Why I Didn’t Like “Eat Pray Love”

You can hardly throw a cone of gelato these days without ending up on an article about or advertisement for the movie “Eat Pray Love,” which opens in theatres on August 13, 2010. I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book what seems now like an eternity ago, and even then I was late to the party. I’d had people telling me for months, “Oh, you have to read it, you’ll love it – it has Italy in it!” (I’m pigeon-holed, for better or worse, to being interested only in Italy-related things, apparently.)

So perhaps my expectations were high when I finally did pick it up. Maybe I’d been led to believe it was one thing, when it’s really another thing entirely. And there’s a chance that, in the end, it just wasn’t a book I was ever going to love, regardless of my expectations or what it was “really” about. But because it’s all over the inter-blogo-media-sphere these days (and because I’m routinely still asked if I’ve read it), I wanted to throw my two cents out there on why I did not like “Eat Pray Love.”

It boils down to three main things.

1. Not Enough Italy

Let’s face it, there’s a reason I’m pigeon-holed, right?

At first, I couldn’t decide whether the book starting off with the Italy section was good or bad. Would it mean I’d love the book right away because it was so Italy-rific, or would it be all downhill from the Italy section into the other parts of the world? It turned out to have little bearing on how much I liked the book overall (though I probably wouldn’t have continued reading if it hadn’t at least started in Italy), but when I finished the book I realized I was a little miffed at how short-changed Italy had been.

The India and Bali sections of the book are intense (especially the India portion, for obvious reasons), and they’re almost entirely focused on the time Gilbert spent in those places. Those parts of the book are very much of those places, even if they’re not what I’d consider travel writing (more on that later). But the Italy section? Because it was the first destination on Gilbert’s year-long journey of introspection, and because it’s the first section of a book that must also give the reader a little background, the Italy section of “Eat Pray Love” felt to me like it was more about Gilbert’s breakdown and less about Italy.

Sure, there’s some fun Italy stuff in that section. But there wasn’t nearly enough Italy in there to make me like the book, especially when there were other reasons for me not to like it.


2. Not a Travel Book

I don’t pay attention to the publishing world, and it’s possible I’m off-base here (it’s happened before – shocking, I know), but it seems to me that when I was hearing about the book – both before and after I’d read it – it was in the context of it being a “travel book.” It was a book, I believed when I picked it up, about a woman who spent a year living in three different countries. Sure, it was a memoir, and yes, I expected it to be personal – but I also expected it to be way more travel-y than it was.

Based on my completely un-scientific polls of other people I know who didn’t love the book, I really think that Gilbert’s publisher did her a disservice by marketing “Eat Pray Love” as a travel book or even semi-travel book. The three places Gilbert lives during her year of soul-searching were important keys to her growth that year, and they each play a role in the book. It’s such a secondary role, however, that anyone who picked the book up hoping to read a travel memoir would, I think, be sorely disappointed.

I still wonder how I would have felt about the book if I thought it was about one woman’s quest for inner peace that just happened to take place in Italy, India, and Bali. I might have still read it, I don’t know – but if I had still chosen to read it I think at least my expectations wouldn’t have been so far off.

3. I Couldn’t Relate

This is a more personal reason for why I didn’t like “Eat Pray Love,” although I know other people for whom this reason fits, too: I just couldn’t relate. The book is personal – so personal that I’m not surprised when I hear people say they couldn’t relate to it. In a way, it’s kind of miraculous that anyone but the author can ever relate to a personal memoir, but I guess that says something beautiful about the human condition – that we’re more alike than we realize. But one of the other lovely things about the human condition is that we’re not all alike.

I’m kind of the opposite of a religious person, and I’m not particularly spiritual, either. I’m not immune to a transcendent experience – I’ve been awed by both man-made structures and scenery untouched by human hands – but Gilbert’s spiritual journey, which makes up the bulk of the book, was one I just could not relate at all. Much of it felt voyeuristic, like I was going unnoticed sitting in the corner of a deeply personal meeting with someone’s therapist, which made me slightly uncomfortable, too. But the bottom line is that the book was simply too dominated by the spiritual for it to be a book I would like.

In truth, if it weren’t for the fact that I desperately hate not finishing books so much that I’ll slog my way through nearly anything just to say I didn’t quit midway through, I would have put the book down before I’d even finished the India section.

But it’s not all bad…

Okay, yes, I do have a “thing” about not finishing books, but even without that it wasn’t like “Eat Pray Love” sat on my nightstand for months with me only reading a few pages every few weeks. It is, despite the issues I have with it, well-written enough that it’s an easy read. I think Gilbert deserves credit for being brave enough to talk about such intimate details of what was clearly a very difficult year in her life (I know enough people who were moved by her story to think that there are women for whom “Eat Pray Love” was something akin to permission to be kind to themselves, and for that I think Gilbert deserves a round of applause).

I have friends who genuinely loved “Eat Pray Love” and who are anxiously awaiting the movie’s release, and that’s fine. I don’t think the book is one of those “guilty pleasures” that people should feel badly about enjoying – I just didn’t enjoy it myself.

If you haven’t read the book and you’re curious what all the hubbub is about, you can buy “Eat Pray Love” on Amazon – there’s time to read it before the movie comes out next month.

And if you haven’t seen a preview for the film yet, here you are:

17 thoughts on “Why I Didn’t Like “Eat Pray Love”

  • Meredith

    I didn't like this book either. I was so uncomfortable reading it, I had to stop halfway through. I had no patience with the author's personality, I guess. I gave it back to my daughter, who had given it to me saying, "you'll love it," and told her I couldn't finish it. I couldn't take one more page of whining and crying and throwing temper tantrums. It was just too self-indulgent for me. My daughter seemed surprised I didn't like it, but then she said, "you know, another friend of mine didn't like it either. Huh, maybe I should rethink it." It seems to me that it just divides people into two camps. Those that have patience for it and those who don't. Which is fine. At least you know who you are.

  • Anna

    Honest review I can appreciate. For me, it was very much a matter of "right time, right place" when the book fell into my hands and I was an eager early-twenty-something quitting my editing job. I've just started re-reading to see how close it'll hit to home now, but I appreciate any, any,any movie that allows me to armchair travel when I'm stuck at home.

  • Joan Schmelzle

    I will be right with you on not liking the book much at all. In fact I broke one of my long time rules about finishing books I start. I stopped after the Italy part. I've recently decided I'm too old to spend the time I have to read on reading something I don't like. I agree it was certainly not a travel book. I also agree about the Italy part being more about the author's problems. And it was not anything I could relate to either though I am probably a fairly religious person. Also i have to say that I am not the type who bares her soul or problems to others (not even to make lots of money, as if I could!)

  • anne

    I had not heard of the the book at all, .. and then on holiday in Italy, it was in the apartment, .. I needed a book to read, and as I was there 10 days, that is what I did, and I thought it was a great book. could relate to a few areas, but never struggled with it.

  • melaniewaldman

    Not shockingly, I feel just the same as you do…Gilbert's tale is mostly belly-button examination and barely a travelogue. Based on the marketing/publicity, I, too, expected more Italy in her Italian adventure, and was bummed that all I got was a dissertation on her growing pants size. (Oh pasta, how you confuse personal growth with physical growth.)

    A funny aside: the ashram depicted in the book is called Gurudev Siddha Peeth, located in Ganeshpuri, about 30 minutes south of Bombay: http://www.siddhayoga.org.in/Gurudev_Siddha_Peeth… The original center of a Hindu spiritual path called Siddha Yoga, this ashram is where my beloved husband spent half of his childhood. My mother-in-law says that many folks in the popular Oakland SY center have expressed tongue-clucking disappointment that Gilbert couldn't get it together to meditate! Ah, nothing like the burning shame of unconditional love.

  • Angela

    I started out not liking it. Similarly, people had been telling me for YEARS that I just had to read it and I was really turned off by its popularity and the "pray" part because I was worried people were trying to tell me that my life would work out if only I would join a religion. I have to say that her take on spirituality didn't offend me (I was surprised about that) and that I laughed out loud several times during her stint in Italy (can relate to a lot of that part of the book).

    Overall, I'd say I enjoyed the book. She's a great writer. I agree that it doesn't fit in the travel genre. But I love that it likely reaches an audience that has never considered traveling and might realize that through travel we learn a lot about ourselves.

  • Ayngelina

    I didn't know anything about it when I read it so I liked it. But I'm surprised so many people say it's a travel book as it hardly documents destinations. Am I the only one disappointed that Julia Roberts is playing her, wasn't there anyone else?

    • Jessica Post author

      Ayngelina – I think the book was marketed as a “one woman’s journey through three destinations in a year” instead of “one woman’s spiritual journey that just happens to take place in three different places,” which made me (and many other people) think it would be about the destinations. In the end, it’s not about the destinations at all. But again, I don’t think that’s Gilbert’s fault. She wrote the book she intended to write, and the people who sat down to market it probably thought they could make it more of a hit if they could include it in the “travel” genre as well as “self-help.” Unfortunately, I think that’s where quite a bit of the backlash has come from – travel writers & readers who felt like it was a bit of bait & switch.

  • Jessica Post author

    Thanks for all your comments, I appreciate hearing from you!

    Overall, I’m frustrated by people who thought the book was one thing (a travel book) when they picked it up, and then get angry – often with the author – when they read the book and find out it’s another thing (a personal journey book) entirely. That’s not the author’s fault.

    As I said in my article, I also feel like Gilbert deserves praise for speaking so honestly about her experience, because I’m sure it helped many people come to a sort of “I don’t have to be unhappy in my life” realization. Anything that helps people get to that point is a good thing, as far as I’m concerned.

