book made it is because Gilbert is a woman and leaving everything behind to find herself is a novel concept?

Now, I chose not to read the book. Instead I read several other books by non-white female authors because, quite frankly, I needed a different perspective, point of view and voice than what is so prevalent and prevailing. Gilbert is a woman, but the older I get the more frustrated I become with the false dichotomy of race and gender that I often experience. As Gilbert’s book became a rising star her star wasn’t in the same constellation as what I was seeking out – authors like Amy Tan, Bich Minh Nguyen, Yen Mah and Toni Morrison. So my reluctance to pick up her book was less gendered criticism and more cultural/racial and spiritual. I’m certain there are common bonds between all women, but I’m tired of people telling me the differences don’t matter. Differences make life complicated, interesting, compelling, frustrating and hard. I don’t want the same all the time, especially if someone else is the one always defining the “same”.

But I could be wrong about it all, so I may request the book at the library and revisit my reluctance. I’ll have to think about that some more. For those of you who read Gilbert’s book, what do you think?


  1. Kris April 11, 2010

    I liked the book very much, but I am a sucker for memoirs.

  2. Hillary April 11, 2010

    I’m partway through Eat, Pray, Love; specifically, I’m in the middle of “Pray”. So far for me it has been “eh” of Kathy’s three choices. I picked it up because I had some gift card money, it was there, and I guess I had literary space and curiosity for an American woman’s journey, having recently read works by J. Lahiri, M. Mehran, L. See on the fiction side, and several justice/calling works based in Haiti, Pakistan, and Ethiopia. I didn’t read any reviews prior to picking it up, so I didn’t know what to expect. However, that said, it’s basically what I expected. She does whine and indulge, but she also reflects. Some of the highlights for me have been her reflections on how much she needs be to be centered, thoughtful, make changes, simplify, develop her own vision and identity. It’s true that I don’t really see “my story” in her story, but I do think her’s reflects the majority life I see around me in my Midwestern urban 30-something professional and personal circle. I hope that I finish the book (I have a bad habit of not finishing books), though I may not because, to be honest, I value the time for my relationships, work, community, and life in the city a bit higher than reading of her struggles to find meaning in such things.

    • Kathy Khang April 12, 2010

      Hillary! I find gift cards allow me the freedom to buy something I wouldn’t normally pick up, though this book didn’t make the cut yet 😉

      I am finding that time to invest in relationships, work, community and life an interesting thing. How will I choose to spend my time and with whom? I bet you’re out biking and exploring interesting places with interesting friends!

  3. Christine April 11, 2010

    Hey Kathy! I love your blog. I’m glad you’re writing it. I am one of those people who read other people’s blogs – the silent stalkers – and never comment. But I was JUST talking about Eat, Pray, Love with someone the other day, so I will put in my two cents.

    So I loved this book. I’m also generally out of touch and I didn’t realize there was so much controversy around it! I can understand why people might see it as a “whiny memoir” of an upper-class white woman. But I confess it didn’t even occur to me to look at it from the lens of gender. I do agree that had a man written it, it would have been seen as a mid-life crisis adventure story. We tend to give men more permission to go on “quests.” (didn’t Wild at Heart say something about this? whereas the women’s equivalent, Captivating, had something about waiting around for a prince/knight to rescue you?)

    I liked EPL primarily for two reasons:

    1) She’s a good writer. She reminds me of Ann Lamott in her authenticity and humor, but out of the two, I actually prefer Gilbert’s writing. (btw, I just read her latest book, Committed, which despite some lukewarm/negative reviews, I also liked. She does a great job unpacking the history of marriage, but also delves into women’s struggles of identity, roles, expectations, both inside and outside marriage. I appreciated her thoughts on women who don’t have children, as a woman w/o children) People forget that before she wrote EPL, she was an accomplished writer in her own right.

