Despite Committed, I’m still rooting for Elizabeth Gilbert

I don’t usually review books on this blog. Hell, I don’t even know how to write a book review. But because Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed was the much-awaited sequel to what’s arguably the most popular book in my genre, Eat, Pray, Love, I’m going to tell you what I thought of it.

When I say much-awaited, I don’t just mean by the public at large. I mean by me. I was so eager to read this book that I bought it in hardcover at the bookstore instead of waiting my turn at the library. (Hey, when you’re unemployed, some things gotta go.)

Why? Because I was rooting for Elizabeth Gilbert. I feel like I know her. I don’t really. But the fact that I feel like I do is a tribute to her writing style, the details she revealed in her first book and interviews she’s done since then. In Eat, Pray, Love — which was published in more than 20 languages — she came across as a real person, a human with hopes and flaws (even though the fairy-tale ending irked me). I saw her as one of us, an underdog, a virtually unknown writer who hit it big. And I felt like we had stuff in common besides writing: a love for travel, a lack of trust in marriage as an institution and a belief in speaking up for what we believe in.

But as much as I wanted to, I did not like her latest book.

It wasn’t the writing — Gilbert’s writing is conversational, easy to follow and witty. I love her use of italics. It makes me feel like I’m right beside her as she’s recounting the story. That’s something I’d like to incorporate into my own writing. (And this is coming from someone who used to be against italics altogether.)

What I didn’t appreciate was the way she tried to mix a history of marriage and her thoughts on the subject with her own love story.

I cared about the love story, what happened to her and Felipe after Eat, Pray, Love. And while I could’ve done with a little bit of background on marriage and a few of her opinions woven in, I felt like the book was weighed down with research and rambling. Her findings and reflections were the core of the book instead of the story of her second marriage. And maybe that’s how she wanted it — but I wished it were the other way around.

In fact, I so wanted to read about her and Felipe that I found myself skipping over parts of the book that dealt with her marriage research. It bored me.

It’s ironic, in a way, that I should read this book now, while I’m revising my own manuscript. One of the criticisms I’ve heard from my guinea pig readers is that my story needs more of my own reflection — more analyzing rather than just reporting, as we’d say in the news biz. Reading Gilbert’s book made me realize just how much contemplation can be included in a memoir. I think she overdid it. But I need to do it more.

The book certainly had its strong points. I loved the tale of her grandmother, who had a cleft palate and was expected never to marry. (She did.) I loved that Gilbert delved into why she doesn’t want children. She could have avoided that topic if she wanted to, but baring her soul is what this author is good at. And now that I’m writing a memoir that also includes some soul-baring, I know how hard that can be.

Here’s what I found myself wondering after I finished the book: Gilbert admitted she wrote it once, wasn’t satisfied and started over. What didn’t she didn’t like about the first manuscript? She says her voice wasn’t quite right, but I want to know more. What was that version like?

Hopefully she’ll reveal that in an interview somewhere — maybe on this blog? Elizabeth, if you’re reading this, come visit. Because even though I didn’t care for Committed, I respect you as a writer and a person — enough to buy your next book.

Anybody else read Committed? What’d you think?

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16 Responses

  1. Thanks for the honest review of Committed. I’m looking forward to reading it because I really liked Gilbert’s voice and style. I think the lesson you learned here is that even when you don’t care for a book in its entirety, as a writer, you can certainly learn plenty from it.

  2. Fascinating review – I’m still interested to read Committed. Thanks for the perspective!

  3. Thanks for this review! I think your takeaway — knowing you are a regular ‘ol reader, of course, but also a reporter and person working on their own memoir — is really interesting. I know exactly what you mean by narrative that gets bogged down by reporting and facts. It IS a hard balance, especially for those of us trained to be helpful and reader-informing. Even if the reported parts are ‘good’ for us (the veggies?), when it’s a memoir or storytelling piece, I too like to skip ahead to the ice cream and chocolate parts. 🙂

    And yes, for all us writers, I’d love to hear about the decision to chuck the entire first draft, because that is a really hard cord to cut.

