Monday, August 09, 2010

Read, write, pray

I started this year with the intention of writing a little something about every book I read. That feel through pretty quickly, because I fell into a short run of books that were barely worth the time to read, much less to write about. My reading material improved, but I never got back into writing about the books I was reading. I don't really read book reviews. The little entries I did on books felt more like middle school book reports than anything else. I don't enjoy criticizing things, even in this recent Madame Cranky Pants mood. More importantly, writing became increasingly difficult, and what writing energy I spent, I wanted to spend on things I enjoyed writing more. (Not too much luck there, either. I haven't enjoyed writing in months, but in my southern vernacular, I'm just "not quite right" if I don't write.)

Every time I went to the bookstore though, I kept seeing Eat, Pray, Love. Since it was already a bestseller, that's no surprise, but it was months before the movie hype started which dedicated every end cap to the book and the kitsch that's tagging on its coat tails. Its cute chick lit cover pushed me away. I was tired of fluffy books, but every time I started a "serious" book, I found I just couldn't settle into it. The temptation grew. After all, those three words sum up a big part of my identity and my writing.

In fact, thinking about that made me go back and re-read some of my old entries on those themes. It's a good feeling when you read something you wrote a good while ago and can say, "I did alright." I really like what I wrote about artichokes and pomegranates. When I read some of my entries on spirituality, some of the writing didn't please, but the content still felt real, and that's good enough. Well, the love parts, reading those still made me hurt, and that says something.

So, after deciding the topics need some external reading, I picked up the book. I didn't love it, but I did like it. For the life of me, as visual as the book can be sometimes, I just don't see how they'll make it into a movie. Oh, I take that back. Parts of it will make a very pretty, very international romantic comedy, but I just don't see how the depth in the book can be filmed. I know that the book has been called Spirituality Lite, and that's definitely part of it. Translating a spiritual experience into language is incredibly difficult. It's so easy to sound trite, or preachy, or stuffy, or holier than thou, so I'll cut Elizabeth Gilbert some slack on that one.

What keeps Eat, Pray, Love from completely deserving the Spirituality Lite label is the author's honesty. I love a memoirist who's not afraid to paint herself as just human. Gilbert describes herself as neither the worst of sinners nor a saint, just a decent person who's made some doozy mistakes. She practices real restraint in describing the breakup of the marriage and the relationship that instigated the journey behind the book, but I still got to the point where I wanted to tell her, "Just suck it up. So many people have gone through much worse and didn't get the chance to escape to Italy, India and Bali afterwards." Acknowledging the duality of pleasure seeking and God seeking in my own life, I appreciated her quest for both. I found Gilbert a charming writer, and her year's adventure seems to have been a true growth experience for her. I liked the book enough to pick up her next book, Committed.

I think what I liked most about the book though is that it has made me want to pray more. Pray in depth. Open myself to that wonderful adventure and see what happens. It still surprises me how awkward and difficult this can be when I know the wonderful gifts God has given me through prayer. I want the whole experience: that frustrating one sided feeling, the sinking through self until self is passed, the willingness to keep on trying, listening but not getting and sometimes, wonderfully receiving. Yeah, I want it again.


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