    2) I think EPL is a really compelling example of a modern spiritual autobiography. There may be other similar books out there that I’m not aware of, but personally, I enjoyed it just as much as Surprised by Joy in giving readers insight into one person’s search for God. (CSL fans might balk at that comparison!) There are a number of things she learned that were so insightful, particularly about meditation, I wrote them down in my journal and pretended it was Christian! I don’t think her book resonated with people simply b/c of the freedom porn, or fairy tale story. On a spiritual level, there is something that resonates about her honest search. Granted, it led her to some hybrid theo-Buddhism something or another. But as I read, I found myself wishing there more Christians who were writing about their spiritual journeys in such an authentic, unabashed, unapologetic, insightful, funny, compelling way.

    So the issue of gender never rose in my mind, until now, b/c for me it was just someone’s story, told really well. Granted, the story of an upper-class white woman, but someone who in the midst of a difficult time in her life went earnestly searching for God. I don’t begrudge her that and don’t completely understand those who do.

    And this is by far that longest comment I have ever written on a blog. I think I’ve made up for all the times I’ve read your blog and haven’t commented! Just as a writer, I’d encourage you to give it a read, if for no other reason than it is an example of good writing. (I think it is, at least!) Actually, I wonder if you might like Committed better. EPL is pure memoir, but Committed is a combination of memoir, some history, some cultural comparisons, some politics thrown in for good measure.

    Hope you are doing well Kathy and I will continue to silently stalk you! 🙂

    • Kathy Khang April 12, 2010

      Christine, I had no idea you were one of my silent stalkers/lurkers, so I’m glad that your conversation about EPL and my post converged in this way.

      A friend mentioned Committed so I may have to put both on the “to read” list just to see what all the chatter is about.

      I also wondered if some of the negative feedback I heard was a stage-of-life issue as well – married women with children in particular. I have found life as a Christian, Asian American, married woman with children the idea of taking time for “myself” is seen as selfish, unnecessary, immature, irresponsible and a luxury.

      • Christine April 12, 2010

        By the way, I thought of you the other day b/c I have an idea for an article/book that I think you’d be great to write. Granted, no one else may be interested in this topic, but I know that I would like to read a book about it! I’ll write you about it offline.

  4. Jenn April 11, 2010

    My thoughts are similar to Christine’s. I appreciated Gilbert’s vulnerability and authenticity. She could have tried to make herself appear more of a saint and less of a sinner in some parts, but she didn’t. What others may have considered “whiny” and self-absorbed, I considered “keeping it real”. I definitely enjoyed the first two-thirds of the book more than the final third, when she “finds true love” (it just seemed a bit too forced and unreal and definitely made me gag a bit). But the way she describes her relationship with her then lover and now husband in her follow up book “Committed” makes it seem infinitely more appealing.

    If you want to get more of a flavor for who Gilbert is as a person, check out her TED presentation. “Elizabeth Gilbert muses on the impossible things we expect from artists and geniuses — and shares the radical idea that, instead of the rare person “being” a genius, all of us “have” a genius. It’s a funny, personal and surprisingly moving talk.”

    • Kathy Khang April 12, 2010

      Jenn, thanks for the link. I will try to listen to that this week. I do appreciate getting to “know” authors beyond their published works. It helps give some perspective and context, which I enjoy…

      Just curious, what would have pushed her writing over the line between “whiny” and “keeping it real”?

      • Jenn April 12, 2010

        Maybe it’s my professional training, but when people describe what they’re thinking or feeling without blaming others for their predicament, then I think they’re just “keeping it real”. She definitely doesn’t try to present herself as a likable or admirable character. If anything, I think she’s a pretty harsh self-critic, at least in the first half of the book. People tend to strike me as “whiny” when they try to blame all of their problems on other people without assuming a least a smidgen of responsibility for the poor choices that they’ve made.

  5. Becky April 13, 2010

    You’re still on the fence about this one? Read the book already! 😉

    My reading tends toward literature that not only engages but leaves me thinking and somehow changed, or at least pondering a change of perspective. I don’t usually read bestsellers and I don’t let prizes guide me in making choices, though I sometimes pay attention to them. One of my favorite writers, Wendell Berry, is little known in most circles, has never achieved bestseller status, and hasn’t received any of the big awards, and yet he is easily one of the best writers working today. His large body of work (novels, essays, poems) will stand up over time. His writing manages to be both spare and substantial at once.

    I digress. All of that was to say that EPL is not something I would usually pick up. But I like memoirs and I was intrigued by Gilbert’s extended journey, so I did. And was glad. Her writing is highly engaging (hence the bestseller status) and she openly takes on a lot of niggling social issues. She is smart, well-read, and well-traveled; her world view is informed. She’s not writing fluff and any whining that there may be in EPL has been overplayed (and, yes, perhaps gender-based or at least societal-based). She experienced a life crisis and EPL is the story of how she, Elizabeth Gilbert, decided to handle it and find her own way. (BTW: She didn’t just take off on a trip; at least the middle destination, India, was part of a work assignment as I recall.)

    Committed is similar in that it chronicles her individual reaction to a crisis–the deportation of her beloved. She ended up writing a fascinating brief history of marriage and its social implications and complications. She is the first to acknowledge she is no subject expert, but she did read up on the topic and has written an eye-opening account of how the institution has changed over the centuries. She is also the first to admit that she has led a pretty charmed life, all things considered…so the whining is put into perspective.

    I looked back to find what notes and quotes I recorded from her work, to see if I can give you a foretaste of her writing. It’s hard to choose (yes, she’s really that good, that observant). So here are a few:

    in EPL (top of p. 176, hard cover ed.), she writes about how prayer is a relationship; half the job is hers. She goes on to talk about the importance of formulating specific and authentic prayers. Later, on p. 260, she writes: “Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it…. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings.”

    in Committed, she observes (on p. 171), “As the psychologist Carol Gilligan has written, ‘Women’s sense of integrity seems to be entwined with an ethic of care, so that to see themselves as women is to see themselves in a relationship of connection.’ This fierce instinct for entwinement has often caused the women in my family to make choices that are bad for them—to repeatedly give up their own health or their own time or their own best interest on behalf of what they perceive as the greater good—perhaps in order to consistently reinforce an imperative sense of specialness, of chosenness, of connection.”

    Something to think about as you think about reading her work….

    • Kathy Khang April 18, 2010

      You’re right, Becky. I will get off the fence because it’s poking me in the behind. I’m putting my name on the list for both books. I suspect EPL will “feel” different since I know there is a resolution that perhaps fits my sense of resolution. We’ll have to talk after I finish reading EPL and then talk again after her second book…

  6. Kristina April 16, 2010

    I read the book and didn’t expect that there would be much about it that would be controversial. But my then-boss had me go with her to what I thought was a book club where they had read the book. Really it was her own religious group. All they did was bash the book and talk about how the author did not have Jesus and they also insinuated that they were fearful of meditation and thought it was “a dangerous path.” Having taken a class on meditation while in college and seeing how much it spiritually added to my life, I was horrified to see that they were so hateful towards this woman that they didn’t even know.
    I did think at times she was annoying, but I also really appreciated how she went into such great detail about all the different meditations she did and how they made her feel. I think an author who is depressed and lost can be quite honest.

    I don’t think the author identifies herself as someone who wants to follow religious rules & she doesn’t hide this fact. On that level, I find it disturbing that so many of these women judged her for having sex with her lover. She wasn’t living by the same rules and thoughts that the readers were living by, so I guess I don’t understand the point of judging her. She wanted a spiritual relationship with God, not rules without a relationship.

  7. n2earth September 3, 2010

    I thought I was alone in my dislike of this book. Take a look at and read “Beat Fray Shove.” It’s nice to know not EVeryone loved Eat Pray Love.

    • n2earth October 18, 2010

      Read the full article at


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