  4. I totally agree! I am about a third of the way into Committed, and I keep contemplating skipping ahead to find the sections of the book where Gilbert is actually writing about her own experiences instead of giving a lecture on the evolution of marriage. At first I found the background info to be helpful, but there’s just WAY too much history and not enough memoir. So frustrating…

  5. i read another memoir type book recently that was bogged down in a similar way. it is definitely a difficult balance to make and i wonder if gilbert’s success made it a bit easier for editors to perhaps not tell her that since they knew the book would sell no matter what?

  6. Thanks for the review! Interesting enough, but maybe not too surprising since I’m male, is that I thought just the opposite. I felt that she rambled on A LOT about things that didn’t help me. I bought the book based on the title, thinking that it was going to take an in depth (objective) look at marriage in general and help dissect the good, the bad and the ugly.

    Instead she shared her personal opinions on why marriage…and moreover, why men can be such a detrimental thing for women. There were many times when I wanted to stop reading, but I had to keep going, to see if, at some point, I was going to get some useful information….which never came. She contradicted herself several times throughout the book, and managed to never turn the blame on herself for the things she has been through.

    If anything, the book was useful to open my eyes to some of the feminist views. It’s a shame that she has to stereotype men the way she does…..Ironically though, it’s clearly a necessary evil for her.

    • Ryan — Not all feminists think like that!

      • I agree Alexis, that’s why I said “some of the feminist views”. Liz seemed to go a little over the top, and maybe she felt obligated, based on writing a book that many will read. But it almost seemed like a call to arms in Committed. She even apologized in the book about her “rant”, when it comes to feminism. This is supposed to be a book on marriage, and a marriage between a man and a woman at that. (side note: I have nothing against same sex marriage) I’m just saying that her situation is between a man and a woman, and she continually bashes men throughout her book….somewhat unproductive I thought.

        There certainly are men out there that are VERY controlling, and there are women out there that allow themselves to be controlled. This is unfortunate. In today’s society, women have a strong choice to control their own lives, and I felt like Liz was focusing too much on the past (while it may have been the not so distant past, the 70’s and 80’s,) it still is the past. In my opinion, things have changed for the better in the last 30 years when it comes to the mental and physical bonds of women and men.

  7. I find it interesting that you thought her book was too bogged down by research – I just finished reading THE LOST SYMBOL, which, in my opinion, was only redeemed by the research. The plot was weak, but it was Brown’s fantastic and thorough research, and ability to connect various threads, that kept me interested. Unfortunately, like Gilbert, he contradicted himself quite alot and left me wanting in the end. Just thought I’d give my two cents to support research!

    • Hey Hadley!

      Good point! I’m usually a research-lover. (I’m a journalist!) I love details rooted in truth. But it was the WAY she presented the research that didn’t work for me. Often if an author uses research well, it almost comes across like she didn’t use it at all. It’s an invisible cloak, supporting the writing but not becoming the writing.

      • I think a good example of thorough research that doesn’t come across as too overwhelming (at least in fiction) can be found in Jodi Picoult’s writing. She does tons of research about the topic she’s integrating into her stories, but you rarely feel overwhelmed by the details. Like you said, it’s like an invisible cloak.

        Great thoughts on this book. Now I’m even more interested in checking it out. I want to see what all the fuss is about. 🙂

  8. You know, I think I’m the only person in the world who didn’t love Eat, Pray, Love. I found it self-centered and cringe-worthy in many places. I skipped ahead to the parts that were more about her travels and less about HER. That said, I have read/seen lots of interviews w/ Gilbert & like you, I respect her as a writer and a person. It must be hard to follow up a success like her first book. Too bad her second missed the mark with you. I have heard the same from other reviewers. Still, I’ll probably check it out from the library.

  9. I agree with Ryan. I was hoping for a much more deep and insightful dive on marriage, and felt like the attempt at balancing that with her story with all of these other women’s stories just didn’t quite work.

    But I still love her and I’ll keep rooting for her.

  10. […] understand the story and feel more connected to the author. I was reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed. She uses italics beautifully! (For not loving the end of Eat, Pray, Love or most of […]

  11. […] had an interesting perspective on this book – she didn’t really like it, but is still rooting for the author. I had mixed expectations after reading her post, but I loved Eat, Pray, Love, so I read this one […]

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