Elizabeth Gilbert: To The Signature of All Things from Eat Pray Love

I must admit, I’m a reluctant latecomer to the Elizabeth Gilbert phenomenon. But here I am. Recently, at the urging of journalist friend Selina, I succumbed to reading Eat Pray Love. *GASP* Can you imagine? But this week, I had the privilege of attending an Elizabeth Gilbert event with Selina, where Gilbert read from her latest book: The Signature of All Things. A couple weeks ago, Steve Almond recommended it for a summer read on a recent NPR interview, so I’m hopeful Steve’s right. The Candyfreak author and former Rumpus editor usually is.

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-image courtesy elizabethgilbert.com

But months ago Selina had to drag me into the Elizabeth Gilbert realm. I’d lamented how I wanted to access deeper psychological bearings in my memoir. “Well, have you read Eat Pray Love, yet?” She’d asked to my obvious eye roll.

Even without picking up Eat Pray Love years ago, I’d convinced myself it wasn’t my bag. Why, though? Elizabeth is my demographic—a middle-aged, world-traveling, intellectual—(did I just say that?) –- a soul-sister in the realm of seekers of something, be it food, experience, connection, creativity, spirituality, adventure, etc. I suppose I’d fancied myself more of a literary snob, eschewing popular writings—much to my own loss—along the way for the likes of more modern classic authors such as Pico Iyer, Frances Mayes and Isabel Allende. Interestingly enough, Elizabeth Gilbert suggested much the same about herself—that swerving away from one-hit pop wonders.

But, to my chagrin Eat Pray Love sucked me in, and much like the male readers Elizabeth Gilbert described at this week’s Arizona book signing, I kind of read the book in secret. Kinda like the guy who read EPL tucked between the pages of Penthouse on the subway, I read it tucked between the sheets when my husband was out of town. *GASP.*  (I suppose I razzed my hubby way too much when he got uncharacteristically sucked into Me Before You.) “Who, you reading chick lit, really?” I teased. Too much. So, I wasn’t going to get caught in my jammies with Eat Pray Love in my hands… .

But, more compelling to me than getting sucked into Eat Pray Love, is finding myself caught in the Elizabeth Gilbert vortex. Centered and self-effacing, the modest and gracious Gilbert spoke of wishing to distance even herself from the Eat Pray Love phenomenon. When a reader in the audience said she’d avoided Eat Pray Love but could not resist The Signature of All Things, Gilbert quipped that TSOAT was more to her liking as well—an intellectual foray into mosses, history and botany.

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-image courtesy Selina S.

“This book has been my most delightful book to write so far. I wrote it with the idea of creating what I would enjoy reading.” Addressing the audience, she said, “And you turned a novel about a 20th century virgin and botanist into a New York Times Bestseller. Thank you.”

You can watch a snippet of my very amateur iphone video of Gilbert’s reading from The Signature of All Things.

Gilbert said she’s currently working on a book about creativity and as an antidote to writing about a spinster who studies mosses in TSOAT, she’s at work on a second concurrent project about dancing girls and other working women in New York City.

I’m down with that. But first will read The Signature of All Things—between the sheets, at the doctor’s office, at the beach…and hopefully it sucks me in as a summer read should.

I now have to wonder if Steve Almond has read Eat Pray Love. And if so, was he public about it? The next time he comes to Arizona, I’ll just have to ask him how he feels about using Penthouse as a cover for chick lit.

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12 thoughts on “Elizabeth Gilbert: To The Signature of All Things from Eat Pray Love

  1. LOL, I didn’t realize you read EPL in hiding 🙂 Wonderful post about the evening. The Penthouse bit was just hilarious! I can’t wait to read her book on creativity.

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  2. I must confess that I loved EPL, as well as the movie. But then again when I seek “literature” to read I’m more of a C. S Lewis fan. Nonfiction reads are my favorite-especially memoirs.

