Eat, pray, (think) write…

If we weren’t so stodgy, we probably would have picked up the book before. Girlfriends have raved about it. But it wasn’t until our daughter apparently started to live it – traveling to Indonesia and falling head over heels for a South American – that we decided we had to find out what Elizabeth Gilbert’s EAT, PRAY, LOVE (now a Julia Roberts movie) was all about. As just about everybody knows by now this is the author’s account of her trip to three countries beginning with I, I, I to discover God, her worldly self and incidentally, a Brazilian husband.

On our way home from the far, far north last week, we summoned the book on our i-thing. Passing pine trees and glacial lakes, we sat back for a pleasurable listen.

Well not, as it turned out. The trouble with being editors is that we listen (or read) more closely than most people to what the author is saying. Words matter to us and immediately, we found we did not trust the author of EAT, PRAY, LOVE because she was tossing out words like tinsel onto a Christmas tree that was looking less and less like an actual tree. Here are some examples from the first pages of the book:

“This loss upon loss has left me feeling sad and brittle and about seven thousand years old. Purely as a matter of principle I wouldn’t inflict my sorry, busted-up old self on the lovely, unsullied Giovanni.”

The author is a successful, attractive woman being paid to travel and write about it. We know she is not really sorry or busted-up or old. And her use of language does not even convince us she is feeling that way. How can one feel 7,000 years old? How one can even imagine it? Is it anything but hyperbole?

“This was my moment to look for the kind of healing and peace that can only come from solitude.”

Truthfully, we find peace playing solitaire on the computer so we know it does not come only from solitude.

“Sobbing so hard, in fact, that a great lake of tears and snot was spreading before me on the bathroom tiles, a veritable Lake Inferior (if you will) of all my shame and fear and confusion and grief.”

A great lake? Really, Alice? How hard would a normal-sized person have to cry to create such a thing? Is it even possible? We can’t help wondering why Gilbert just didn’t describe this scene as it happened. (This would be an interesting writing exercise: Describe something using hyperbole and then in more factual terms. Compare the two.)

Possibly our obsession with the language has blinded us to the charm of Gilbert’s story which has captured so many others. But, we think the words do matter. They reveal a lot about the writer and what she or he is attempting to convey or maybe, hide. If you have ever taken a baffling dislike (or liking) to a book, look at how the author uses language.

Having barely made it to the first I-country before we quit EAT, PRAY, LOVE, we will just have to refer to our daughter for the ending of the story which we hope is a follow-through on her avowed intent to study linguistics.