    I completely don’t understand people who “hate” Gilbert because they didn’t like the book – but I’ve never understood irrational hatred. πŸ˜‰

  • Andrea Santucci

    Of course, I think promoting this book as anything like a travel book or semi-travel book is simply a marketing ploy to reach a few additional audiences. You already have the spirituals and feminists, and now you’ll reach those who are travel enthusiasts and those possibly planning tips to other places later this year. It does give the wrong impression though, about the focus of the story. I can see how it was a bit of a disappointment.

    I have not read the book myself despite being a native of Rome and involved in travel and tourism. I have a certain feeling about books (and movie adaptations of those books) that seem to promote a focus of location. From a travel professional perspective, they can sometimes give travelers a false idea of what a place will be like when they visit and then they are surprised (and sometimes disappointed) when things on their trips don’t work out like in the books or movies.

    Sometimes books and movies that seem to place focus on a destination can also make travelers a little biased or prejudiced toward or against certain areas without having more factual knowledge of an area. I have seen some travelers who wouldn’t go near a certain part of a city because of how it was portrayed in a book or a movie, when in fact the area was a very peaceful one filled with a lot of history and culture. A little off the beaten path maybe, but not like the picture they had in their head.

    Just a few thoughts. I’m not a reader of books in this genre so I wouldn’t give an opinion on the topic or writing, but in general I simply strive to ensure that people don’t draw their conclusions about a particular country or area from what they’ve read in a book or seen in a movie. Descriptions in these mediums are often meant to sell (either on the glamorous or infamous end of the spectrum). Rarely are they every very accurate depictions of a place or its culture.

  • Angela K. Nickerson

    Jessica, I am with you. My biggest beef: the author was given a HUGE advance to go off and have her adventure — a fact which she mentions just once in a brief aside. Honestly, hand me a fortune, I guarantee I could go off, travel the world, come back transformed, and probably write a more interesting travelogue. πŸ™‚

    • Jessica Post author

      Thanks for the comment, Angela – but that’s my point exactly: this book isn’t a travelogue. It was never meant to be a travelogue. I honestly think it was marketed as such to sell more books, plain and simple.

  • mjk

    Hate this self-indulgent book and author. Hate Julia Roberts, who took a very similar approach to her life when nabbing someone else’s husband and being publicly bitchy about it. No, I won’t be going to see this dreadful movie. Anyone who wants more Italy should read some of Dario Castagno books. I’ve also seen him in person, and he is FAR MORE humble and NICER than that horrible Gilbert woman.

    • Jessica Post author

      Hate is a pretty strong word, and unless you know Gilbert and Roberts personally I’m going to suggest that your animosity is perhaps meant for something other than them as people. As I said, I have nothing against Gilbert and think she wrote a book that’s true to her experience. If you thought the book was self-indulgent, you didn’t have to keep reading it – and it’s tough to call a movie “dreadful” before you’ve even seen it.


  • Lorraine

    I did not like the book BUT did force myself to finish it. I have quite a few friends that got as far as Italy and then gave up. That being said, there is so much hype and buzz going on about the movie, that if you “didn’t” like it you are almost made to feel that you are “out of the loop”. To cast Julia Roberts as the main character was a brilliant move….as many will go just to see Julia, even if the plot bombs. So this movie will most likely be a success at the box office…and it will all be because of Julia and the “big push” by the media

  • Melissa

    PHEW. Glad I am not the only one that is so far being LET DOWN by this book. I am actually still reading it. I am in the middle of India, and my G-d I can barely finish. BOOOOORINGGG. I could CARE LESS about the ins and outs of yoga meditation. Ugh. And frankly, I found small parts of Italy a bit boring too, but overall it was still a nice section.

    Honestly, I thought she talked about Italy plenty. When she was done, I was READY to move on to India. Also, I knew before reading the book that it was not a travel book. I knew it was more of a spiritual journey.

    What I see annoying, aside from going on and on about the background of yoga or historical areas in Italy (too textbooky for me), is that she seemed very childish. Not necessarily in her ways of dealing with problems or her divorce, but her depictions of characters. For Christ Sakes, do you really need to say, ‘Richard from Texas’ or ‘My Swedish friend Sophie’ or ‘Luca Spaghetti’ over and over? Just call them by their first names!

    I do respect her for being honest, as she admits her annoying faults openly, and I guess that is what makes the book good, or meaningful. I mean, it is a memior, so DUH, it’s going to be self-indulgent, lol.

    I was hoping there would be sex in Italy, and when she announced there would be none, I was upset at first, but then respected the author for making that personal, healthy decision.

    Another let down is that by the time I got to the middle of India, I realized, geez, the book is almost over! What is left of Bali?? I will have to find out…

  • soko

    I dont think so. Maybe she wrote about a place that where she’d been in Italy. No need to mention whole Italy lifestyle like when people wake up, where usually go to etc.
    Of corz its not a WORLD MAP. so we souldnt complain its not a travel book. I like this book.

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