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  3. Great post Renee, EPL sucked me in as well. I read it in about two days at the beach. I didn’t really like it. Of course I loved the premise of the book but the constant self absorption started to wear on me. I’m anxious to hear what you think of TSOAT.

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    • Yes – the self-absorption is also what annoyed me… and the lack of perspective at a couple points where she fussed about her apartment at the base of the Spanish Steps was well, not her apartment in New York. If she was trying to show how self-absorbed she was in that materialistic light… I thought she could have added a layer of insight to those moments–as she came across as too affluent for relating to your average reader. If she wanted to show growth on that perspective, she needed to be more blatant about it. I did find her insights on the Ashram and meditation amazing. And the historical and cultural perspectives in Bali were lovely. Espeically when she got sucked into buying that house for the medicine woman who continued to skillfully milk her for more. I really liked her boyfriend the Brazilian’s take on that… and how humble Liz was in her realization that he was right: that the ability to massage and live from handouts from tourists was indeed a survival skill.

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  4. Renee, I love your blog! I laugh at your muses. I am a huge fan of Elizabeth Gilbert. I’ve read all her books except this last one (lack of precious reading time these days). It is on my list. It’s amusing to read that you share similarities because when I began to follow your blog I had the same observation. You are wonderful, deep and allow the world to enter into your world in a non-judgmental way. Your style is beyond genius. So…get with it and write your own version of the travel-chick-waiting-for-her-muse! Your lessons through this blog should be compiled in a book, woman.

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    • Millie– LOL! Compared to you and my writing partner Rudri, I so feel like a spiritual flunkie- just like we women wait/hold back on dessert, orgasms and postpone other pleasures to get work done, I tend to hold back on that which brings me the most pleasure– But I am so judgmental. My teen daughters don’t hesitate to point it out. I think I work to not be as judgmental as I thought my own mother was… but when my kids parrot me back to myself, GAH – they are so right. I sound like a horrible person. I SO WISH I could embody the behavior – the words, the centeredness that EG and people like you seem to emanate… the Travel-Chick-Waiting-for-Her-Muse… I’d love to know more. What is that? Where did you sense that? Why is that appealing? Is it the incompleteness we all have as humans that drives us to feel comfortable in connecting with that vulnerability in others? Everyone’s all on about vulnerability these days. I spent the first 30 years of my life armoring up to protect myself in the wilderness…that of my upbringing, that of Alaska, that of living abroad… and now I find the best writers, the ones who connect with the most people — are those who are so willing to be vulnerable…not necessarily bare it all–as we may never know–but willing to share, bare and take that risk. Oh, I’m still learning… would love to know more about what you mean… what you see, as I aspire to find more of the centeredness you and EG have…. Love and light, R

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  5. I loved Gilbert’s wisdom and cannot wait to read her musings in her new creativity book. Like you, I am late to the following as well. Perhaps the timing was off for me personally in previous years and now her words seep through my veins instead of floating on the top.

    Enjoyed this post, Renee. Thank you.

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    • Yes- I can’t wait for EG’s Creativity Book – her TED Talk on this just blows me away every time. I really responded to what she had to say about creativity at the reading and have more to say here soon about that! I can’t wait to hear what you might add! BTW – loved the list of books on creativity you forwarded from Buzzfeed.

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  6. It’s kind of hard to write even a brief comment when I’m laughing so hard my fingers won’t cooperate. Sorry, but the image of you sneaking EPL into the bed with you and reading furtively . . . I can almost feel your anxiety at thinking hubby might get home without you realizing it and you’ll still be reading EPL and he will laughing his arse off. Or one of the kids will walk in and see it and tell “everyone.” This was a very education post, though, because it shows how we shouldn’t judge a book until we’ve read it. And I haven’t. So I won’t. And maybe I will.

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    • LOL Luanne… quite the image I must make… i really tried to avoid it, but it won out! In fact, I didn’t even ask you and RP to go along bc I figured you likely weren’t a fan… how funny. Yes, hubby and I make good sport of trading barbs all in good fun… but sometimes I’d like to try things out, barb-free and this was one such moment!

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