Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love… Enjoy

This is not a book review. It might seem like one, but it’s not. It can’t be. Because I think Eat, Pray, Love is actually one of the few—if not first—books I have read this year for the sole intention of enjoyment. Oh sure, I have read and enjoyed a few dozen books in the months that have made up 2010 thus far. Yet without digging too deep into my memory, I can pretty much attest that all of them have been for a specific purpose… like reviewing. Or for a workshop. Or in preparation for interviewing someone.

So it was with great pleasure that I finally had a book in my hands to read and simply enjoy for the sake of enjoyment. Yet here I am. Writing about it.

My to-be-read pile is ridiculous and embarrassing. Knowing I was going to spend a few weeks on the road, traveling to and from AWP in Denver, I wanted to take something with me that was light, pleasant, soft on my brain. Wait. I don’t mean to imply that Gilbert’s book is fluffy. In contrast, it has some serious moments, dark points, and certainly a few (gentle) finger-pointing questions a reader will inevitably ask herself, as she journeys along with the author on a one-year course of self-discovery and enlightenment. A book can be both light and enlightening, I do think, and this is one example that works. Or, at least, worked for me.

It has not worked for everyone. Unless you have been living under a rock protecting yourself from ‘the news’ (aka – book reviews), you will likely have heard about or read for yourself a non-praising review of Gilbert’s work. I don’t care about those reviews. In fact, I generally am more inclined to pick up a book because a reviewer cares little for the author’s self-indulgence, as I can make up my own mind about such things. Plus, we’re talking about someone’s life here. Someone’s personal discovery. There is such a thing as bad writing, of course, but a bad personal story? Okay, I’m sure they exist, but Gilbert’s bestseller is anything but pity-me-memoir. It’s a gem. I recommend it. I’ll likely read it more than once.

Maybe I enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love so much because I didn’t expect anything. Not that I had low expectations, but I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into. (That’s evidence of me occasionally living under a protective rock.) I had heard it was good. I am aware of the upcoming movie with Julia Roberts. I knew there had been a poor review or two of the follow-up book, Committed. But, really, I knew little of what I was going to discover between the pages. Thus, not setting myself up for disappointment, I was fully equipped to simply… enjoy.

And I did. I was particularly fond of the Italian section, envious of Gilbert’s “no carb left behind” experience, consuming breads and pastas that I could just about taste each time I turned the page. It made me seriously consider going to Italy. (As if I wasn’t interested in doing so before I read the book.) India was intense. I’ll admit my spirituality level doesn’t usually register on any real scale, nor do I seek out material to read about others’ experiences with higher powers. Yet, this was a refreshing, honest quest of one woman that was somehow easily relatable to even me. Maybe because I am a hopefulness optimist who sees the good in things, does have a warmness to the idea of ‘karma,’ and generally just tries to be a somewhat nice person. (I said tries.) Then, hands down, Gilbert’s time in Indonesia had me laughing. The portrayal of the folks she met there, the relationships she built – and has sustained – were truly personal. The characters leapt off the page with how wonderfully real they were to me. Are to me. So much so, that when I watched the trailer for the upcoming film, it was as though I recognized each and every one of them.

What I liked most about this book, truly, was Gilbert’s voice and style. It is so informal, so personal, so much as though she is simply relating something intimate to a friend. It was as though we were enjoying a cup of coffee, or sharing a bowl of pasta, as she retold some of her journey. Not fancy. Not stuffy. Definitely not pity-me-memoir. Rather, her memoir was straightforward, take-it-or-leave-it, and dished out with just a little tongue-in-cheek sensibility from time to time, and lots (lots!) of self-deprecating humor for good measure. Plus, I love to travel and it was extremely fun to vicariously travel along with her on such a journey.

Is this a book review? Maybe. I don’t mean for it to be. I just want to extend some appreciation for a book I enjoyed. A book I recommend. A book I will read again.

Monday, April 26, 2010

back to business…it’s a pleasure

Now that I have finally (almost?) unpacked from AWP and am back in the swing of things (kind of), it’s about time to get back to business. I am mildly entertained how a joyous bump in the schedule, such as a writing conference, can throw the equilibrium of my usual schedule. It always takes a few days, or sometimes a week, to get back into my usual uber-productive schedule.

I am grateful for this. I am grateful for the pleasurable disruption of outside forces that are firm in their schedule (as far as I can tell, no conference has ever changed their dates simply because I am running behind on my to-dos) and insist I break free from my own chaotic little world. I need this. Because, as it usually happens, I can get caught up in my to-dos, stay up way too late (or early) to get things done, and by the time a conference comes around I am in desperate need of a break. An example of what leads up to a much-needed break is this exact AWP. Stifled with deadlines and must-dos, I had done too many all-nighters the week leading up to the conference departure date. In fact, I even pulled an all-nighter the night before leaving, and packed my luggage in record speed the morning of. Crazy, I know. But that’s just how it worked out this time.

However, all that craziness from before the conference? It has somehow simmered down and presented itself as a pleasant run-of-the-mill list of to-dos now that I am home. The conference was whirlwind, hands down. I spent extra time on the road, too, stopping in various states along the way to Colorado and back to Michigan. Between magazine assignments and poetry readings, college writing workshops and other presentations, my “conference schedule” was extended in many joyous ways, keeping me on my toes and meeting wonderful writers along the way.

I am often worried that when I get back from a conference, I will feel the anxious heat of the to-dos as they were before I left. Each time, however, I am always relieved how walking away for just a little bit gives everything a new perspective. Oh sure, I have deadlines. I have submissions. I have classes coming up. But all the little things that seem to be so important before heading out have somehow either taken care of themselves, or reprioritized themselves on my list. Now I can segue back into a nice, calm schedule once again. At least for the time being. At least until another conference dents itself into my schedule.

As usual, I may be slow to get back to business, but it’s gradually appearing that I am picking up where I left off. With to-dos and deadlines, and some truly fantastic memories from the road. I hope to share some of my AWP-and-beyond experiences with you in the coming days (and perhaps weeks) on this blog.

If you haven’t already, please check out some of my AWP 2010 photos on Facebook. Here’s a direct, public link: